GUEST COMMENTARY: Recovery is Not a Crime

Jason Lee OverbeyIn April 2014 the City of Cincinnati and the Mayor, along with Pete Witte, waged a furious battle in the drug and alcohol war in our area. Shockingly, they chose the dark side. Disappointingly, they will not budge.

They demand New Foundations Transitional Living (NFTL) – a sober living provider in Price Hill and Northern Kentucky – to shut down all six Cincinnati residences and relocate approximately 100 clean and sober residents elsewhere.

The media has dutifully covered the story and the City’s claims in several TV, radio and print pieces. Yet, the entire story – with all facts – hasn’t been presented for consideration to the public. This is evidenced by the volume of emails, calls and in-person inquiries NFTL receives after each story is released.

Unfortunately, the drug and alcohol scourge is everyone’s problem. It’s your problem. The entire city’s problem. The toll in dollars, image and safety is incalculable. Those in active addiction cost us all in the fees paid for first-responders, loss of productivity from unemployment, incarcerations, property crime, overdose deaths, emergency room visits, welfare, anyone can increase this list. The problem belongs to all of us even if no one close to us suffers from the disease. Our society and communities suffer.

Today we present the truth for thinking men and women to review and research so an educated decision can be made – and not an emotional one. Our aim is to combat contempt prior to investigation.

Zoning
The City claims the six houses in Price Hill violate local single family zoning laws. They claim more than four unrelated persons living in one house in a single family zone violates the code. They attempt to attach fines and even possible criminal charges for such violations.

The truth is that the Federal Fair Housing Act amended in 1988 specifically protects recovering alcoholics and addicts against such claims. The Act allows congregate living for recovering alcoholics and addicts in single family zones. The City’s codes are in violation of the federal law. There is nothing for us to comply with – no variance to seek. This is a civil rights issue.

Best Practices
The Mayor and some members of Greater Cincinnati Recovery Resource Collaborative (GCRRC) claim that New Foundations needs to adopt and implement best practices. The truth is that NFTL does not provide detox, treatment or counseling of any kind. NFTL provides structured and safe sober living housing. Therefore, no licensing or oversight is required by local, state or federal government entities. The only service being provided is transitional housing.

However, New Foundations abides by the ethics and standards of the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board voluntarily. The Director has a Chemical Dependency Counselor Assistant (CDCA) awarded by the State of Ohio – even though it is not employed in day-to-day operations. NFTL has thorough rules, standards, healthy living requirements and accountability. And New Foundations has recently begun work with National Association of Recovery Residences (NARR) to review, adopt and implement their strict National standards for sober living environments.

Safety
New Foundations does not accept sexual offenders, arsonists, or anyone with open felony and misdemeanor warrants. All residents must pass a drug and alcohol screen to enter our houses. NFTL is not a halfway house which is state funded and receives only parolees. We are transitional living. More than 41% of our residents come to us by word-of-mouth and come voluntarily to receive support in recovery. Talk to our neighbors. We encourage it.

Our residents help shovel snow, do repairs, and watch the block for neighbors where all of our houses are situated. We leave our porch lights on. We inform the police when we witness drug and possible violent activity. We are good, solid neighbors and the record proves it.

We are also good citizens. We participate in Price Hill cleanup days, volunteer and we not only live in Price Hill – many residents work and pay taxes in the community. We have a stake in the safety and progress of Price Hill, too. And we prove our dedication to the value of Price Hill with our measurable actions and not just rhetoric. More than 45% of our residents come in with jobs and some college education.

Our team members’ phone numbers are posted and we have an open door policy and encourage property tours and engagement. We want to work with local groups, churches and businesses.

NIMBY and Property Values
Any person engaged in urban living who owns property should very much be concerned with their property values. The truth is that in over four years of successful operation in Price Hill not one case can be supplied proving property values have been negatively impacted by the presence of NFTL. In fact, New Foundations works tirelessly to put funds back into every property, every year, for repairs, rehab and curb appeal.

Because we understand real estate and because we care about Price Hill, we take pride in the modernity and value increase of our houses. Our residents never refer to their location as a house, or as New Foundations. You hear them, day after day, call it home.

