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.

Push for Daily Amtrak Service on Cincinnati Route Intensifies

The Chief Scout Executive of the Boy Scouts of America, Michael Surbaugh, appealed to Amtrak CEO Wick Moorman to upgrade Amtrak’s Cardinal from its current tri-weekly service to a daily train. In his December 15 letter, Chief Scout Surbaugh urged a temporary or trial daily Cardinal for the Boy Scouts of America’s National Jamboree, which will take place at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in Mt. Hope, West Virginia. Amtrak’s Cardinal serves stops all along this area, which directly services the 70,000-acre New River Gorge National River. Looking further into the future, the Boy Scouts will be holding their World Scout Jamboree at this same location in 2019.

The Boy Scouts of America have used their Southwest Chief-serviced location near Raton, New Mexico for large events for many years. As an attendee to the joint All Aboard Ohio and Amtrak “Cardinal Conference” hosted by the Cincinnati USA Chamber of Commerce in September – the Boy Scouts were made aware of the issues surrounding less-than-daily Cardinal service.

The Boy Scouts join a myriad of organizations along the line pushing for better service by those communities which are served by it, including the City of Oxford and Miami University, which moved one step closer to a new Cardinal stop in the city. Derek Bauman, All Aboard Ohio’s Vice Chair, stated that, “[w]e are thankful to the BSA for its letter which shows that interest in this enhanced rail service remains strong.”

In his letter to Amtrak CEO Wick Moorman, Chief Scout Surbaugh stated “I know I speak for all when I say that enhanced service would be a welcome addition offering the possibility of increased ridership and visitors to the New River Gorge.” The state of West Virginia seems to agree, as shown by the unanimous motion passed in favor of daily Cardinal service from the West Virginia Governor’s Conference on Tourism. Amtrak itself projected in 2010 that daily service on the Cardinal would result in nearly doubling the current number of passengers utilizing that train.

Proposed Amtrak Extensions and Upgrades (map via All Aboard Ohio)

One of the major challenges to running effective train service to Chicago via the Cardinal includes the condition of track on the current route. All Aboard Ohio Chairperson Ken Prendergast told UrbanCincy, “It should be noted that about 50-60 miles of the Chicago-Fort Wayne/Lima nearest to Chicago could be used by Cincinnati to Chicago trains. It would provide a much faster routing into Chicago than the current route of the Cardinal and any other Cincinnati – Chicago trains that may be added in the near future.”

Elsewhere in Ohio, a passenger rail line linking rail-starved cities like Columbus and Lima to Chicago via Ft. Wayne and Gary, IN received a major boost on Tuesday. Federal officials gave permission for communities along the line to begin the Alternative Analysis and Public Input process, which will do preliminary engineering, service planning, and measure environmental impacts. Those officials met at Ft. Wayne’s Baker Street Station, which saw its last passenger service in 1990. This analysis will being in January of 2017 and finish by the Fall of that same year. The $350,000 needed for this initial studying was raised by cities all along the line.

“This is the first step in the Project Development Process, which all major transportation projects must go through. Right now there is enough funding from communities and businesses west of Lima to do the Chicago-Lima portion but not farther east to Columbus” Prendergast stated.

Prendergast sees these lines as a next step in further connecting Ohio via rail between Chicago and the east coast. If a Chicago to Columbus line is created it is not impossible to  imagine future phases that could expand eastward beyond Columbus as well, Prendergast says, “there’s nothing that says the Eastern Terminus of this route has to be Columbus. In fact Amtrak services from Cleveland and Toledo could be routed over this Fort Wayne-Chicago segment. But we still believe Central Ohio will decide it’s in their economic interest to be a part of this project.”

Officials speaking at the news conference highlighted their big dreams and big plans for the new possible rail line. They called for initial service to run between 70-80mph, with eventual upgrades to 110mph. A 2013 study by the Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association estimated that 10 trains a day along this line could generate up to 2 million annual passengers by 2020.

