‘The Rhine’ examines what all the changes in OTR mean to long-standing residents

As Over-the-Rhine continues to be transformed, some have wondered if the changes taking place may have a negative impact on the low-income residents currently living in the neighborhood.

This was the fight Buddy Gray long fought for Over-the-Rhine until he passed in 1996. The door was then opened for a change to this dynamic in the early 2000s when the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) was able to purchase hundreds of properties throughout the downtrodden neighborhood.

Since that time hundreds of new housing units and dozens of new businesses have opened up shop. While some of those new businesses and residents match those that have long called the neighborhood home, others do not, and instead present a stressful new reality for those low-income residents who are seeing their world change around them.

The following video, entitled The Rhine, was produced by Kyle Pedersen in an effort to highlight these struggles. UrbanCincy in no way taking a position on the contents of this video, but instead thought it would be useful as a point to start a conversation about the changes taking place in historic Over-the-Rhine.

What do you think? Are the differences between the new and the old residents of Over-the-Rhine too great? What, if any, opportunity is there to bridge that divide? Have investors done enough to engage the existing community? Is the existing community, and their representative organizations, overreacting? We would love to hear your thoughts and ideas.

  • zschmiez

    OK, Guess I’ll start…

    I do think that OTR went from a revitalization project to an investment project at warp speed. And I dont fault 3CDC for that. By that I mean the goal was to get people to move in/ rent, and open some shops and restaurants.

    Well, they did, and because of the proximity to downtown, and strategic placement and efforts in preservation, presentation, places like Senate, Ab street, Bakersfield, Lackmean are VERY popular and pricey. There exists opportunity for affordable food/beverage sales. But you cannot fault their success, because I think they (3CDC) are even surprised how well its going (during tough economic times no less).

    Findlay Market might be the epitome of a service that caters to both high and low income. Location is convenient. produce is cheaper than grocery stores. Meat is comparable if not cheaper. Washington Park is another example. Corner stores selling booze, loose’ies, and little debbie’s are not.

    I guess efforts could be placed on organizing ALL residents of OTR, and talking about what they want regardless of income. I think what everyone wants is a safe inviting environment for everybody. They dont want crime, trash in the streets, excessive noise, etc.

    Neighborhood and civic pride is the goal.

  • What I think does the issue a disservice is painting it in such a simple light. They show affluent, young white people in the video, then they show poor black residents. There are many more racial/economical situations than that in Over-the-Rhine, and it is only made worse by the use of the word “they”…as if there is some monolithic group of people perpetuating this. If we really examine the situation, we can find out that is not the case.

    Furthermore, the narrative always seems to be about the poor residents being the “real” Over-the-Rhine residents, and these newcomers as something non-authentic. Yes, there are differences between different people, but all are residents of this neighborhood. The interests of the wealthy shouldn’t take precedent over the poor, but the interests of the poor should not also prevent the wealthy from also having a stake in the community. Both can, and should, coexist. That is Over-the-Rhine’s great challenge.

    • zschmiez

      Good point about “real” residents.

      I do question (philosophically) whether both can and should co-exist. Think of opportunistic endeavors. When something is cheap, one acquires it, be it shoes, food, or housing. Is it required to support those who were opportunistic when OTR was cheap back in 70’s/80’s/90’s/00’s while limiting those who are trying to be opportunistic now that prices are going up?

      Hard to keep an open view when I read about a drug related shooting in this very area early this morning. Again, its about neighborhood pride, and removing those who arent moving it in the right direction.

    • I think that might be where some people take issue with all of this. What is the “right direction”? Certainly we all can agree that crime and violence is wrong, but what about the other things? Are certain types of businesses right or wrong? How about certain types of people?

      I understand what you’re saying, but I do think many view that position as a slippery slope, and one that can be considered an attack on someone else’s interests/desires.

  • not enough time to elaborate, but how can beneficial financing options be used by 3CDC in order to foster businesses that provide affordable services that can cater to the full economic spectrum of the neighborhood? What are the day to day needs of existing residents that are not being provided, or whose purveyors are disappearing due to the current form of redevelopment? I can’t think of any examples, so I’ll then ask “how is cost of living increasing?” and if we find culprits, maybe that is the area for 3CDC intervention.

    • The long-time poor of OTR have no private income. How could a business sell to them except with food stamps?