Occupancy
Claims have been made about the number of residents living in each house. The truth is that the drug and alcohol problem in the Greater Cincinnati area is so intense that all local area providers – of treatment and sober living – are full. Many of our colleagues have to place their clients on couches and even cots. Many providers who have joined the Mayor have, and still do, send us their clients because they are full.

New Foundations made an internal decision in April to begin reducing the number of residents in each home and have already accomplished a great deal. There is little left to do regarding occupancy and the point is now moot. It is deplorable. Although health and safety are top priorities, transitional living providers in Cincinnati should be expanding and growing. Not being attacked and dying off.

Non-Profit vs. For Profit
A common theme among complaints is that NFTL is a for-profit entity. The truth is that New Foundations employs a very common hybrid structure having both a for-profit sole proprietorship and a non-profit resident scholarship fund where 100% of the monies go directly to help residents pay fees and get back on their feet. Additionally, a major portion of the income from NFTL goes back into the houses, programs and services for residents.

The larger, more powerful assertion is that New Foundations has found a way to provide a desperately need service for Cincinnati without using any taxpayer dollars.

How is that a problem? Some say the for-profit side makes them nervous. We have asked how and invited a dialogue and have gotten no solid response. Why can’t New Foundations be for-profit and save lives. We can – this is the United States. And we have done it successfully for over four years.

While the good people of Cincinnati rage in a debate over streetcars and bike paths – as any progressive city should be doing – where is the upset over the plague of the drug epidemic on this, the Queen City? Stories about heroin overdose are relegated to sensationalist coverage in the press. We already know about the problem. Where is the focus on the solution? The focus is on shutting the solution down.

NFTL is a part of the solution – not the problem.

Where is the commitment from the City? The new proposed budget has no allocation for treating this plague. Yet, there are funds for obesity. Is the Coroner’s office backlogged three months on obesity cases as they are with overdose deaths?

Recovery is not a crime. It is the answer. The work of NFTL is already legal. It is demonstrably successful and well-known in the recovery community. From the beginning, the Mayor and Pete Witte have offered no authentic opportunity to sit down and explore the truth with us. Only accusations, rhetoric and digging. What’s really going on here?

We cannot be sure. We only know that we will continue to rip our hearts out and watch them bleed on the table for this work. Our loyalty is with our residents, our cause and our City. We will not give up. We are open! We are alive and well. We will not stop fighting this disease for them – and for you.

Jason Lee Overbey attended Indiana Bible College and studied communications at University of Cincinnati. He co-founded LIST My Social Media and eventually became Director of New Foundations. Jason currently lives on the West Side and has a strong interest and commitment to the progress and image of Cincinnati.

If you would like to have your thoughts and opinions published on UrbanCincy, simply contact us at editors@urbancincy.com.

Region’s Transportation Funding Disproportionality Favors Cars Over All Other Modes

Research continues to show that Americans are driving less, but are biking, walking and using transit more. This is true in Cincinnati to the extent that transit ridership has increased in recent years.

While originally attributed to the economic downturn at the beginning of the century, these trends have continued while the economy has rebounded – leading many to believe it is an indication of new market forces being driven by aging Baby Boomers and emerging Millennials. Perhaps predictably so, governments have been slow to change with the changing economic forces.

Despite a growing number of trips for biking, walking and transit, funding has not increased correspondingly. In fact, many communities have seen funding for these non-automotive forms of transportation decrease as governments have worked to cut spending at all levels. This, new research finds, is only exacerbating the problem of having underfunded these modes of transportation for many years.

“Conventional statistics tend to under report active travel because most travel surveys under-count shorter trips (those within a traffic analysis zone), off-peak trips, non-work trips, travel by children, and recreational travel,” stated Todd Litman, Executive Director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, in a summary of his report entitled Whose Roads? Evaluating Bicyclists’ and Pedestrians’ Right to Use of Public Roadways.

“More comprehensive surveys indicate that active travel is two to four times more common than conventional surveys indicate, so if statistics indicate that only 5% of trips are by active modes, the actual amount is probably 10-20%.”

Litman indicates that funding levels tend to be much lower than even the low 5% trip share estimates, and recommends changing those levels to reflect not only the current trip share levels, but those that could be achieved should investments be made.

