CINCINNATI — The city of Cincinnati is throwing its support behind a major effort to solve the community’s affordable housing crisis.
Mayor John Cranley and Councilman David Mann said in a Tuesday news conference that city leaders will do all they can to support the work LISC Greater Cincinnati and the Greater Cincinnati Foundation launched earlier this year.
“We are recommitting ourselves to affordable housing and dealing with the increasing problem of being able to maintain one’s homes,” Cranley said. “The costs are rising faster than incomes are rising, and that is a crisis for the country and certainly for our community.”
Cranley noted the budget City Council is expected to pass Wednesday includes “a record amount of money for human services efforts,” including money for eviction prevention and homeless shelters.
“This isn’t just talk,” he said. “This is action.”
The work could affect hundreds of thousands of local residents living in housing that consumes an outsized chunk of their income, said Kathy Schwab, the executive director of LISC Greater Cincinnati.
The rule of thumb is that housing costs are “affordable” if they consume no more than 30 percent of a family’s household income.
“There’s hundreds of thousands of families that are paying far more than 30% of their incomes on housing,” she said. “Especially families that are making less than $40,000 a year.”
Mann noted that the city’s recently created Affordable Housing Trust Fund would have roughly $600,000 in funding the first year, with the total expected to grow over time.
“It’s an enormously challenging priority because of the money it takes to develop the housing that we’re talking about,” Mann said.
The goal of the community effort is to create a 10-year housing strategy for Greater Cincinnati, Schwab said.
Seeking a solution
LISC Greater Cincinnati hired PennPraxis, a nonprofit practice of the University of Pennsylvania, to collect and analyze data and help with the planning process.
The organizations involved in developing the plan are approaching the problem in a variety of ways.
They have collected information about vacant buildings and their condition throughout Hamilton County to get a sense for how many of them could be converted into affordable housing, Schwab said.
That’s not the only way to attack the problem, however, and Schwab said the more than 30 community leaders involved in the work will soon decide where to focus their efforts.
As part of the project, Cincinnati-based Cohear has been meeting with residents to understand how they view the problem and possible solutions. Cohear also is bringing residents together with decision-makers.
“Our work engaging residents and neighbors across the city has made plain the tremendous need for concerted action to address our critical lack of quality, affordable housing,” Cohear founder Dani Isaacsohn said in a statement to WCPO. “We believe that this effort can only succeed if the voices, ideas, needs, concerns and desires of the people most impacted — those experiencing this housing crisis — are the pillars of this effort.”
Schwab said the 10-year plan should be complete before the end of the year.
The next step after that will be raising the money required to turn the plan into action, said Harold Brown, Greater Cincinnati Foundation’s vice president for community strategies.
“Other cities that have done this work, they have raised incredible amounts of money to implement those strategies,” Brown said.
Detroit rolled out a $125 million fund to address housing needs, and Charlotte announced $150 million in funding last August to encourage the development of more mixed-income housing. There is no price tag yet for Cincinnati’s effort.
“We look forward to great things ahead as we solve our housing crisis,” Brown said.
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. Childhood poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To reach Lucy, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.