  • If people are so concerned about the current or former poor of OTR, they should support them so they aren’t poor anymore, not dump them somewhere and then commitment themselves body and soul to making sure that they stay poor and that there is an abandoned worthless place to dump them. Pay more tax for housing subsidies or better disability payments instead of creating a dumping ground where you can send them for free. This is all so self-serving. These people are the former ‘prisoners’ waxing nostalgic about their former ‘cell-mates’. This is not remembrance of a thriving self-sustaining community. The building 3cdc bought were almost all empty, except the 21c hotel building. Almost no one was ‘displaced”. Only Cincinnatians could paint such an unquestionably good development in such a negative light.

  • We bought our condo in OTR a couple years ago before the big boom in activity along vine/etc. Senate hadn’t even opened yet, so it was just a bunch of condo’s and a couple pioneering businesses. Was a pretty dead area at most times unless there was some sort of event. Washington Park was still a little sketchy and hadn’t been closed yet.

    The changes over the past couple years have been rather insane to watch. Senate was quickly followed by others and suddenly we’ve got this booming nightlife and influx of new people, not just the local residents (old and new).

    Living in OTR you get to know the locals, most of which are incredibly nice and friendly people. Even if you don’t know their names, you pass them everyday and everyone says hi and they become part of your routine. What I’m noticing lately is that the people who live in OTR (both old and new) are getting a bit overwhelmed by the newcomers. Those coming down for the restaurants, the new park, the shops, the events. Some sort of urban theme park for the suburbanites and their SLRs.

    In some ways the popularity of OTR is a good problem to have, but in others it makes you worry about the future. While I, myself, am not a long-term resident of OTR, I do worry about those who are. I worry that this influx of newness is going to wipe out the old or drive them out. The old timers, their quirkiness, even the various social services and long-time establishments that make up our neighborhood. It’s a diverse and interesting fabric, made up of the rich, poor, every color and various faiths. Much more interesting than the people the nightlife draws. I don’t want to live amongst those people.

    • I echo Dan’s sentiments. I’ve been here for five years, bought a condo a few months before Dan did. It’s a very tenuous balance between a neighborhood where people live, play and work and a neighborhood where people from outside the neighborhood just “play”– mind, I don’t think people shouldn’t visit, but the people who DO visit need to respect the fact that people live here and aren’t just here to drink and have a good time. I am afraid that OTR will become the next Mt. Adams– and that’s not something that I consider “good”.

    • We should be so lucky as to have a second Mt. Adams.

    • Love the view and the charming streets. Hate the puking college students on the weekends.

    • There’s more to Mt. Adams than that.

    • Yes, but think about perception. I love Mt. Adams but it has become, in many people’s mind, a playground.

    • zschmiez

      I believe thats due more to the cruddy night scene near campus. College kids need party bars and frankly none exist right now.

      I think the Vine St. hotspots have some self respect to their clientele. And the Main St. joints have respectful clientele. As long as that exists it wont turn into a playground.

    • charles ross

      Actually, OTR could become the next OTR. This cycle took place with the Michael Bany/Timothy Thomas episodes in the “Main Street” boom that was tied to the riots a decade back. Funny how that coincided roughly with the Internet boom/bust. The same scenario of rich kids at play next door to slums played out badly. Hopefully we are learning a little from that very recent boom and crash cycle.

  • This seems like an incredible opportunity for the City of Cincinnati. The revitalization of OTR is already a case that many other cities are watching closely. If OTR can find a way to balance development with social inclusion, it would instantly put Cincy on the map for cool urban places to live.

    I don’t think the situation is as bleak as the video portrays. The group probably needed a strong message to make sure they are heard, and I think they should be on equal footing with other vested interests, if they are not. A low-income community that is secluded from the economic activity of the city is not a success, so the presence of outsiders is a good problem to have. Change is difficult, but these groups need to find ways to take advantage the opportunity for the existing residents.

    Now is the time to come up with as ideas as possible and bring everyone to the table. If people realize cooperating will benefit everyone, a solution can be found. Maybe new businesses should pay more in taxes to provide better social services for low-income residents. Maybe they should have incentives to hire local workers. Maybe new residential developments should be required to be mixed-income. Maybe new businesses can support a crime-prevention group to improve safety for everyone and employ existing residents (I am thinking of CeaseFire in Chicago). Maybe existing residents can form co-ops to service new businesses (cleaning, maintenance, advertising). Maybe new businesses can offer products on a sliding scale to local residents.