Unequal Funding Allocations at Regional Level
At the local level, the same situation of unequal funding allocation exists. In the 2040 Regional Transportation Plan, developed by the OKI Regional Council of Governments, approximately 88% of the nearly $21.5 billion in funding is recommended to go toward roadway projects, just 11% to transit and a mere 0.1% to bicycle and pedestrian improvements.

While the level of investment in transit appears closely aligned with current ridership levels for commute-related trips, it is far below ideal levels for bicycle and pedestrian investments.

“Relatively aggressive pedestrian and cycling improvement programs only cost about 1-4% of the total per capita roadway expenditures, or just 4-10% of general taxes spent on local roadways,” Litman contests. “Since walking and cycling represent about 12% of total trips, and a much larger share of short urban trips, and since most North American communities have under-invested in walking and cycling facilities for the last half-century, much larger investments in walking and cycling facilities can be justified to meet user demands and for fairness sake.”

OKI leadership contends that the organization’s regional planning document does not accurately reflect the level of investment being made in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, noting that many of the “roadway projects” in their plan actually include bike and pedestrian elements.

To that end, some recent improvements have been made with regard to bicycle infrastructure. The City of Cincinnati has installed around 40 miles of new on-street bike lanes or paths over the past several years, and has plans to install a total of 290 miles by 2025. The City’s Bicycle Transportation Plan, however, has been plagued by a lack of funding and has been relegated to only moving forward when roadway resurfacing projects emerge.

Not everyone is convinced, however, that enough is being done in terms of the overall investment needed for bike and pedestrian improvements.

Implications for Regional Transit
Of the money being recommended for transit investments, not including operations, approximately 96% is targeted for the contentious Oasis Line – a commuter rail line connecting Cincinnati’s far eastern suburbs with downtown.

Furthermore, the vast majority of OKI’s recommended transit funding is aimed to pay for ongoing operations – not pay for system expansions or improvements.

This grim financial picture for transit gets even worse when considering contributions from state and local governments.

In Ohio, the City of Cincinnati is the only local jurisdiction that provides a dedicated stream of funding for the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA), which was also recently found to perform better than average given its low levels of investment from local, regional and state partners.

In Kentucky, meanwhile, communities struggle with state law that prohibits any dedicated source of transit funding – thus forcing the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK) to go before the state legislature every year seeking money, similar to how Amtrak must annually go before Congress.

Impact on Environmental Justice Populations
These dire funding and political situations have led to Greater Cincinnati taking the title of being the most populated region in North America without any rail transit; while even far less populated regions advance their own regional transit plans.

What makes the figures more troubling is that those most affected by the imbalanced funding appropriations are minority, low-income and disabled populations. While only 6% of the region takes transit, bikes or walks to work each day, that number escalates to 17% for African Americans, 11% for Hispanics and 10% for people with disabilities; while low-income commuters see that number spike to 21%. Quite simply, the lack of funding for non-automotive forms of transportation is most damaging to those who can least afford it.

The results of this inequality sparked a recent lawsuit by the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation and Midwest Environmental Advocates filed a complaint against the Wisconsin Department of Transportation over a $2 billion highway interchange project. In MICAH & Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin v. Gottleib, the ACLU states:

“WisDOT explicitly refused to consider transit expansion (or transit in any way) as part of this proposal. This will further widen the already large gap between transit-dependent communities of color and disproportionately white suburban commuters. The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation was one of the organizations that have complained about the government’s decision-making and reporting process, as well as how the project would exacerbate segregation and disparities in transportation access for low-income people to jobs.”

And while some of these mode shares may seem low, it has been noted by the U.S. National Household Travel Survey that commute trips are the lowest for walking and biking, while personal trips and trips less than one mile are significantly higher for both modes.

“In much of the region where we have large concentrations of EJ populations the sidewalk network is already quite developed, the roadway network is quite developed and available to bicyclists and the transit service is good,” countered Bob Koehler, Deputy Executive Director at OKI. “We do, as a community, need to do a better job at sharing the road and being aware of pedestrians to make these facilities better for all modes.”

Highway Building Frenzy
Even though young people are increasingly either delaying or choosing not to get a driver’s license at all, user fees collected from the gas tax continue to decline, total vehicle miles traveled (VMT) has been decreasing since 2007 and annualized VMT has been decreasing for nearly a decade, the nation and Cincinnati region continue to build new capacity.

