Jan-Michelle Kearney- Full Forum 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?
So the city has its own Affordable Housing Trust Fund. I can tell you that issue three was not a failure. I mean, it really pushed the city to say we've got to get moving toward affordable housing and we can't just keep talking about it. We have to do something about it. The problem with issue three was the funding and that's what this question goes to. So everybody wants affordable housing, the problem is, and the real question is, can the city afford to commit 50 million a year from its general fund? Now there were some options in issue three, which our city solicitor's office said we're not viable. I don't know the answer to that, they did the research. So there are conflicting views about that. So where we are now because issue three was pushed, the city now has about 45 million in its Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which is a good start. We need about 50 to 100 million, I understand, in order to really make a dent in the affordable housing market. Sowe're moving toward that. I can tell you every year, we struggle with funding and our budget. We’ve been really lucky the past two years in getting American Rescue Plan dollars. I don't know if that's going to happen every year, we're worried about the earnings tax. You know, there are a lot of lawsuits that people are saying if they work from home and they don't live in Cincinnati, they don't want to pay the earnings tax, and that's 70% of our budget. So I don't know if we can,it would be nice to say, yeah, we can do that 50 million a year. I don't know. But I know that for now, we need to get up to that 50 million to really start making a difference, and we are almost there.
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?
Let me start with the second part, because I'm actually working on an ordinance because of what happened on Court Street, with long-time residents getting put out of their homes, with nowhere to go, and no money to get there. So, the ordinance, we looked at what were some good practices in other parts of the country. Seattle might be the model we use, because we actually looked at various ones. The ordinance that we are about to bring before the city has it so that developers have to let residents know at least three months in advance that the plan is to renovate or tear down the building, whichever one they're doing. With that, they have to give informational packets to the residents, they also have to give them moving costs at least $600, they have to give them first month's rent for the place they're moving to. Also, they have to return their security deposit so that you can make repairs after the person leaves. Of course, if you're about to renovate or tear down the building, you don't need that security deposit, so you roll that into your development costs. Also any assistance, we have something else in there about housing assistance to help residents in moving because I mean, really what happened is residents had nowhere to go and didn't have money. Other parts of the country, some cities have where developers have to get certificates before they put everybody out of a building. So we want to, it's really an anti-displacement measure. The second part of your question, really what you're asking me is “do we want to make the inclusion of affordable housing mandatory”? Well, I started with that at one point, that was something I was proposing. I was advised that's really tough here, that it'll end up in court, it's not going to get anywhere. So what I ended up doing was saying, “let's tie incentives to affordable housing”. So, for example, now we have something coming before us about density waivers, but there's no incentive tied to it. What I would like to propose, if we're going to give municipal benefits, that we make an incentive system. So the property tax working group is already working on the Columbus model, the tier system, where certain incentive tax abatements, TIFs, density waivers, parking waivers, are tied with affordable housing, and they have a tiered approach for that. So I stepped back for a minute, because property tax working group says they have that under control, they're going to present it to us. I read the Columbus model, and I really, really like it. I think it's something workable here. So they will bring that before us, and I think we'll be in really good shape, so that municipal benefits will be tied to the inclusion of affordable housing in development projects. And affordable housing means that residents are not using more than 30% of their income for housing, which is excellent.
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?
Black homeownership is something that I've been talking about for years, way before I came on Council. The Cincinnati Herald started doing “owning it” workshops several years ago because we could see the need, as the homeownership rate in Cincinnati is about 38%, and most of the country is 62%. I understand from Housing our Future that the Black homeownership rate is only like 33%. I mean, it's just ridiculous. And yeah, we all know why. We know the redlining, the history of discrimination, deed restrictions, all of that. We know about all the racist policies that we are suffering from the effects of, today. The other thing we're suffering from is the fact that the zoning policies, for example, in most of the city, single family zoning has kept us from having multi-family homes. Many people can't afford a total mortgage by themselves, but if they had a tenant, another family living in the same building, they could own that property. So one thing that I've been talking to our community councils about is, would you consider in your neighborhood at least an overlay district that allows multi-family housing instead of all single family homes, because we have multi-family homes throughout the city. Once they are converted to single-family homes, they can't be converted back, because they're in single-family zoning. It really hurts the possibility of having more affordable homeownership across the city, not just in certain neighborhoods. We also need to look at, and Housing our Future mentioned this, credit scores. We're looking at really high credit scores and that’s just not reachable for some people. So how can we change some of the criteria to level the playing field, so that families can get loans for increasing homeownership? We also have to look at programs like in Price Hill. Price Hill Will has a homesteading program. This is all in the works. I'll just end by saying that we're looking at a lot of things and trying to get a lot of things put forward.