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LaKeisha Cook 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 do think that we could allocate 50 million. If you look at the budget last year, we spent additional money downtown. After they finished adding to the streets, they spent another 2 million downtown just in revamping the neighborhood. I think you have to look at making sure there’s access to every community. So when you look at 50 million, and you're talking about affordable housing, what we really need to talk about is affordable housing is not just renting, but it's also owning, and it's also new development properties. We have to make sure that there's a function available to everyone in all the communities. That's going to be what the most essential part of the funding is, and also that comes into HUD dollars. That's going to come through the ownership, through people owning houses, and it's also going to come through a tax abatement, which more individuals will also be able to have homeownership. If you look at San Francisco, the way they handle new developers is they require anybody who's having more than 10 residential homes to have affordable units in their property. The affordable units are done through a lottery system. This allows anybody to sign up and get access to this home. That also provides diversity, equity and inclusion in Cincinnati. We want to spread Cincinnati across the city, we also want to make sure that anybody has access to the community, everybody has equity to new apartments, and there’s accessibility. Then when you look at the partnership with the money they spend in new home ownership and development, they also merge with new developers that are smaller. When you look at 4 families that are willing to rent out, they meet with them and say “how can we adjust pricing”? So really, it's about providing those levels of opportunity, whether it's through taxes, or whether it's the city paying a portion, and then the individual being able to pay a rest of the portion. What’s also going to be really crucial is, San Francisco learned that their affordable housing had to be put in the city. So what they did was they created a system in which every affordable housing unit is on their public website. This makes it accessible and easy for everybody in the community. That's what we have to do; we have to make everything accessible, easy for anybody who's willing to apply for affordable 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?

I think that that is one of the most essential questions, is that if we're going to continuously want affordable housing, we need to have incentives for affordable housing. You cannot continuously push people out of neighborhoods that they have grown up in, raised their children, and then expect for them to also be the working class that you need to migrate back to those neighborhoods. That is why we are also at a work shortage. If you look at the Metro bus line, that Cincinnati had increased our tax levy for, one thing we forgot to do was talk to the Metro bus riders about their payment. When you look at making sure that everybody has affordable wages, especially if it's coming out of the city of Cincinnati, we need to address the workers. We need to make sure that they're paid the top tier, any contract that we have with a developer, or the people that are building our bridges. We can't require them to go with unions, but what we can do is require a level of pay. Also, when we talk about gender, something that is really big in Cincinnati is making sure that women are also working these jobs because they are providers for their homes, and for the field they're in. I think it's essential that we also make sure that these are inundated in the contracts and initiatives to bring these people back. This is how other cities function, number one, because it closes the gap between low income, middle wage and high income earnings. It also stops poverty from happening at a massive level, which we right now, in Cincinnati, do have, and we also have a level of discrimination, as we talked about, and accessibility. We want to continuously make sure that people who are working in Cincinnati have the same access as others. We can't continuously do this by looking at our corporate organizations for good deeds. There's also inaccessibility with smaller developers. I would love to say like “Cincinnati has a really strong rental unit, and they want to support the initiatives of affordable housing. They just want to understand how affordable housing operates when it comes to smaller homes and what initiatives they can plan”. I think this is also going to be a big educational thing that we have to offer for people. It has to be after six o'clock. Most of our developers, most of our working class people, most of our people operating in the system, when I talk to them knocking on the doors, they said “we understand the need for affordable housing, but nobody addressed us on how we were going to get the support for affordable housing. How do we know who the renters are going to be? What does the system actually look like? Do you have a system in place”? So I go back to it needs to be an external system from the city. This is also case managers’ number one issue when you work for an agency, is if it was accessible to everyone, and you knew where to put those information in, where the clients could return to, everything would be available to them. I think it’s really about how we’re going to make this system set up to be accessible. How are the initiatives really going to provide for people with affordable housing are working class individuals, because most working class individuals are the ones who need affordable housing. When rent is $1300 for a one bedroom, I don't understand that right now. So we have to provide more support for them, more opportunities, and more initiatives also for our smaller developers, because that brings money back into Cincinnati, as well. Instead of continuously thinking about developing a new project. There is a significant amount of developers that are in the heart of Cincinnati that want to build into the community. Another initiative that goes alongside that is homeownership. Homeownership is big with initiatives. You talk about the dollar program for homes, but also there's ADU homes or tiny homes on small property. This allows individuals who are homeless, to go from the homeless shelter to the ADU tiny homes, and then eventually go to affordable housing. It still gives them the same amount of community and support needed to really develop these communities.

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?

The first thing I think with affordable housing is affordable home ownership. That is something that we need to increase in black neighborhoods. That could be done through tax abatements with partnerships through other organizations, like Habitat for Humanity, who help individuals, not only understand the ability to have homes, but to honor their homes. There are several other ones, People Working Cooperatively, and different programs that ensure that we can get those things done. We also need to increase the time limit for African Americans with tax abatements, just because if you look at reparations, if you look at the time that they spent in the homes they weren't able to get before. Additionally, in minority neighborhoods, there is a significant wealth gap. So what we need to do is honor more opportunities for entrepreneurship. An individual can make more money as an entrepreneur in the fast food owning his own food truck than he could ever before. Something that the city of Cincinnati has been requesting from City Council has been a food truck district. This allows people to make wealth, build sustainability, and also have ownership in the communities in which they live in. Additionally to addressing that gap, we need to ensure that we have opportunities for youth. Every time there is a neighborhood meeting, ensuring that we give money to these neighborhoods, so that all neighborhoods can develop. A part of that money needs to be negotiated to ensure that there is a project that is exclusively outlined for youth entrepreneurship. It is a developmental issue, it is an opportunity issue. There's also opportunity for youth to be engaged in the city in which they live in, which is going to be major. Then addressing the food deserts that are in Cincinnati. Things that we have done for Findlay Market, downtown, can also be worked into smaller neighborhoods. Having pop-up shops where people actually sell foods, but also the individual entrepreneur opportunities, they’re able to sell the things that they work on. We need to continuously push this so people can have ownership in their city. It is successful, it is opportunity, and it's really the ability to put money everywhere else.

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