Of the roughly $8.3 billion being recommended for roadway projects in OKI’s planning documents, approximately 73% of that is targeted for additional lanes, new facilities or new interchanges, while reconstruction and improvements to existing roadways account for the rest.

“Although VMT may be slightly declining in recent years in some parts of the country this may not be a long-term trend. Clearly the region has many needs,” explained Brian Cunningham, Director of Communications at OKI. “This plan addresses the significant existing safety and congestion needs. The plan is updated every four years and will provide an opportunity to revisit the assumptions.”

Litman argues that shifting some of the investment from roadways to bicycle and pedestrian projects due to their proven ability to reduce congestion and improve safety not only for bicyclists and pedestrians, but motorists as well. He also believes that such policy directives empower people by giving them the ability to choose between multiple transportation options for each of their trips.

“It is important to recognize the unique and important roles that active modes [biking and walking] play in an efficient and equitable transportation system, and the various benefits that can result when walking and cycling are improved, including indirect benefits to people who do not currently use those modes,” Litman concluded.

“Just as it would be inefficient to force travelers to walk or bike for trips most efficiently made by motorized modes, it is inefficient and unfair to force travelers to drive for trips most efficiently made by active modes, for example, if children must be chauffeured to local destinations because their communities lack sidewalks, or if people must drive to recreational trails due to inadequate sidewalks and paths near their homes.”

This information comes at a time when the region has been identified as failing to develop walkable urban places, and thus putting itself behind its national competitors.

CNU 22: Ken Greenberg Outlines Challenges to 21st Century Urbanism

The opening plenary of the 22nd annual Congress of the New Urbanism opened to an audience of over one thousand attendees. Keynote speaker Ken Greenberg, a Toronto based urban designer and author of the book Walking Home: the Life and Lessons of a City Builder addressed the audience. His message is that even though New Urbanists have accomplished much in the 22 years since the founding of CNU, there is much to do and that new urbanists need to change to meet the coming challenges of the 21st century.

Greenburg highlighted the many challenges facing urbanism today. The first is the oft cited decline in the use of automobiles. “We are seeing the back of cars,” he told the crowd. Total miles traveled is down and young people are delaying getting their drivers licenses at a significant rate compared to a generation earlier.

Second is the growing gap in income inequality between urban places and suburban places. In Toronto from 1970 to 2005 a majority of the city’s low-income population moved from the urban core to suburban communities while the core experiencing prosperity.

Greenberg CNU22Ken Greenberg addresses the CNU. Photo by Paul Knight.

This divide is happening in cities across North America as urban cores have become desirable, and suburban areas experience decline. These trends were reported by UrbanCincy last month in Atlanta.

Greenberg goes on to say that this growing divide is also resulting in a political divide where urban places are not politically strong enough to demand for better urbanism because in most cases political power is still held in the suburbs and rule areas. As money grows scarce, money for urban areas dwindle. Urban areas are increasingly competing against the suburbs for scarce national resources. This is a familiar issue in many cities, including Cincinnati.

“All things public are under intense stress,” Greenberg argues, “just when we need them the most.”

Greenberg’s message to political leaders is, “There can be no national vision without a vision for cities.” Politicians should eliminate the “perverse subsidies” that continue to encourage costly, difficult to adapt and non-resilient infrastructure.  He equates changing the direction of what he called the “sprawl industrial complex” to trying to turn an aircraft carrier: It will happen slowly.

The divide is allowing cities to both create good urbanism and bad urbanism because policy is so hard to change, good urbanism is often done by granting exceptions to policy.“We have plenty of examples of good urbanism. The challenge is to change that from being the exception to being the rule,” he told the crowd.

However the challenges remain tough.  Greenberg urges that urbanists need to stop operating in silos and unite to build good policy. The threats of climate change and an increasingly urbanized world mean that cities are a necessary part of the future. He argues that we should embrace them and build them right.

What Does Cincinnati’s Nativity Rating Mean for Its Long-Term Migration Prospects?

