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?
My name is Michelle Dillingham, asking for your vote in the upcoming city council election. I'm really glad you jumped us off with this question. Why? Because it was actually on the ballot not that long ago, during the mayoral primary. In fact, it was this question that, interestingly, the local leadership in the Democratic Party chose to not endorse many Democrats, because they rejected the question of a dedicated funding source for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Remember, we are the only major city in Ohio without a dedicated revenue stream. Issue three simply suggested a number of sources, it did not compel council to pick one. It just said, “come up with some good ideas”, which is what your question is tonight, right? If we care, collectively, as Democrats, or whoever, about the crisis of affordable housing, then we should have some good ideas on how we can pay for that. I'll tell you that every Wednesday at City Council, our current members of council subsidize housing. Every Wednesday, they subsidize housing, but they subsidize for the wealthiest, and they subsidize for luxury apartments. So I'm asking for your vote, because we need people elected who won't just give lip service. It's interesting how some democrats are saying they care about this, because back when issue three was on the ballot, where were you? I didn’t see the courage and the political will we need to take up this critical crisis. Elect people who are willing to not only talk the talk, but show up and do the tough work of making sure there's true equity in our housing policy. There's lots of money there. It's a matter of political will.
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 just start by saying, before we start talking about passing ordinances, let's just recognize that we need to totally flip the script on what we have now emerged after eight years of a mayor who is literally a real estate developer, lawyer by profession. Who has spent the last eight years driving an administration to basically gaslight anyone who talks about affordable housing as if we're crazy. That's what we're coming out of. What we need is a comprehensive housing policy. That's not just going to be a one off ordinance. It needs to be comprehensive, we need our city administration to reflect what the taxpayers and voters want out of us, and our public tax dollars. Developers coming to do business with the city just want to know what the deal is. We need to be consistent, we need to be fair, and they shouldn't have to have a private meeting with the mayor and pass him a campaign contribution check to be able to do development in the city. That's what's been happening. Yes, that's what's been happening. To do good housing development and good business, and to have a level playing field that everybody likes to talk about, I look so forward to a new mayor and a new council, where we can really be transparent, and we can be clear with developers wanting to do business and wanting to get incentives from us. This is the public good. This is our money, taxpayers. Developers are coming to us to do business, that's fine. It's wholly appropriate to build in things that we want to see done with our tax dollars. There's plenty of national models on how to do that, so that we can build equitable development practices. We are so far from that right now that there's so much work to be done. That's why I'm hoping for your vote- so I can be one of the people working on it.
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 question is, how do we address legacies, I think of housing discrimination, segregation? Our most recent census numbers show that we have a decline in African American families in the city. That is because our housing policies, as it defaults to what we've been doing, are detrimental to African American families. I mean, that's part of the story of the decline. We are operating under a residential tax abatement system that is racist. It is currently in court, and council has done nothing to fix it. The question is, what can we do with our incentives to advance equity? That is the question. Anything that's being given out by the city should have that lens overlaid. What are we doing with this incentive to advance equity? When we look at 3CDC and the Port Authority, people like to talk about public private partnerships. Let's be clear, the Port is not a quasi-governmental entity. They are purely governmental, and yet they're wholly unaccountable to the public. 3CDC has been a sort of extension of the city's economic development department that is unacceptable. No wonder that we are in the place that we are in. It is time to center communities and our residents back in the center of decision-making, neighborhoods in the center of decision making. Not people who are looking to enrich themselves and their investors. Listen, we just gave out $300 million in Cares Act funding, almost 18 million is about to go to FC soccer billionaires, again. So, excuse me if I'm a little frustrated at this forum, but I sat through this very similar forum in 2017. Affordable housing was the top issue in the 2017 election, and nothing has been done by this council that got elected. I hope we vote for some new people, and we will, and I hope I'm one of them.