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Avondale community meeting addresses affordable housing concerns with Blair Lofts project

Avondale Blair Lofts Project
Posted at 11:36 PM, Apr 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-20 10:52:00-04

CINCINNATI — Dozens of Avondale residents and community leaders took part in a first-of-its-kind engagement meeting Monday night to voice concerns around an affordable housing development.

The Blair Lofts project, which includes 64 affordable lofts on the corner of Blair Avenue and Reading Road, has many long-time residents saying it’s a long time coming.

“This project will set the tone for what fair housing, and decent housing, looks like in Avondale,” said Sandra Jones Mitchell, president of the Avondale Community Council.

Mitchell and other city officials said more than half of Avondale’s residents are at risk of being displaced, and that affordable housing is important.

“The development taking place in Avondale, you’re going to need five jobs, with some of the houses being built, and two husbands to buy some of the stuff,“ she said. “It’s not fair to the people working hard so they can have a nice place to stay.”

The Blair Lofts' developers hope to be the answer to the neighborhood’s prayers: a four-story, 64-unit complex with state-of-the-art security and maintenance, along with community partners like Cincinnati State to help with college access and Fifth Third Bank for financial literacy assistance.

"We’re promoting this so the residents and children can get quality programming to benefit and actually step up out of the affordable housing venue,” said Russell Hairston, with the Avondale Development Corporation.

Monday’s meeting was an opportunity for residents to ask questions.

“My concern is the traffic,” Avondale resident Elizabeth Thompson said. “Number one. They run through here like the Indy 500 as it is already.”

The biggest concern for the project is to discuss whether taxpayer funds should be used in its construction.

“One of the biggest challenges to affordable housing is: ‘How are we going to finance it?’” said developer Kingsley + Co president Chinedum Ndukwe.

“This is the first time we’ve used (tax incremental fund) dollars in this manner,” Avondale Community Council president Tony Moore said. “Traditionally you use it for garages that the community can’t see a direct benefit in.”

Another hurdle faced by the project, the developer is asking the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority to fund $15 million in lease revenue bond. That would essentially lower construction costs by eliminating sales tax on construction materials.

However, The Port and the developer are now engaged in an ongoing legal battle.

The Port issued a statement saying, in part: “We are hopeful the developer can resolve all outstanding items so the project can move forward on schedule."

Residents said the delay is their biggest concern right now.

"You can’t keep treating us like we’re not human,” Avondale resident Ozie Davis III said. “Like we don’t love this place. I call this place my Jerusalem.”