CINCINNATI — Willa Jones was homeless and hopeless before she moved into Parkway Towers Apartments in Over-the-Rhine more than a dozen years ago and rebuilt her life.
So she was understandably nervous when she heard she would have to move out for the building to be renovated.
“There’s so many places that when they did rebuild the buildings, they didn’t let nobody move back in,” said Jones, who sells Streetvibes newspapers at nearby Findlay Market to help subsidize her Social Security income and $39 monthly food assistance. “And there’s so many places that they made the rent so high, only the people that made the building can afford to move in it.”
Fortunately for Jones and dozens of her neighbors at Parkway, that wasn’t the plan.
Talbert House and Model Group acquired and gutted the high-rise, renaming it Logan Towers and pledging that at least half the new units would be offered to former Parkway residents. Jones is among them and said she can’t wait to move back later this month.
“It’s a life-changing experience,” Jones said of being able to return to the building. “It’s historical, 'cause I’ve never seen anything like it, you know, since all the hardships and stuff been going on in the world today.”
Talbert House CEO Neil Tilow said he’s especially proud of the renovation, which cost nearly $10 million to complete. After a ribbon cutting, Tilow noted that everything inside the building is new, including the roof, walls, floors, and the heating, air-conditioning, safety and electrical systems. All the kitchens in the tower’s 63 apartments have solid-surface countertops, wooden cabinets and new, energy-efficient appliances.
The building has government subsidies attached to the development so residents will pay no more than 30% of their income for rent. Logan Towers is designed for residents who earn 50% or less of the area median income, which amounts to $29,900 or less for a one-person household. Rent will range from $25 per month minimum to the maximum rent of $656 for a studio and $826 for a one-bedroom apartment, according to Talbert House.
“This couldn’t be any better, really and truly. It’s one of the best projects that I’ve ever done in my whole career at Talbert House,” Tilow said. “I mean, project-based vouchers, first-rate building in a part of town that really needed it, bringing people back into the building. It’s like, I don’t know, I mean 10 out of 10? I’m trying to think what else I would want.”
Piecing together affordable housing ‘jigsaw puzzle’
The old Parkway Towers had more than 90 apartments. The renovation reduced that number to 63 to widen the hallways and increase the size of the units.
While many apartments in the old building were as small as 300 square feet, the studio and one-bedroom apartments in Logan Towers now range in size from 450 square feet to 650 square feet, with four apartments on the first floor that are accessible for people with disabilities.
Many of the residents will be people who experienced homelessness in the past and people who have struggled with addiction and mental health problems.
As a permanent supportive housing development, Tilow said, Logan Towers will have staff to connect residents with resources to help them overcome their challenges and build better lives for themselves.
“Our affordable housing crisis is really like a jigsaw puzzle,” Tilow said. “I think we’re putting the puzzle together one piece at a time. This is a very important piece because it’s in a part of town that used to have a lot of affordable housing but doesn’t have this kind of quality of affordable housing, especially right near the market.”
Discussions about the lack of affordable housing in Cincinnati and Hamilton County reached a fever pitch in May when Cincinnati voters considered Issue 3. The proposed charter amendment would have required the city of Cincinnati to set aside $50 million each year to address the problem.
Voters rejected Issue 3, which city leaders said could require drastic cuts to basic services.
But the problem of affordable housing hasn’t gone away.
A report issued Wednesday by the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio found only four of the 10 most common jobs in Ohio pay employees enough to afford a two-bedroom apartment.
On average, a two-bedroom apartment costs $865 to rent in Ohio, according to the report called Out of Reach 2021, with a one-bedroom going for $684 per month on average.
Ohio renters would have to earn at least $16.64 per hour to reasonably afford the rent for a two-bedroom apartment, the report found. And rental rates in Cincinnati are higher than the state average. Renters here must earn $17.62 per hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment in Cincinnati, according to the report.
Of the jobs with the most employees across Ohio, only registered nurses earn enough to afford an average two-bedroom apartment, according to the report, with Ohio residents who are cashiers, retail salespeople and restaurant and hotel workers typically falling short.
‘I can’t wait’
So far Logan Towers has identified 33 residents for the building, Tilow said, and 23 of them are former residents of Parkway.
He said he hopes some tenants will be able to get jobs at Findlay Market, which is about a block away, or at FC Cincinnati’s nearby TQL Stadium.
“It’s a very vibrant area,” Tilow said. “And having a first-rate, quality affordable housing project here, it’s just awesome.”
Jones said she’s eager to get settled in her new, first-floor home.
The tidy new space is a far cry from where she’s been.
She became homeless after her husband of 20 years died. They had worked together at the Andrew Jergens Co. plant on Spring Grove Avenue until he had a massive stroke.
A colleague called Jones to her husband’s workstation, she said.
“I went running up there to see, and he was on the floor having a stroke,” Jones said. “When I seen him, I fainted. When I come to, he was dead.”
Consumed with grief, Jones quit talking. She lost her job, her house and two cars and started sleeping outside in Washington Park near the park’s cannon, sticking her belongings inside the cannon during the day.
After nearly five years, she went to the Anna Louise Inn, where the staff encouraged her to write. She wrote poems that were published in a book called “My Life in Poem” and still contributes poems to Streetvibes.
“I’ve really come a long way,” she said. “I really have.”
The next stop, she said, is Logan Towers, where she can walk to the store and Findlay Market and get to everything she needs.
“I can’t wait,” she said. “I’ll be here in the parking lot, waiting on them to give me a key.”
People interested in more information about Logan Towers, and whether they are eligible to live there, can call (513) 338-8596.
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 problems we need to address. Poverty is an important focus for Lucy and for WCPO 9. To reach Lucy, email email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.