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After pushback, Elm and Liberty development goes back to the drawing board

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Posted at 5:12 PM, Feb 02, 2021

CINCINNATI — An ongoing battle over affordable housing in Over-the-Rhine has culminated in two new possible versions of a development intended to create a $77 million mixed-use development at Liberty and Elm streets.

The project has been in the works for years, but it went back before Cincinnati City Council in January after developers requested approval to expand it, adding an adjacent vacant lot to its footprint. Lawmakers voted to suspend final approval of the project for two weeks to allow for more time to work with the developer and ensure affordably priced units were included in the plan.

"We want to see development; we just don't want to see residents pushed out," said Mary River, with Over-the-Rhine Community Housing.

The original plan for the project included nearly 300 luxury units with no commitment to affordable housing and a major tax break for developers.

In an attempt to offer a compromise, two new options for the development are now on the table:

  • Version B: The developer will pursue reasonable efforts to apply for low-income housing tax credits and pay about $1.5 million into a tax fund that supports the street car in OTR.
  • Version C: The developer will commit to making 10% of the housing units affordable at 80% of the area's median income level. It'll still apply for low-income housing tax credits, but it cuts street car support by roughly $800,000.

The 10% requirement would create roughly 50 housing units in the development, according to Stephen Dronen with KEAN Ventures, an OTR-based developer on the project.

Some advocates say that still simply isn't enough.

"10%...affordable housing...we end up with units that are affordable at $45,000," said Josh Spring, executive director of the Cincinnati Homeless Coalition. "How many of our Cincinnati citizens and residents make $45,000 a year?"

Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman contends the entire affordable housing crisis can't be pinned on this one project. He's also against the idea of taking money from the street car, which the city has already spent millions of dollars on.

"Now we have an opportunity to put 1,000 people right on the street car line," he said, "with a discussion around ridership that continues to plummet."

At Tuesday's committee meeting, Option B, with no official affordable housing option outlined, had the most support, although both versions are moving forward. Cincinnati City Council will officially weigh in and choose an option on Wednesday.