CINCINNATI — Hoping to dodge the $50 million annual price tag of an upcoming ballot issue on affordable housing, City Council on Tuesday committed to making a smaller investment of $35.5 million in building housing for Cincinnati’s poorest residents.
“It’s absolutely a better option,” said Councilmember Steve Goodin. “And it’s something, frankly, that was already in the works before Issue 3 (the $50 million proposal) made the ballot.”
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The $35 million on deck will consist mostly of grant money — $34 million of it — from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, with an additional $1.5 million coming from the city. The mayor will appoint a public board to oversee the fund and work with the Cincinnati Development Fund, a nonprofit focused on providing the money to revitalize struggling communities, to manage it.
"It puts money on the street. It puts money in the hands of developers that want to invest in affordable housing,” Goodin said of the plan. “Affordable housing always works best as a public-private partnership and seldom works well when it's just mandated.”
That last bit is a reference to Issue 3, which would, if passed, amend the city’s charter and require the city government to requisition $50 million annually for an “Affordable Housing Trust Fund.”
Members of council, including mayoral candidate David Mann, have criticized the proposal as overbroad and much too expensive, arguing that there would be no way to execute without taking money away from other city services.
Originally, the language meant to appear on voters’ May 4 ballots included this argument, claiming that the fund “could require the city to reduce city services” and “the mandatory $50 million annual appropriation shall take priority over other funding needs.”
Affordable housing advocates successfully complained about the biased wording to the Ohio Supreme Court, which ordered the city to make it more neutral.
But the city’s stance hasn’t changed, said City Manager Paula Boggs Muething.
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The $35 million plan is “the most responsible path forward that does not require cutting basic services,” she said. “It is a significant amount of money into a loan pool that would help to finance the affordable housing."
Supporters of Issue 3, including many longtime housing advocates, are planting their feet just as firmly.
“Don’t be fooled,” said Mary Burke Rivers, executive director of Over-the-Rhine Community Housing, of the city’s plan. “It’s creative. It could be helpful to a certain degree, but it’s not going to impact our families, our neighbors who need affordable housing.”
She said she wants more details on the loan terms, interest rates and how the city defines affordable housing in relation to the proposal.
"If we have debt to pay as well, that's where the math problem really comes to surface,” she said. “Because the more affordable our rents, the less or no debt that you can support, so if we want to serve people that are at the bottom of the economic ladder… a loan product won't reach them."
The city’s $35.5 million commitment stays in place whether or not Issue 3 passes.