    • mercer commons will be about a fifth ‘affordable’ apartments.

    • Housing is a great start, and will continue to be important, but is it all that is needed? No matter who is to blame, the “assault” needs to become a partnership. It would be foolish to dismiss the feelings of lifelong residents. They are people with ideas and pride, and can be an asset to redevelopment. The ultimate goal needs to be a vibrant, united community where all residents co-exist and benefit from the changes.

      Redevelopment can provide resources for low-income families, in ways (like jobs, safety, education, and community pride) that other social welfare programs cannot. OTR can be a big step forward for the urban poor, or just another cute, gentrified neighborhood. Which do we need right now?

    • But if the lifelong residents have no money, own no property, and pay no taxes can we afford to let them occupy so much pontentially valuable land out of only guilt or kindness? Urban and poor are two different things. They don’t have to go together. If they can join in the efforts and be less poor as a result, wonderful, but if they can’t, they have no more claim to OTR than anyone else.

    • zschmiez

      First off, if you are a renter, then really you have no skin in the game, especially with todays mortgage rates. Owners are fully vested. Renters are not.

      Second, to the “lifelong” residents: Don’t they want to see the building filled, the streets clean, the crime squashed, more restaurants, Kroger cleaned up? Im not being insensitive to culture, just a belief that a community does not HAVE TO have gun violence, assault, theft. In fact it shouldnt have those things. This activity was rampant before 3CDC moved in, and its decreased annually ever since.

      to Mia: I dont think they can ask for additional taxes to businesses to support neighborhood services, as the city already has to provide tax incentives to get businesses and residents to move in.

      OTR is still gritty enough that the residents moving in (for the most part) understand the vibe and want it to be an inclusive community, not a place where their house happens to be.

    • You will ignore the lifelong residents at your own peril. They will either be an asset or a barrier to development. If you don’t engage them, they will fight back to keep what they know. And why shouldn’t they? That will either undo what has been done in OTR, or just move the poverty and the crime to another neighborhood. No problems solved.

      I simply thought that now, when development is at a tipping point, would be a good time to try to make an inclusive community. Perhaps I was wrong.

    • I’m not ignoring them.Just the opposite. I’m focusing my attention on then and the fact that they really don’t have anything to contribute to this process. “Inclusion” is just another word for “payoff” here. These people aren’t low-income people. They are no-income people. They came to OTR because they couldn’t survive anywhere that required them to have some income to pay for something. Now that OTR is increasingly requiring the same of them, they can’t stay there either. Trying to turn 3cdc into an organization for all things good in cincinnati, is spreading it too thin and biting of more than it can chew. The one thing we can’t ignore is the fundamental law of supply and demand.

    • One correction…taxes are paid on the property, not the unit. So in the case of apartments, the property owner passes on the tax expenses to the renter in the cost of their rent.

    • If renters received itemized bills listing their rent and a separate property tax based on their rent you might have a point. But they don’t. Most of the long-time renters don’t even pay their own rent and the building owners calculate property tax as an expense like insurance or maintenance that must be paid but that has no bearing on how they set their rents. They set their rents based on the value of the vouchers their tenants have and make due with whatever comes in. It’s unsustainable and ends when the building becomes unihabitable from deferred maintenance. Federal and state money is passing directly from the govn’t to property owners. In economic terms, these long-time residents are squatters.

    • That’s not how the housing voucher program works. Those who qualify and choose to use a tenant-based housing voucher can locate anywhere they’d like that accepts housing voucher payments. The landlord must not charge over “Fair Market Rent” for the housing unit, and then the tenant pays roughly 30% of their adjusted income. The federal government then pays remaining rent gap on behalf of the tenant.

      A “Fair Market Rent” would account for local property values and taxes. It would be silly for any landlord (housing voucher or not) to not factor the taxes on their property into their rental rates. That’s how business works…you pass the cost of doing business on to your customer and that’s how you determine your product pricing.

    • Yes, and they obviously locate in some places and not others for logical reasons. “Fair Market Rent” presents endless possiblities for politically motivated manipulation at every level much as declared ‘adjusted income” does for individuals to game the system in ways that undermine the sustainability of the system itself. It has taken the city of Cincinnati two years an appeal and a lawsuit to decide what the ‘fair market value’ of my house is. If this ‘program’ really worked it would provide enough income for owners to maintain their buildings. It obviously doesn’t. Their buildings lose value every year. That makes no sense from an individual financial position. Voucher people aren’t really that different from middle class people who have gamed the system through fannie mae, mortgage interest deductions and other federal regulations. OTR will succeed if it provides a SUSTAINABLE model of housing finance as an alternative to the old failed one. Trying to keep one part of an old failed systemgoing in OTR, no matter how good the intentions, is not the answer.

