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Tri-State needs more quality, affordable housing

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Posted at 5:00 AM, Sep 20, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-20 05:00:23-04

CINCINNATI -- Hadiyah Collins has waited nearly 19 months to get government-subsidized housing she can afford.

All the while, she and her three kids have been living with her cousin in a one-bedroom apartment in Avondale. Collins has been working as much as she can for a temporary service -- earning anywhere from $8 to $11 an hour depending on the job. But it has been impossible to get ahead.

"I've been trying to save money for rent and furniture," she said. "As I've been waiting for almost two years, the money was drizzling away."

Now, Collins and her kids are preparing to move into a three-bedroom, government-subsidized apartment operated by Over-the-Rhine Community Housing. They expect to be in their new home by Oct. 1, and Collins can hardly wait.

"It will be so different," said Collins, 32. "I'm very excited."

As tough as it has been for Collins and her kids, though, they're among the lucky ones.

The demand for government-subsidized housing and vouchers is so much greater than the supply here that thousands of families in Hamilton County remain on waiting lists. The last time the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority's housing choice voucher -- or Section 8 -- wait list was opened in December, more than 17,000 people pre-applied over just four days. Those vouchers help poor people, the elderly and people with disabilities pay rent in a house or apartment of their choice that accepts the vouchers.

Gregory Johnson

The 17,000 applications were narrowed down to 5,000 through a lottery system. Another 2,200 families are on a waiting list for the public housing that the housing authority operates.

"Our community needs additional, quality affordable housing where young kids, young adults and our seniors can live, prosper and partake in other things that will help them partake in self-sufficiency," said Gregory Johnson, the housing authority's CEO.

To highlight that need and discuss the best ways to address the community's lack of affordable housing, the housing authority has organized a symposium called "The Future of Affordable Housing." The event is Sept. 22 at the Duke Energy Convention Center downtown. Panelists at the symposium will discuss the connection between education, poverty and housing and ways to provide low-income families the quality, affordable housing they need.

Need Stretches Beyond Cincinnati

Cincinnati and Hamilton County have had a huge need for affordable, government-subsidized housing for years. As poverty has spread across the region, the need has increased.

As a result, thousands of individuals and families are paying far more for housing than they can reasonably afford, always teetering on the brink of eviction and homelessness.

In some Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky communities, fewer than half of homeowners are in housing they can afford, according to a WCPO Census data analysis. The federal government defines "affordable housing" as rent or mortgage payments that cost 30 percent or less of a family or individual's household income. The WCPO analysis looked specifically at mortgage costs as compared with household incomes.

 

Even so, most neighborhoods fight the development of subsidized, affordable housing, in part because they associate subsidized housing with blight and crime, local housing advocates said.

"It's so disheartening and discouraging," said Mary Burke Rivers, executive director of Over-the-Rhine Community Housing. She also is president of the board of the local group Affordable Housing Advocates.

"I think a lot of people have negative images in their mind and stereotypes of people who live there."

Add to the mix that most people don't understand the tremendous need for affordable housing, and that means people don't really talk to elected officials about it, she said.

Developers and nonprofit organizations such as Over-the-Rhine Community Housing that build affordable housing rely on government programs and tax credits to make the math work on the projects, Rivers said.

But one of the programs that helps with those costs, federal HOME funds, could be cut by as much as 93 percent in the latest budget being considered by Congress, she said.

"We can't not invest in affordable housing and somehow think everything's going to be OK," she said. "It's not."

The Impact of Instability

When families pay far more for their housing than they can afford, it creates instability, said John Schrider, director of the Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio.

"You end up being on the brink of not being able to afford it at all or you pay a little less, and you end up in housing that's not quite up to code," he said. "Any day, you're on the brink of losing their housing."

That kind of instability makes it difficult to hold down a job, Schrider said, and it can result in children moving from school to school and families using what little money they have to move over and over again.

Elm Street Senior Housing in Over-the-Rhine

"I think the lack of affordable housing is an underlying cause to many of the social problems we see," Rivers said.

Rivers said she hopes the housing authority's conference will lead to a greater public understanding of the need for quality affordable housing locally.

And Schrider said he hopes it will shine a spotlight on the fact that there are agencies and developers, such as Over-the-Rhine Community Housing, that build quality public housing and do a good job maintaining it.

Reducing the region's poverty rate simply can't happen without more quality, affordable housing, Johnson said.

"At the end of the day, we want thriving neighborhoods and productive citizens that are being in the mainstream and producing and moving our neighborhoods forward," he said.

CMHA's housing symposium "The Future of Affordable Housing" takes place Sept. 22 at the Duke Energy Convention Center downtown. For more information, click here or go to https://www.cintimha.com/symposium2015.

The Reserve on South Martin in Mount Healthy

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and also shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Childhood poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO this year. To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.