CINCINNATI — Cynthia Ford has lived in the heart of Lower Price Hill for three years and feels right at home.
She has a hearty garden outside her apartment and a leadership role as president of the Lower Price Hill Community Council. Ford said she believes in the potential of the neighborhood’s historic buildings and the potential of its friendly people.
“There’s a neighborliness about this area that makes people want to stay here,” she said. “They just really want someplace to be able to put down some roots.”
A development project called LPH Thrives aims to help Ford and her neighbors do just that.
The latest phase would create 47 affordable apartments in the neighborhood by renovating 10 historic buildings and constructing a new, fully accessible apartment building just a couple blocks from Oyler School.
The project will reduce the number of vacant buildings in the heart of the neighborhood by 75%, said Mary Delaney, executive director of Community Matters, the nonprofit organization leading the work.
The goal, she said, is to create high-quality, affordable housing so individuals and families who live and work in Lower Price Hill don’t have to choose between the neighborhood they love and a decent apartment they can afford.
“It’s just a game changer to be able to do that all at once, and have that investment be in the families that are here," Delaney said.
The plan calls for the nonprofit developer Over-the-Rhine Community Housing to oversee renovations and construction of the new apartment building and to manage the properties once they’re completed.
The project, which has been in the works since 2015, could serve as a model for other neighborhoods throughout Greater Cincinnati that are struggling to provide more high-quality, affordable housing, said Kathy Laker Schwab. She’s the executive director of the Local Initiatives Support Corp., or LISC, of Greater Cincinnati.
“It’s such a no-brainer,” Schwab said. “It hits all the right things that that neighborhood – and a lot of neighborhoods – need.”
A drop in the bucket – that means everything
Hamilton County has a deficit of 40,000 housing units that are affordable and available to extremely low-income households, or those that earn less than $14,678 per year.
LISC last month released a countywide housing strategy that explained just how big Hamilton County’s affordable housing problem is and provides a roadmap for how city, county and corporate leaders can tackle it.
The housing strategy recommended building at least 20,000 more affordable housing units over the next 10 years while preserving another 60,000 affordable homes and apartments that need repairs.
“The need is so deep and so huge. On the one hand, it feels like this is a drop in the bucket,” said Mary Burke Rivers, executive director of Over-the-Rhine Community Housing. “But on the other hand, for the residents in the Lower Price Hill community who will have access to quality, affordable housing, it means everything.”
Plus, the LPH Thrives project hits on many of the recommendations included in the countywide strategy, Schwab said.
For one, LPH Thrives recently received federal low-income housing tax credits through the Ohio Housing Finance Agency that Delaney said will amount to a roughly $9 million investment in the $12.5 million project.
The development also will remove significant blight from the neighborhood and will restore vacant, historic buildings.
All those things -- federal low-income housing tax credits, removing blight and reusing vacant, historic buildings – are recommendations in the LISC report, Schwab said.
Over-the-Rhine Community Housing also is known for the services it provides to low-income renters to help them stay in their homes even when they face struggles, Schwab said, which the LISC report also recommends.
“If we had more communities doing that type of housing,” Schwab said of the project, “we would get there.”
An opportunity to grow
The next big hurdle for LPH Thrives comes Friday when Cincinnati’s City Planning Commission is scheduled to vote on some variances needed for the project.
Schwab wrote a letter of support for the project and said she expects it to be a shoo-in for approvals from the planning commission.
After that, Community Matters will work to assemble the rest of the funding needed, Delaney said.
If all goes as planned, construction could start around this time next year and be completed about a year after that, she said.
Once the apartments are finished, Over-the-Rhine Community Housing plans to hire neighborhood residents for jobs related to property management and maintenance, Rivers said.
“We are developing in partnership with the neighborhood,” she said. “We need a development like this in every neighborhood.”
The project will have studio apartments along with one-bedroom, two-bedroom and even three-bedroom units.
They will be designed to be affordable for people who earn between 30% and 60% of area median income, said Ben Eilerman, a project manager with Over-the-Rhine Community Housing.
For renters that earn $19,500 per year, for example, that would translate to a two-bedroom apartment that rents for about $405 per month, he said.
Individuals or families must have an income that qualifies for the apartments to move in, he said, but the rents will not be income-based. So tenants who get better jobs or raises after moving in will be able to stay without having their rent increase when their income does.
“If you can get safe, stable and, in this case, supportive housing underneath you, then it provides that opportunity for you to grow your income and really stabilize your life,” Eilerman said.
That’s what Ford and her neighbors want.
They want to be able to stay in Lower Price Hill, Ford said, without fear of being pushed out by gentrification, while they work to build a better future for themselves and their families.
Many people in Lower Price Hill have dreams of starting a business or selling art or other products they make, she said.
They are working so hard just to pay the bills, she said, that they haven’t been able to pursue those dreams.
“But if you’re able to have a comfortable amount of money that you’re paying every month that leaves you just a little bit left over that you can invest in yourself and your family, I think that’s really important,” Ford said. “And I think that there are people in this neighborhood who would definitely be able to thrive in an atmosphere like that.”
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. To reach Lucy, email email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.