Jaime Castle Forum Full Responses
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 think with issue three, I'm grateful that it happened because it was like a bullhorn to Cincinnati saying, “this is a problem that many people have not thought about”. And it is so important. I'm a teacher, mom, I'm very concerned about our youth, and them having a safe place to thrive. So with issue three, I think that it's a great start, and it has to continue, because whoever gets elected to Council, and as mayor, they're going to have to keep this up. They're going to have to find solutions. The first trust fund that Cincinnati had was supposed to have Airbnb fees go to that and it doesn't. There should be a state and county level combination of effort to tackle this because this isn't just a Cincinnati problem. This is a federal, state, county problem. In Columbus, they have Franklin County and Columbus working together. It's like a loan program. I think if we look at these successful programs in other cities, we can find something that translates to being able to work here. I think the only issue that divided people was the source of revenue every year. And where would that source come from reliably, sustainably? And it's such an important thing that we really have to answer that question. Right now, zoning changes is something that needs to happen that'll get the mixed-use properties throughout the neighborhood. I live in Mount Washington, I've got a four-family right next door, and it's such a sense of neighborhood. We can do many things to help with this housing issue. We have to look at all the tools in our box. I think that this is limiting if we just say “city funds this much a year”. So I want to continue the work and continue this conversation because we can't let it drop. If they don't continue it, you come back next time and you ask for 60 million a year, because that's how we're going to get it done.
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?
So this is something that I know congressman Landsman was trying to get passed, and I think this is maybe the teacher background that we will share; that whole rubric where you have tiered standards, and everything is streamlined. Right now, things are so much a case by case, and it shouldn't be that way. It's not fair to developers who need to plan time as money, and it’s not fair to our neighborhoods. Right now, there is a system in Columbus, and they have measurable criteria, and they have three designations. It is market ready, ready for revitalization, and ready for opportunity. Basically, they are prioritizing what neighborhoods really need investment. Those neighborhoods are getting more of this kind of subsidy from the city. It does include affordable housing, it does include prevailing wages. There's also the environmental impacts that you have to look at in these projects. You also have to include the communities. A community benefits agreement is so necessary, and we need to work with our communities to make sure they have a modern plan for their neighborhoods, and to make sure that they have some say. I think we can prioritize what kind of growth we want to see, and it should be mindful and intentional, and it should be streamlined, and that way it would work. If there are projects that don't want to do all these things, they can pay a fee into Affordable Housing Trust, that is something that happens in Columbus too. So again, sadly, Cincinnati is behind many cities, but we can look at what successes are working in other places and learn from that, and then apply it to our city. We can really bring back a lot of these communities. So many places, there's opportunity, and we need to invest in that. Invest in our people. Get people in a way that they can have a quality of life and thrive.
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?
So I urge everybody watching and for this organization to hold our electeds accountable for these issues, because there's a lot that we can do, actually. Now talking about the Columbus thing with the Ready for Opportunity, that's one thing we can do. We can invest in neighborhoods that have not had that kind of support. We can give those subsidies to developments there. The zoning changes, like Councilwoman Jan Michelle Lemon Kearney said, do need to happen. We have a problem right now, in this city, though it's nationwide, where investors are just taking up the inventory of affordable homes, all these first time starter homes. For example, my first home was on Eastern Avenue, and we had to rent it out for a while because the bubble burst in ‘07. Finally, we got to sell it, and it was amazing how many showings we got just right away. You saw these investors coming at us and they would say, we will offer you your highest plus 500 cash. So how do we combat that as a city? I would love to be creative in pushing back against that, because there are people that want starter homes that just can't get access to that inventory. My neighbor on Eastern bought her house for $1. There was a city program at the time, and there was the whole initiative that you have to live there for so long and improve the property, and she's still there 30 years later. So there are creative things that we can do. Tallahassee has a program that lifts up youth, it's this whole youth leaders program, and it gets children into careers, not jobs, so that they can create generational wealth. Other things that we can do, we can expand Cinci Works. It has great offerings to get your credit rate up and your debt down, but it's not accessible to people that have to go downtown to access it, and the hours aren't very conducive to working people. There are Bloomberg grants that are working with financial literacy, and those are programs that we can really invest in. We just have to be proactive and we have to be intentional, and we can make a lot of difference in the next decade or so.