  • zschmiez

    Similar subject on CNN.com

    Interesting note from Columbia researcher about relocation patterns of the poor:

    http://cnnradio.cnn.com/2012/07/25/the-changing-color-of-our-neighborhoods/?hpt=hp_c4

  • Don_Thompson

    In the video, the write up or any of this discussion everybody is talking about displacing, coexisting, etc. Not a single person has said anything about turning low or no income people into contributing members of the community. Have we just given up on that and the only solution is to find some place to put them or learn how to coexist with them? I remember a few years back when they were getting ready to start work at Washington Park some homeless group was saying that they were taking away these peoples home. What? it’s a public park, not a home. If that group actually cared about those people it would be working with them to be able to live in an actual home instead of fighting for their right to sleep on a park bench. these groups and programs are all just a bunch of enablers to imprison these people in poverty. We have been dealing with these people the same way for decades and nothing has changed and I see no new ideas in this video or discussion. Just a bunch of complaining about unfairness. Programs should be focused on education and hard work, not on how can we tax businesses more so we can allow these people to live like people who have earned it. These “long term residents” have in my opinion destroyed that neighborhood in the 60+ years they have lived there. They haven’t done anything other than just being there that would justify their right to stay there.

    • Fair point. A discussion of new ideas did not take off, yet.

      To your points on education and hard work, my first thoughts included: Maybe new businesses can support a crime-prevention group to improve safety for everyone and employ existing residents (I am thinking of CeaseFire in Chicago). Maybe existing residents can form co-ops to service new businesses (cleaning, maintenance, advertising).
      What do you think would work?

    • Don_Thompson

      Those types of jobs are available now. Maybe not specifically in OTR, but in the GCA. But the problem is those jobs don’t pay enough to be able to afford most of the new housing in OTR unless they get assistance. I don’t believe giving people assistance is the right answer. I would like to drive a Ferrari but can only afford a VW. Should I get a subsidy from the government to get a Ferrari? That sounds ridicules but essentially that is the same thing. There is cheap available housing for them and that is where they need to go. Regardless, that is not the problem. We in this country tend to deal with the results of problems and not the actual problem itself. This is a bigger problem that plagues most inner cities. The problem that needs to be addressed is why don’t these people have jobs that pay enough to be able to live in OTR or wherever. I would say in most cases it is a lack of education and/or attitude towards work. You mention maintenance. Most maintenance jobs these days requires some formal training. I think the first place I would start is I would make vocational schools like The Oaks available for free to anybody wanting to learn a trade. They teach HVAC, welding, electrical, plumbing, etc. All jobs that are always needed everywhere including OTR and also pay a decent amount of money. In my opinion, with proper training, anybody can do those jobs. And probably there are already programs available for people to get that education for free now. Its just that they don’t take advantage of it or don’t know it exists. So if somebody says they want to stay in OTR but can’t afford it, give them the option of go to school and learn a useful trade like being an electrician then they can get a job working for one of the construction companies rehabbing the buildings in OTR. They can work in their community and take pride in the fact that they help build it. There are a lot of different things that can be done. I just think that the era of vouchers and other handouts needs to end. There are better solutions that just take a little more effort.

    • Don, I applaud you on seeing the video for what it is and questioning the status quo. After watching the video a few days ago, I sat on it thinking about the core of the problem. Too many of us take things in life for granted and really do not appreciate the life we were born into. Many of the people living in poverty, not just OTR, were born into poverty and know nothing more. With the rare occasions, how can anyone make something of themselves when the education and positive environment around them isn’t there. Although I am still relatively young, I have learned more than I could have ever imagined thanks to the program I am in within DAAP and co-ops. I come from a typical Westside middle class family whose parents only hold a high school diploma and have never stepped foot outside of Cincinnati other than the beach destinations for vacation every few years. I cannot fathom the idea of never visiting Chicago, Boston, or even New York City. Without these life experiences I would not be the motivated person I am today who is intrigued in the helping of others. The people who live in poverty have no motivation in life and have basically given up. There is almost a feeling of being abandoned. Why should anyone feel this way? The key to helping the people in poverty is to make them feel wanted again. Give them their motivation back. Too many times I read about these mission trips to Africa and South America to help others in need where they teach them how make candles to eventually sell. Why on Earth are people going around the world when there are literally hundreds of people right the street who can greatly appreciate the same teaching. The issue with people living in poverty is that they do not see the end goal which in return gives them no motivation. Most of us will sit here on our computers discussing ways to “help” or even where to put these people but until we actually tackle the problem at its core by connecting with them, then things will continue on its current path. I apologize for how long this is, my class the other day in buyer behavior was on motivation, drives, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and got me really thinking about this issue.

