Episode #66: Winter Update

On the 66th episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, TravisJake, and John discuss the demolition of the Pogue’s Garage and the construction of the Fourth & Race and Eighth & Sycamore towers. We also discuss the effects of the Hamilton County Auditor’s property revaluations, various Uptown developments, and more.

Nationwide Housing Shortage Most Dire For Those at the Bottom

For those at the lowest rungs of America’s economic classes, the affordable housing crisis is bad and getting worse. According to a 2011-2013 study released in 2015 from the Urban Institute, not a single county in the United States has an adequate supply of affordable housing for those in extreme poverty. Families classified as extremely low-income (ELI), or those making less than 30 percent of an area’s median household income, have far less options today than in 2000. On average nationally, only 28 affordable units are available for every 100 ELI renter households. That represents a 25% decrease in the years since 2000, when there were 37 affordable units for every 100 ELI households.

In Hamilton County, there are 52,749 ELI households (making $20,600 or less), with only 17,972 affordable units. This amounts to around 34 affordable and adequate units for every 100 households. In 2000, there were 47 units for every 100 ELI renter households. As usual, most of Cincinnati’s peer cities are facing a similar situation for their region’s poorest residents. In Cuyahoga County (Cleveland), there exist only 31 affordable units out of 100 families today, compared with 44 in 2000. In Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), there are 35 units per 100 families today while there were 44 per 100 in 2000.

Since 2000, many rural and suburban counties have joined metropolitan counties in their extremely low numbers of available units per needy households. The change is visibly stark on the Infographic for the State of Ohio, As the Urban Institute notes, the most drastic changes have occurred in the Midwest, South, and West in states like Ohio, Kentucky, Alabama, and Nevada, where comparatively abundant ELI housing availability in 2000 has plummeted.

The last 16 years have also seen ELI families increasingly reliant upon federal assistance for housing. The Great Recession, rising prices in many metropolitan areas, stagnant wages, and lack of development mean that while only 57% of families relied on HUD in 2000, more than 80% do now.

Indeed, while the Urban Institute points out that federal assistance for housing has grown (albeit not enough), they also acknowledge that many in the US Congress frequently call for cuts to federal housing assistance provided through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Without this federal assistance, an already-dire situation for ELI families becomes catastrophic. Accounting for a theoretical total cut in federal housing assistance, there would exist only 5 affordable units for every 100 ELI renter household. That amounts to a mere 609,802 units for 11,341,484 ELI households. In Hamilton County specifically, there would be only 10 units for every 100 households. Cuyahoga and Allegheny Counties fair even worse, with only 5 and 3 units per 100 ELI renter households, respectively.

While the nationwide housing crisis has been much-discussed, including on this site, the true scope of the problem is most visible at the bottom of the economic spectrum. The biggest loss in affordable housing for extremely low income families has occurred mostly in unassisted units, highlighting the need for more affordable developments nationwide. Without increased federal assistance, along with more and smarter development across the nation, many will be driven to homelessness and unsafe & overcrowded housing.

Sewer Improvements Save Money, Reduce Environmental Impact

Changes are afoot for Cincinnati residents — underfoot, that is.

The Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) recently unveiled sweeping changes to the region’s sewage system. By optimizing the existing infrastructure’s ability to handle wet weather, newly-installed smart technologies will reduce environmental risk, slash rates, and prolong its life.

“Our smart sewer system is anticipated to save tens of millions of dollars in capital investments in projects to control sewer overflows,” said MSD Director Gerald Checco in the press release. “This is our best chance of reducing spending and ultimately costs for our ratepayers.”

Prior to this announcement, MSD’s reputation had been marred by a string of scandals. Investigations into their financial practices exposed several improprieties and a once-in-a-century storm flooded homes across the county with backed-up sewage.

Illustration of a CSO (City of Cincinnati)

Yet, amid the hoopla, the Mill Creek basin was reaping the benefits of a smart sewer system. A centralized “brain” tracked flow rates throughout the system. New sensors and gates diverted excess storm runoff into larger pipes or other areas that weren’t full. “The ability to have a view of our entire system in real time really helps us to respond quicker to things because it raises that awareness,” said Missy Gatterdam, head of MSD’s watershed operations division, in an interview with UrbanCincy.

Outside this basin, MSD’s pipes empty into nearby streams or rivers, a process called a Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO). CSOs are legal, but they can damage the environment. Sewers combine domestic, commercial, and industrial runoff with storm runoff. On dry days, this is not a problem. Toxic wastes migrate to a treatment facility.

On particularly rainy days, however, the pipes can’t handle all of the waste and water and must dump these undesirables into the ecosystem. (Here is a video MSD made to help explain the process.)