While both of these proposals require the cooperation of the freight railroads who own the lines (CSX and Norfolk Southern, respectively), many have hope because of Amtrak’s new CEO, Wick Moorman. Moorman is a veteran of the freight rail industry, having served more than 4 decades with Norfolk Southern and its predecessor, Southern. He has signaled that improved relations with the Class I freight railroads will be a focus of his tenure as CEO.

Cincinnati Rent Data Reveals Housing Challenges

Renting an apartment in Cincinnati is comparable in price to most of the geographically close and similar-sized cities in the Industrial Midwest and Upper South regions. Apartment-finding website RentCafé investigated the average apartment size and rent in America’s 100 largest cities. Using a baseline of $1,500, the data provides a glimpse America’s most and least-expensive cities.

Cincinnati’s price per square foot comes out to be exactly $1.00 and, with an average apartment size of 863 square feet, the average rent in the city is $866. Cincinnati is identical in price per square foot with St. Louis, MO, although a smaller average apartment size makes the average rent ($839) cheaper in that city. Cincinnati’s average rent is less than in Pittsburgh, PA ($1,070) and Cleveland, OH ($927) but more expensive than Columbus ($800), Indianapolis ($758), and Louisville ($841). Besides Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, most nearby cities remained relatively similar in average rent prices.

rentanalysisohio

RentCafé’s data also shows, unsurprisingly, that New York City, San Francisco, and Boston top the list with average rents coming out to $4,031, $3,275, and $3,111, respectively. Using the baseline of $1,500, you could afford a 271 square foot apartment in New York City, a 342 square foot one in San Francisco, or an apartment with 399 square feet in Boston. Other cities at the top of the list include other expected cities such as Washington, DC, Seattle, WA, and Los Angeles, CA. The cheapest cities for rent in the nation are Memphis, TN, Wichita KS, and Winston-Salem, NC.

Despite rent in Cincinnati and related cities being relatively cheap renters in these cities’ respective counties struggle to afford a decent apartment. Based on data from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), a typical renter household in Hamilton County, OH (Cincinnati) will spend 36.9% of their income to afford a two-bedroom apartment. The NLIHC considers anything more than 30% to be unaffordable. In Marion County, IN (Indianapolis) that number is 35.1%, in Jefferson County, KY (Louisville) it’s 35.5%, 33.9% in Allegheny County, PA (Pittsburgh), and 37.1% in Cuyahoga County, OH (Cleveland). Franklin County, OH (Columbus) comes close to being affordable at 30.4% and St. Louis County barely makes the cut at 29.7%.

While housing crises are well-documented and discussed in America’s booming cities like New York City and San Francisco, this data shows the need for more affordable housing in many of America’s smaller metropolises as well. In fact, looking at the data from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, one would be hard-pressed to find many major American cities that meet the 30% of income threshold set by the NLIHC.

For Economic Growth, Milwaukee Region Chooses Collaboration Over Competition

When Omnicare announced in late 2011 that they planned to move their headquarters from Covington across the river to downtown Cincinnati, it showcased the intense regional competition for jobs and economic development.

Due to the region’s particularly fragmented setup of multiple states, counties, cities and townships, a myriad of governments and development entities tout their respective advantages in workforce training, tax incentives, and infrastructure access, to lure development from out of the area, but also from neighboring localities; and companies have been more than happy to float from one place to the next in order to take advantage of those incentives.

Yet, data shows that while this desire to expand the local tax base is enticing, it amounts to little or no new jobs or income for the region as a whole. Rather, the habit is more cannibalistic in nature, especially given that cities today are competing not just with their neighbors, but also with far-flung metropolitan areas around the world.

While both unique and similar Cincinnati in many ways, Milwaukee and its surrounding areas have taken a wholly different approach to that of Greater Cincinnati.

When current Mayor Tom Barrett (D) was elected in 2004, he was intently focused on improving economic development within Milwaukee proper. To achieve this, local leaders came together to form the Milwaukee 7 – an economic development organization for the seven counties in the region. To help curb damaging intra-regional competition, the group agreed to a code-of-ethics where they promised to not steal jobs from one another, but rather focus on economic development cooperation.

