Kurt Grossman - 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 live downtown. In terms of the $50 million a year, I don't know how the city can sustain that all the time. We see how difficult it's been even in this first year where we have ART (America Rescue Trust) money to get to $50 million. The other question is, is it enough, as council member Jan Michelle pointed out? We may need 100 million in some years, and some years we may need less. What I don't want to do is handcuff us in a way that doesn't give us the flexibility to do what we need every year. The other problem I have with this is I have never seen people sit down and develop plans with private industry, with our philanthropic institutions, and we have many here, the city, and those living the issues, to figure out a real plan to expand on affordable housing. What I see all too often is efforts to create, in essence, ghettos. I think Bill referred to those in a different term in England. What I want to do is have a continually diverse community, we're not very diverse in some of our neighborhoods, and we need to be. I don't want to see the city in the business of building, I want to see the city in the business of encouraging and incentivizing the right thing. Whether that's money from the city, money from private industry, money from philanthropic institutions, or a combination of those. I think we can do this, but nobody, in my view, has taken the time to sit down and pull together a viable plan. Instead, we had issue three, which I think was not well conceived in terms of how we limit the ability of the city to fund things. Proposed earnings tax increase, just as we got an earnings tax decrease, without a plan, just to throw more money at it. I don't think throwing money at things is the solution. We need to plan for the short term, and we need to plan for the long term, including lifting people out of poverty so they can afford more and better housing.
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?
First off, I want to say that I'm a little tired of my city giving away money like it's candy. We don't have that candy to give away, and we give huge incentives like liberty and Elm 30 years, that's a generation and a half, where we're going to potentially have a lot of people there with no money coming in to help with the support services that many people will need. What we need to do is focus our efforts on where we can get the biggest bang for the buck. One of those efforts is, number one, prevailing wage should be on every job in this city. People have to make a real living so they can afford to live here when they work here. We also need to have much more affordable housing, but I'd like to see it more in a diverse cross section, which means you don't just build an affordable housing development, you go with grand development that includes affordable housing, and where incentives are necessary to help make that happen, they make sense. Also, I'm concerned with people being displaced. We saw it up with the FC Cincinnati stadium, where suddenly people were pushed out without realizing that was what was going to happen to them. I do applaud Jan Michelle for the legislation, or the ordinance, she's proposing. It's helpful, but I'm not sure it does far enough. We need to make sure people have more than enough notice and actual help in relocating if they're going to be displaced. Otherwise, they're left on their own to find something while they're trying to work for a living, put food on the table, they can't do all that at the same time. They actually need help in functioning to move around, get around, and it may well be in some cases, the displacement should be temporary. You can't rebuild a neighborhood while people are living in the middle of it. You have to help people move out, but you also want to bring them back. So I think if we combine those efforts, we can build a system that has incentives that make sense to bring back neighborhoods that are high opportunity neighborhoods without throwing money at wealthy people in low opportunity neighborhoods. Unless I have those backwards, that language gets me confused sometimes. We need to make sure people can live and enjoy their lives throughout the city, and have a diverse community that we do not have currently.
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?
At bottom, we know that history echoes, doesn't repeat, it actually echoes. The history that we've had in this community, is that going against us even today? As the question points out, we're building these concentrations of great wealth. Those are as harmful as concentrations of great despair. We have a wealth gap, and it's a significant one. In my opinion, the only way we're really going to start resolving that is if we help those at the lesser end of the spectrum lift themselves up out of that. When you hear, well, you take that single mom, two kids trying to feed her family, put a roof over her head, and then you tell her to go and work two jobs to do it. Then you tell her to go get training, when, in the five minutes she has left to sleep? Now it's incumbent upon the city to help with her kids, help her support one of those incomes without having to work, and instead using it to get training, schooling, whatever she may need to actually lift herself up and give her family hope. That is the way we're going to end the cycle of poverty, I believe. That's what we have to do underneath all of this, because virtually all of our problems come from the wealth gap, and the ever crushing cycle of poverty that we've been trying for 50 years to beat, and we haven't won a single battle yet. I think it's time we actually sit down and do that, figure out how we get the help to the people who need it the most so they can lift themselves and their families up, permanently, not temporarily. That may include affordable housing, it may include integration in ways we haven't even thought about yet. We are a city of two cities and we have to find a way to break that barrier down. To think that any of us sitting here today know the answers to problems that have plagued us for 50 years is not realistic. We have to sit down together and figure out real solutions from the people who live it every day, who can help us understand what they're really living and what they really need.