Untreated water isn’t just disgusting; it’s also deadly. An Environmental Protection Agency report to Congress in 2001 says bacteria found in untreated waters can cause gastric disorders, typhoid, and even cholera. Thankfully, MSD’s smart system will reduces the 11.5 billion gallons of runoff and waste overflow that wind up in the region’s waterways every year.

Gatterdam remarked that the original plan was to rollout the technology to the Muddy Creek and the Little Miami River basins this year, but budget cuts by the county have halted any expansion.

New Downtown Coworking Space More Than Just A Number

1628. What’s in a number? Is it a year, an address, or something else? Actually it is the name of downtowns newest co-working location. 1628 is named for a year of several noteworthy events including the setting of “The Three Musketeers,” and the founding of the oldest educational institute in North America, the Collegiate School. But most importantly it is the year that the word coworking was first published in a book by John Jackson called, “The Worthy Churchman.”

Coworking spaces are typically an open office environment where entrepreneurs and other different business owners can work together in shared space. Members typically get access to an office setting, Internet connections and a community without signing a lease for their own office.

Tamara Schwarting, founder and CEO of 1628 is positioning the space to go beyond the typical definition of coworking. The venture out of a desire to run her own business, TLS Consulting Group in a space other than her home or a coffee shop.

“I found myself as a mid-career consultant with over two decades of corporate experience.  I started my first year in consulting as an independent professional working from home or coffee shops,” Schwarting told UrbanCincy, “However I found myself longing for the community and efficiency of an office, I built 1628 to reflect the desires of others who like me want a workplace designed to inspire.”

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1628’s facilities are targeted at the mid-career professional looking for a more sophisticated location and could be a sub-contractor to one of Cincinnati’s many corporate headquarters.

Located along Piatt Park at 11 Garfield Place and next door to Cafe Paris, it is centrally located just two blocks from Fountain Square, a Cincinnati Bell Connector stop and across the street from a Cincy RedBike station at the Public Library.

What sets 1628 apart from other coworking spaces is the quality of its amenities for members. These include five conference rooms, each equipped with Smart TV’s, speakerphones and iPads, secure Cincinnati Bell FiOptics in addition to quiet rooms, a kitchen and a media room for breaks. At capacity the space can hold anywhere between 40-50 people at one time and has flexible space for events.

1628 opened at the start of this year and interested parties can learn more about the space through their website.

New Development Adds Affordable Housing, Restaurant to Over-the-Rhine

Another development is coming to the Brewery District. The Historic Conservation Board approved a zoning variance that will bring fifty affordable housing units and a restaurant to several vacant buildings along the streetcar line.

Affordable housing in Over-the-Rhine (OTR) has received a lot of press recently. Freeport Row, the newly-christened Source 3 development at Liberty and Elm, was heavily criticized because it lacked any affordable housing. Most recent development has been market-rate or luxury apartments, despite the fact that OTR’s average median income was $14,517 in the 2010 census.

The fears aren’t unfounded; the neighborhood has lost affordable housing. Xavier Community Business Institute determined that OTR and Pendleton have lost 2,300 affordable housing units since 2002. This project — called Abington Flats — will help replenish that stock. Three different companies banded together to create Abington: 3CDC, Model Group, and Cornerstone Corporation Renter Equity. 3CDC is developing the commercial space, while the other two control the residential space. This project is part of a larger effort by the team to develop hundreds of affordable units in OTR.

Abington Flats consists of five buildings, the largest of which is 33 Green Street. Built in 1910, the four-story building features a commercial space on the ground floor with three floors of residential apartments above. Model Group Senior Project Manager Jennifer Walke said that all five buildings need “substantial rehab.” 33 Green Street will be 100 percent ADA accessible. The team is shooting for LEED Silver certification.

In an email to UrbanCincy, 3CDC Communications Manager Joe Rudemiller said that, depending on future tenants’ needs, there will be up to four retail or office space and up to two restaurants or bars.

Finding a restaurant or bar will be key to the project’s long-term financial viability. Tax credits fund a building’s development and construction; they don’t cover operating costs. Rent from below market-rate units might not cover its full cost. Rent paid by commercial tenants offsets this difference.

This is why investors rarely back affordable housing projects. It’s hard to profit. Plus, tenants with less financial security pose a greater risk to the owners. Cornerstone’s shared equity program strives to overcome this trend. Tenants can earn equity through timely rent payments and property maintenance. Build up enough equity and — after five years — it becomes cash. Abington Flats will use their system.

Total costs hover around $17 million — $13.8 million for the residential portion and $3 million for the commercial space. Several subsidies fueled the development, including Federal and State Historic Tax Credits and Low-Income Housing Tax Credits.