M7’s metropolitan business plan is now the foundation for regional development, but the group also recognizes that a thriving region is dependent on an also-successful inner-city. For this, the City of Milwaukee develops its own economic development plan that uses ideas from, and coordinates common areas with, the regional plan. This helps connects local revitalization efforts with regional economic development strategies.

Again, rather than attempting to lure firms from outside the area, local officials recognized their competitive advantage in numerous areas and chose to reinforce those. Specifically, M7 identified the area’s competitive advantages in three areas: water technology; energy, power and controls manufacturing; and food and beverage.

To ensure that the region remains attractive and stays on the cutting edge of business and technology, local officials have created numerous entities to promote and develop industry throughout the region. Each of the three industry clusters have a respective local organization that has developed clear-cut plans to encourage innovation and collaboration to grow the industry.

Going a step further, the Milwaukee region has also created a global trade and investment strategy in order to attract foreign firms and capital.

The results of this intra-regional collaboration have been positive. In November 2015, UrbanCincy published a story about Milwaukee’s burgeoning water industry that is transforming a once-decrepit manufacturing area into a modern industrial center.

Like many other cities in the industrial Midwest, Milwaukee has hundreds of vacant industrial buildings and acres of abandoned land. Millions of dollars have been spent in redevelopment efforts, with areas like the Menomonee Valley seeing food and beverage industry expansion there, and a former Pabst Blue Ribbon brewery being converted into residential spaces to bring workers closer to the new jobs downtown.

In a region with one of the highest percentages of concentrated poverty in the nation, officials are hoping the efforts will ensure that redevelopment and economic opportunities are broad-based and accessible.

A regional talent partnership is being used to help grow talent that caters to the three industry clusters; and construction projects with public support are required to hire locally. Those firms help train and hire under-employed and unemployed Milwaukeeans through collaboration with organizations like the Wisconsin Regional Planning Partnership.

In the low-income, northwest section of Milwaukee, an 80-acre brownfield site called “Century City” is being redeveloped into a Center for Advanced Manufacturing. And with development booming in downtown Milwaukee, funds generated from those investments are being redirected into numerous projects in other parts of the city, like transportation and community development organization funding.

While it is too early to judge some of the results seen thus far, the Milwaukee region is now more productive than it was at the turn of the century, and it is adding both jobs and residents. At the same time, more citizens are employed, and wages in the area are higher than the national average.

The Cincinnati region has, in recent years, begun making concentrated efforts at developing similar programs. However, many of the programs have been focused at the city-level. Until the region establishes a similar regional partnership that gets everyone working toward the same goals, it is unlikely that similar results will be seen here.

Roughly 39% of Hamilton County’s Workforce Commutes From Outside of County

Of the 490,222 workers in Hamilton County, 39% of them are commuters from outside the county. This is according to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Compared to other similarly sized metropolitan areas, this is a larger than normal percentage. In Cuyahoga County, home of Cleveland, for example, only 28% of the almost 700,000 workers commute from outside the county; and in Allegheny County, PA – the center of the Pittsburgh metropolitan area – that number is 22% of more than 680,000 workers.

The difference, some say, may be attributable to the fact that the Cincinnati region’s job center sits directly on a state line, and borders three counties in Northern Kentucky.

However, in Jefferson County, KY, with a similar amount of workers in the county as Hamilton County, only 26% of employees commute from outside Jefferson County. This is in spite of the fact that Louisville sits directly on the Ohio River, like Cincinnati, with commuters crossing the state line from Indiana each day.

Perhaps further explaining the matter is the merging of Cincinnati and Dayton’s economic activities, which increasingly promote cross commuting between Cincinnati’s northern, and Dayton’s southern counties.

Such commuting patterns complicate transportation management for regional planners. Not only does it mean heavy rush hour commutes, but also more unpredictable reverse commutes.

While Hamilton County was a bit of an outlier, it was joined by Davidson County, TN (Nashville), and St. Louis County, MO (St. Louis) with similar complex commuting patterns.