Question 1: Across the country, local and statewide affordable housing trust funds with consistent, dependable public revenue have long proven to be effective in preserving and producing affordable homes to combat the housing crisis. Cincinnati Action for Housing Now has called for at least $50 million in city funds to be allocated annually to Cincinnati’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Do you agree the City can and should generate at least $50 million city dollars annually, while maintaining existing vital services, and annually allocate it to the development and preservation of affordable housing?
I wish we could set aside $50 million a year. Unfortunately, we're in a budget crisis situation. This year alone, we had to use $67 million in American Recovery Plan funding to close our budget deficit, meaning that if we didn't have the American Recovery funds, we would have had to dramatically cut back on core services. So we have a huge budget crisis that's going to rear its head in the next couple of years, and once the American recovery plan dollars go away at the end of 2024, we're in serious, serious trouble unless we generate new revenue, which we're going to have to do. And I believe housing has to be a huge part of that. So we have created what is now about a $45 million fund, and alongside of that, a housing advisory board that I'm going to sit on, where we will bring public and private folks together. We have got to raise as much private capital alongside our public money as humanly possible. Our fund has to be hundreds of millions of dollars, not just 10s of millions of dollars. So I'm optimistic about that, but that's a ton of heavy work that's ahead of us over the next couple of years. We did pass a new balanced development priority scoring system that will further incentivize affordable housing, but we're going to need the cash. So this is where this public private fund is going to come into play. I agree it's got to be a city-county partnership, where the city and private folks are working alongside the county to put as much money into a fund that will fund new units, fix existing units, provide rent supports, all kinds of other things that we know are going to be part of making sure Cincinnati is a place where if you work here, you can afford to live here.
Question 2: The City of Cincinnati freely awards public subsidies and benefits like land, zoning changes, and tax abatements to private development projects. Hundreds of cities across the country reserve these incentives only for projects that include affordable housing. Would you support an ordinance requiring the inclusion of affordable housing and prevailing wage jobs in order for developers to be awarded these incentives? Thousands of Cincinnatians have been displaced from their homes so that developers can move in people with higher incomes. Would you sponsor an ordinance that would make it such that developers could not both displace people for gain and receive city incentives?
Prevailing wage is required when the city puts money into a project. One of the reasons why there is an incentive on our end to invest in some of these projects is because it triggers prevailing wage, and it means that workers will get better wages. One of the challenges with our commercial abatement program is that it doesn't always mean that local folks get these jobs. So what we passed was this balanced development priorities rubric that says we're going to incentivize housing, affordability, local jobs, where these local jobs are good paying jobs with career training. So it's not just the wage, but there's a ladder in terms of getting to the next rung, economically. Also local business inclusion, particularly black and brown businesses, and then an anti-displacement commitment from the developer. So all of that's now in place, and it will start to, I think, really take shape this fall, when projects that have gone through the process start to come before us, we'll make improvements along the way, but I think it will make a big difference. I also introduced a per property waiver, which Councilman Kearney talked about, and it's an ordinance that we'll ask council to vote on, that'll say, “look, if you want a waiver on density, or parking, you've got to include affordable housing in your project”. I think that will make a very big difference. Ultimately, we're going to need to put more cash into these projects in order to say, here's the amount of affordable housing we expect. That's where the fund comes into place, and why we need $100 million fund, not just a 10s of millions of dollars of fund. That's why this fund is so critical.
Question 3: Cincinnati has been cited as one of the most segregated cities in our country. The continuing legacy of systemically racist and classist housing and development policies and practices have left entire communities out of opportunities for economic success, while other communities have been created as places of concentrated wealth. Black People are most harmed by these discriminatory policies. How will your plans for affordable housing benefit Black People specifically? How will you work to increase access to wealthy neighborhoods?
Yes, a couple things. One, the residential abatement program right now is, as many of you know, it's city wide. At wherever you are, you can get the abatement, it's a 15 year abatement, if you are investing in environmentally friendly construction. That ends up really hurting lower income homeowners or interested homeowners. We've got to fundamentally change our residential tax abatement, similar, as you've heard, to Columbus and other places, and a tiered program, where you don't get the abatement in certain areas like Hyde Park or Mount Lookout. You do get it in other areas where we need to increase homeownership, but you don't have to do things that are out of your financial reach. In order to do that, legally, we had to do a study similar to the CROSON study that will define the areas in a way that will be upheld in court. I fought for that study, it's $150,000, not much, but we push for it in the budget. That is now happening, it's underway. So that will give us the data we need to introduce a piece of legislation to fundamentally overhaul our residential abatement program, which will make a huge difference. Number two, the reason why the property waiver on affordability, whether it’s density or parking, is so critical is because that will allow us to do this kind of affordable housing in neighborhoods all across the city. There's another proposal that just says “lift the density requirement”. I don't support that, because I think that will just further concentrate wealth and further concentrate poverty. Lastly, whenever we're investing money with the fund, and I think we have to update our agreement with the port, all of these projects have to prove that they are deconcentrating poverty and desegregating our neighborhoods. I believe that this new policy with the port and a firm policy with the fund to ensure that that's the case, will make a huge difference in desegregating the city.