American Rescue Plan set to bring windfall to Greater Cincinnati housing initiatives

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Posted at 6:03 PM, May 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-20 18:20:41-04

Between the city of Cincinnati and Hamilton County at large, the county's communities stand to put a combined $90 million toward affordable housing projects. How that money gets divided up, though, remained to be seen Thursday.

From fixing run-down properties to building new ones on vacant lots, proposed funding from upcoming city and county budgets along with American Rescue Plan money, will mean a windfall for various housing initiatives and nonprofits throughout the region -- organizations like Bethany House.

CEO Susan Schiller said the potential increase in resources toward affordable housing and mitigating homelessness sometimes brings her to tears.

"Oh, gosh, I'll cry," she told WCPO Thursday. "We've seen homelessness increase, family homelessness increase."

Bethany House stands to receive $3 million from the city of Cincinnati this coming budget cycle, as part of the funds the local government receives from the feds as part of President Joe Biden's signature pandemic relief bill. They'll be using the money to consolidate its five existing shelters into one new facility in Bond Hill, which will also embed other resources for people and families experiencing homelessness.

"What's so great is that every family will be able to have their own room," Schiller said. "They can't leave the shelter until they can find an apartment to move into, and there just are not enough affordable apartments in our community."

Affordable housing has been a hot-button topic in city politics all year: Ballot measure Issue 3 -- which would have amended the City Charter to expand the affordable housing trust fund to an annual $50-million budget requirement -- failed at the polls in May, but city leaders say that doesn't mean it's not a priority for them.

"This notion that county leaders and city leaders have not been supportive is just not accurate," said Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman.

Smitherman along with the rest of City Council approved roughly $12.5 million from the American Rescue Plan to go to various housing initiatives. In addition to Bethany House, funding will go to the Harbor Program, which helps low-income families address code violations on their homes. Another part of the funding will go toward the affordable housing fund.

"It's reiterating that we've always been supportive of affordable housing," Smitherman said.

City Council also has come out in support of creating a $35.5-million Dept. of Housing and Urban Development-funded loan pool for affordable housing projects, and on the county's end, the board of commissioners has said $40 million in American Rescue Plan dollars will go toward affordable housing.

All of this money between the city and the county means the two governments will need to work together to ensure it's invested wisely and to avoid redundancies. Smitherman said by investing in community partners who already collaborate and coordinate, the money will be best spent.

"I think entities like the Port Authority, entities like (the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority)... all of these entities that the county and the city trust, this is a great regional approach by having the city and county work together through those entities," he said.

The Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority stands to receive $2.5 million from the city's pandemic relief funding for its affordable housing projects.

"We have demolished old, blighted, basically falling-down structures, and so we have all these neighborhoods with broken teeth where we have empty lots in between houses," said Port CEO Laura Brunner. "This is going to allow us to go back in and start filling in those broken teeth with new homes that are affordable."

That money, she said, will help build 50 affordable, single-family homes within city of Cincinnati limits.