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West End affordable housing project has some worried about displacement

Posted at 4:52 PM, Aug 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-30 10:19:23-04

CINCINNATI — Cincinnati is preserving affordable housing in the West End, but some believe it is coming at the expense of more than two dozen families.

Chris Griffin, West End Community Council president, said his father is one of the people paying the price for upgrades to the Arts Apartments.

"My father has been a 30-year resident at those apartments, and he's being displaced," Griffin said.

Griffin said his father fell victim to a policy involving tax incentives used to upgrade the Arts Apartments, long recognized as an affordable housing development that did not enforce specific income requirements.

By taking advantage of those tax incentives, apartment residents will now have to meet specific income requirements.

Griffin said those displaced are "poor" but "not poor enough" to live there.

"These people shouldn't have to move," he said. "They've been paying their rent there for a long time."

Cincinnati City Council approved the tax exemption for owner and developer Birge & Held in November.

The company also applied for Low Income Housing Tax Credits through the state, and committed to making all units affordable.

Of the 248 units, 83 will be Section 8 housing. The remaining 165 units will be deemed affordable, with rents varying by income levels below 60 percent of the area median income. Income is based on the size of the household.

Under the new terms, 28 existing tenants don't meet those income qualifications and must leave.

"My dad…he sent me a photo and said I don't want to end up like this," said Griffin, who shared a photograph on Twitter that appeared to show a displaced resident.

But Mary Burke Rivers, executive director of Over-The-Rhine Community Housing, said that is not what's happening in the photo.

"In that particular image was a person who relocated on site while their unit was being renovated. And when they moved back they didn't want their furniture. So they talked to the property mangers and said, 'I don't want this. I'm going to put this out,'" she said.

OTRCH is working with Birge & Held on the project.

Rivers said those displaced are being offered relocation assistance.

"All moving expenses are being covered, nobody is set out, and can get upwards of over $9,000 in relocation benefits," Rivers said.

She added that the goal for her organization is to help preserve affordable housing, not end it for some residents.

"We know that it's so important to preserve affordable housing, because you can't get it back," Rivers said.

Some residents and West End representatives argue the changes in the neighborhood, such as those at the Arts Apartment, aren't helping everyone who lives there.

"This is just an example of the double-edge sword if we don't look at all outcomes of the actions that we're taking, and the development that we're doing," said Ashley White, West End Community Development Corporation president. "We need to talk to everyone and not just one side."

Both the West End Community Council and the West End Community Development Corporation said they want more say before the city council makes any further decisions on developments as more housing projects with set income levels are on the way for the West End.

"If we convert everything to deed-restricted income-based housing… we really don't have affordability for anybody at any other income," said Noah O'Brien, vice president of the West End Community Council.