    • Poverty is the status quo not new investment.

    • Matt

      Thoughtful comment, Kyle. The reason people go overseas to help the poor is they know the poor overseas don’t have a government program to lean on as the people here do (though, in reality, this is sometimes not the case). If the government were to ever stop taking care of people, then “we the people” would have to step in and do it, and maybe that is the better way to go.

    • The jobs these people could do are in warehouse and service work in Florence, Fairfield, or Clermont county. They have a future, but it isn’t in OTR. We must accept this.

  • Let’s face it, there are more poor folks arriving from appalachia and points south to OTR via
    the Greyhound station, than “urban pioneers” from the suburbs with BMW’s.

    • You couldn’t be more wrong. You’re describing 1960, not 2012. There are almost no appalachian arrivals in OTR today. Appalachia is doing better economically relative to Cincinnati than it ever has.

    • zschmiez

      I heard it was full of dirty German immigrants….

  • CincyCapell

    One point that’s been lost in this discussion is the fact that OTR was largely depopulated of its poor residents after changes to the Section 8 program were instituted by the Bush Administration beginning in 2002. The expansion of the Section 8 Voucher program led to a mass exodus of low income residents from OTR to City neighborhoods including Westwood, Price Hill, Avondale, and even some suburban neighborhoods outside of the City. OTR was largely empty by the time the current redevelopment began.

    Slumlords have an interest in keeping the poor penned up in OTR. Low income rental housing has been very profitable for its owners, many of whom made vast fortunes from their slum properties. Once the poor took their vouchers and fled OTR many buildings in that neighborhood were left vacant, forcing slumord owners to sell their buildings for redevelopment. We cannot allow a very small group of citizens to keep us from resurrecting OTR from a ghetto into a vibrant, productive and livable neighborhood that it’s becoming again.

    • Thank You! This is about the ‘povery industry’ protecting its market, not actually helping the poor. It’s like the end of the Civil War when the former slave owners were lost without their slaves. If you are a ‘helper’ and there is no one to help you feel lost.Everyone faces these phases in their life when they feel lost and must remake their life. Move on poverty industry. You have a role to play in this world, but being an overseer of a human dumping ground isn’t it. It was never a good idea in the first place. Have the courage to admit this and at least get out of the way.

  • Jason Bailey

    I appreciate the discussion of considering the existing residents in the redevelopment of OTR, but I cannot help but see the larger picture in all this…

    The fact is that many residents and municipalities are realizing that the 60-year suburban experiment has been a failure. This growth Ponzi scheme is bankrupting our cities and has not resulted in happy, healthy residents. Car-based culture isn’t helping obesity rates. Living in a bubble where you know 1/40th of your neighbors hasn’t decreased political divisiveness. Living in one city, working in another, and shopping in a third, with highways between them, has not resulted in vibrant communities, economically or socially. Just ask your local neighborhood store. Hint: It likely closed years ago in deference to a warehouse store located in a formerly rural, now environmentally devastated retail district created through unfair tax exemptions.

    Revitalizing and repopulating the urban core is a fundamental requirement to changing how we live in a more broad sense, in order to achieve a more sustainable and fulfilling lifestyle. I also want to point out that I don’t mean to imply that everyone needs to move downtown or to OTR; the solutions will differ in municipalities that want to help facilitate a more integrated, walkable, community-minded development plan that gives residents the ability to change their lifestyle regardless of population size.

    To touch on the primary topic, I don’t think this requires wholesale displacement of existing populations, but neither can we allow resistance to change without question, such as what I see advocated by homeless advocates and other opponents to 3CDC’s work, to impede the progress being made. To do so would be to forget the forest for the trees. I believe we should strive to be inclusive of those residents who aren’t criminals regardless of income level, and the patterns we develop in OTR should be used to help other urban areas to similarly succeed.