As Greater Cincinnati leaders face the economic consequences caused by Covid-19, LISC of Greater Cincinnati is unveiling a community-wide housing strategy, created by a multi-agency coalition, that could help alleviate the current crisis and remedy longstanding housing inequities.
Housing Our Future, the housing strategy delivered to Cincinnati City Council, Hamilton County Commission, and other key leaders and stakeholders, recommends 34 actions to produce and preserve affordable housing, protect the most vulnerable residents from housing insecurity, and change the systems that impact housing affordability.
The strategy, which was created by a Steering Committee and sponsored by the Greater Cincinnati Foundation and a host of other funders, also offers new resources and financing mechanisms, as well as supporting research that shows the current state of housing and how we got here.
“Organizations across the region have come together around this critical call to action. This is one step forward toward a more equitable region,” says Ellen Katz, president and CEO of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation.
More than 200 community leaders, residents and stakeholders participated over the last year in the Community Wide Housing Strategy working groups convened by the Steering Committee, which included leaders from the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority, Interact for Health, the Community Building Institute at Xavier University, Over-the-Rhine Community Housing, Housing Opportunities Made Equal, The Port, the Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio, and Talbert House.
Housing advocates, bankers and funders, property owners and developers, renters and homeowners all gathered at dozens of meetings over the last year to consider how best to provide safe and affordable housing, and respond to community needs as voiced by people who live with housing instability every day. With the outreach of the Steering Committee, an incredible ecosystem of talent and organizations was built that can help sustain this strategy and innovate upon its recommendations throughout long-term execution.
Kathy Laker Schwab, Executive Director of LISC of Greater Cincinnati, describes the yearlong creation of the housing strategy as “intensely collaborative and intentionally inclusive. More than 200 people have made contributions, either through financial support or by volunteering their time, insight, and expertise.
“It just attests to the fact that this is a serious issue for our region,” Schwab says.
Restoration in Avondale
The plan was meant to be unveiled in March at the Cincinnati Neighborhood Summit, but that event was canceled because of COVID-19. The pandemic and resulting economic crisis has increased the need for policies that address and remedy longstanding housing inequities.
Ohio is one of only 14 states that does not have an eviction or foreclosure moratorium, and 31 % of U.S. renters were unable to make their rent or only able to make a partial payment in May. John E. Schrider, director of the Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio, says when the work began, foreclosures were decreasing.
“Now, we are going to see a large increase,” Schrider says. “The partial federal moratorium will not prevent this once it expires. We need to plan for that and have programs to keep low- and moderate-income people in their homes.”
But even before the pandemic, Greater Cincinnati was facing a shortage of affordable housing. The top five jobs in Cincinnati are registered nurse, retail sales person, laborer, food service worker, and customer service worker. Of these, only the median income for one — registered nurse — tops $33,200, which is the minimum wage needed to afford the median cost of a two-bedroom rental. None earns the $55,000 needed to afford the median home with a mortgage.
A 2017 study of Greater Cincinnati’s housing affordability, commissioned by LISC and conducted by the Community Building Institute at Xavier University, found that for every 100 of the lowest income households in Hamilton County, there are only 28 units of housing that are both affordable and available. In Hamilton County, a household must make $17 per hour to afford a fair market rate two-bedroom apartment without being cost-burdened by paying more than 30% of household income on housing, the equivalent of two full-time jobs at the current minimum wage.
In addition to all the public and private institutions and city and county officials who worked on the housing strategy, LISC worked with Cohear, a community engagement company, to bring in voices often left out of policy discussions. People who would like to be homeowners, who had been evicted, who are looking for housing in the community — Cohear talked with 42 of these “everyday experts” through group conversations and one-on-one interviews about the housing challenges they’d faced.
“Their lived experiences are inherently valuable,” says Cohear founder Dani Isaacsohn.
“There’s a tremendous appetite for this in our community,” says LISC Deputy Director Kristen Baker. “The question is: What do we do with this momentum? … This takes a collective effort, and it’s going to take a lot of hands to get things moving.”
The information obtained from these discussions formed the basis of the qualitative data for the housing strategy. Dr. Vincent Reina and Claudia Aiken, the faculty director and director of the Housing Initiative at Penn (HIP), part of a comprehensive housing initiative within Penn Praxis at the University of Pennsylvania, provided the quantitative data that also helped to inform the work.
PennPraxis, which also helped to create a housing plan in Philadelphia, stressed that the working groups were creating a living document, something that would evolve as housing needs shifted in specific neighborhoods and across the region. At the time, no one could have predicted a global pandemic or the economic fallout from it, but the themes that emerged in the working groups are more important than ever.
Housing Our Future reflects the need for tenant rights and maintaining quality housing — particularly for renters — the desire to grow local capacity in the housing market as a whole, the need to find creative ways to finance affordable housing, and a call for equitable production goals to serve all tiers of the market.
“Building public support for these series of strategies will be really important,” says Liz Blume, of the Community Building Institute of Xavier University.
Steering committee members say they look forward to the future and continuing to work collaboratively to help regional leaders implement the recommendations from the strategy to fulfill the guiding vision that everyone in Cincinnati and Hamilton County should have access to quality affordable housing in the places they want to live.