Why this matters
In 2017, Xavier University’s Community Building Institute released a report which showed that in Hamilton County we were short more than 40,000 homes affordable to households with incomes at or below thirty percent of the area median income or roughly minimum wage. 28,000 of these are needed in the city of Cincinnati.
For some, these numbers were surprising. But for many, they are a numerical citation of what we already knew from experience. For tens of thousands of Cincinnatians, struggle to afford rent or mortgage, eviction, corporate displacement and/or the experience of homelessness have become a part of life; something that has occurred, often multiple times, and/or will occur. In many of our neighborhoods, primarily those whose population is majority Black People, displacement and eviction are always literally and figuratively right around the corner.
The lack of affordable housing places tens of thousands of Cincinnati households at risk of experiencing homelessness, as many households in Cincinnati are paying far more housing than they can afford. In addition, the lack of affordable housing makes it more difficult for households forced into homelessness to exit homelessness, as they are unable to find homes they will be able to afford.
As households able to get into shelter, therefore, remain in shelters for longer and longer periods of time due to the inability to find affordable housing, this shelter capacity is unavailable to others experiencing a housing crisis.
The affordable housing shortage crisis is so significant that, in recent years our area’s largest men’s shelter, with the most physical space, entered an unfortunate “new normal” for consistently high numbers of guests. On a typical day, the rest of our men’s, women’s, youth and family shelters are full or over capacity, our street outreach workers report high numbers of people living outdoors, and most families with children who call seeking shelter are turned away because there is no room.
The experience of homelessness is traumatic, with long-lasting repercussions. In 2020, 28% of people in shelters were under the age of 18. Approximately 20% of Cincinnati Public School children experience homelessness each schoolyear. In 2020, at least 143 people died young in Cincinnati because of homelessness. Their average age was 49. From 2010 to 2020 at least 834 people died young because of homelessness. The youngest person we know of was 2 years old
We did not wake up one morning, and as a city, we were missing 28,000 affordable homes. Our affordable housing shortage crisis was created by years and years of decisions to invest public and private dollars in luxury housing for those who already have housing, while not investing city dollars in developing and preserving affordable housing, and providing no legislative protections to prevent companies from displacing households from their homes to move in people with more money, all while handing out city development incentives to companies that don’t contribute positively to affordable housing and displace for profit. The lack of city funds allocated to affordable housing, absence of legislation to prevent displacement and the unaccountable dispersal of property tax abatements are all decisions (or lack thereof) made by city council after city council.
According to the August 2019 Fair Housing Assessment for Cincinnati and Hamilton County:
The significant shortage of affordable housing causes extreme stress for low-and moderate-income households and exposes protected classes to even more discriminatory behavior, as they compete for increasingly fewer available units.
Quickly rising housing prices in some places are displacing long-time residents and reducing the number of available affordable units. From focus groups, these changes are disproportionately affecting Black households and low- and moderate-income households.
The assessment further explains that 41.67% of households in Cincinnati reported having at least one of four housing problems (cost burden, lack of complete plumbing, lack of complete kitchen, or overcrowding). Half of Black and Hispanic households reported having at least one of these 4 problems. While housing is affordable when a household is spending no more than 30% of their income on housing alone, in 2017 27,725 Cincinnati households (21%) reported being severely cost burdened because they were spending more than half of their income on housing alone. Over 54% of these households were Black.
Black Individuals and Families in Cincinnati disproportionately bear the burden and trauma of our affordable housing shortage crisis. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Black Cincinnatians account for 42.9% of the total population, but are 60.37% of people living in poverty3. 39.6% of Black Cincinnatians are experiencing poverty compared to 18.2% of whites. Approximately 74% of people in shelters are Black. Approximately 85% of people in shelters for families with children are Black.
The 2017 Housing Affordability in Hamilton County study, explains that, “Black Hamilton County households are disproportionately affected by housing cost burden, with nearly 49% experiencing some level of burden, compared to 34% of households overall.”
Further increasing the burden placed on Black Cincinnatians, the overwhelming majority of people experiencing displacement due to gentrification and eviction, are Black. A 2017 University of Cincinnati report on evictions says, “On average, majority Black neighborhoods in Hamilton County are also those with the highest rates of eviction filings, while neighborhoods with few Black residents experience very few evictions.” This report goes on to state:
When we consider all of these factors (i.e., racial composition, poverty rate, and housing cost burden) together, neighborhood racial composition is the strongest predictor of eviction filing rates in Hamilton County. Specifically, holding poverty rates and housing cost burden constant, for every one percent increase in Black residents, tract eviction filing rates increase by 8.4. In other words, even when controlling for poverty, filing rates are higher in Black neighborhoods than they are in white neighborhoods.
In 2015, the Urban League’s “State of Black Cincinnati” report showed 76% of Cincinnati families experiencing poverty were Black, 74% of Black Children under the age of 6 were living in poverty, and on average Black Men die 10 years sooner than white men, Black Women 6 years sooner than white women.
In 2020, City Council voted to give property tax abatements to developments with a combined total of 667 new homes. 62% of Black Households in Cincinnati cannot afford 96% of these new homes. At the median annual income of Black people ($27,580) in Cincinnati you can afford 8 of these 667 new homes.
In fact, you must have an annual income higher than $57,212 to afford 76% of the new housing city council gave tax abatements to in 2020. If you are paid Ohio minimum wage of $8.80 an hour, you must work more than 125 hours every week of the year to afford 76% of the new housing city council gave tax abatements to in 2020. Cincinnati households with annual incomes of $34,327.20 or less can only afford to live in 30 of the 667 new homes city council gave tax abatements to in 2020.
The fact is that while an exclusive group of people prospers financially, the rest of us either just get by or don’t, and end up displaced so that someone else can have greater profits, evicted because you can’t afford your home and then bouncing from couch to couch to car to shelter to street or spending an increasing amount of time in a shelter while searching for housing. Without the building of new affordable housing, when one household works really hard and finally finds housing, while it is great for that household, it means the reason that home is available is because another household was recently put out of it.
We know we can change all of this, and we should only vote for City Council candidates who we believe will join us in making the necessary legislative changes.
Currently Cincinnati Action for Housing NOW is focused on ensuring the City puts at least $50 million into Cincinnati’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund for the development and preservation of affordable housing every single year. These funds would not only build new and save existing affordable multi-family apartment buildings and single-family owned homes, but would create hundreds of prevailing wage jobs every year and give neighborhoods the opportunity to remain intact.