Cincinnati has a migration problem that is two-fold. First, it lags behind most major metropolitan regions in North America when it comes to attracting international migrants. Second, and perhaps more significantly, is that the region has a stagnant domestic population.

This is not because domestic migrants are any more or less important than international migrants. But rather, it is because stagnancy is a major problem for cities.

As many demographers and social scientists have pointed out, focusing public policy on retaining existing talent is a bad approach. In fact, large movements of people out of one region can be a very positive thing. That is, of course, if it is balanced out by a large influx of people into that same region. This is the case for North America’s largest cities, and is also evidenced at a larger scale in California.

But beyond that, older Midwestern cities with a large cluster of high-quality universities also seem to export more people than they import. That, in and of itself, is not the problem.

“This notion of the university as a “factory” gets very close to the truth,” Aaron Renn, owner of The Urbanophile, wrote in 2010. “A friend of mine noted that if we treated steel mills like universities, Indiana would be obsessing over “steel drain” and spending hundreds of millions of dollars on programs to try to keep steel from leaving the state.”

Renn went on to say that the notion of doing such a thing would be ludicrous, and that it is important to understand the details of what is really going on when it comes to a region’s migration patterns.

“Migration does matter. Any city that thinks it can be blasé about this is fooling themselves,” wrote Renn in a separate piece. “On the other hand, surface numbers only tell us so much. We need to understand the dynamics going on underneath the hood.”

By most comparative measure, Cincinnati actually does very well compared to many places at retaining its population. The problem is that it does very poorly at bringing in new people from outside the region.

Based on five-year estimates from the American Community Survey, this stagnation can be clearly seen.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the areas of the Cincinnati Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) which have the highest percentage of people living there that were born in another state are near state borders. Since the Cincinnati MSA stretches across three states, you can see that movement of Ohio residents to southeastern Indiana and northern Kentucky has boosted numbers in those locales.

On average, approximately 68% of the 2.2 million person Cincinnati region was born in the state where they currently reside. Meanwhile, Uptown and Cincinnati’s northeast suburbs appear to be the only parts of the region that are actually attracting newcomers to the region.

Another key finding here is the utter lack of movement of people into or out of Cincinnati’s western suburbs, which have a native born population between 80-100%. This number is roughly comparable to most rural areas in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.

The Cincinnati region, however, is not alone when it comes to a stagnant population.

While Columbus was seen as a leader amongst big cities in terms of its domestic migration rate, it appears that Columbus is merely attracting new residents to its region from elsewhere in Ohio. Almost the entire Columbus MSA has a native born population between 60-80%.

The numbers are even worse for the Cleveland MSA, which, on average, has a percentage of native born population higher than the average for Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. This is in spite of the Cleveland MSA attracting more international migrants than any other in the three-state region.

Even though Cincinnati continues to post modest annual population growth, it continues to be on the outside looking in when it comes to North America’s most economically successful cities. If Cincinnati wants to just focus on attracting existing Americans to the region, then it should look to Houston, Dallas or Atlanta, which are all hubs for domestic migration.

This scenario, however, seems unlikely since each of those regions is positioned uniquely in terms of their economy or their geographic location. So, if Cincinnati is to really ramp up its population growth, it better look at what other metropolitan regions are doing to make themselves more attractive to international migrants.

Perhaps Mayor John Cranley’s new, yet-to-be-unveiled initiative can help with this. But does he or his administration actually know what is going on underneath the hood?

EDITORIAL: What Cranley’s Clever Budget Means for Urbanists

As has been widely reported thus far, the budget proposed by Mayor Cranley’s Administration is not as bad as many had expected it would be. That is, the administration’s proposal that is predicated on a massive reduction in required pension contributions is not that bad.

Should the proposed reduction to 14% in pension contributions not be accepted by a federal court, then all bets are off as to where this budget will actually go, since the vast majority of its balancing comes from that assumption. This is a major assumption, and one that will not be clarified until later this summer.

One of Cranley’s interesting moves relates to the Focus 52 program, established under Mayor Mallory’s Administration, that targeted funds for economic development projects throughout every city neighborhood. The fund relied, in part, on $3,000,000 in casino revenues to pay for its capital projects, which oddly enough were included in the Operating Budget in prior years.

The proposed budget shifts these Focus 52 projects from the Operating Budget to the Capital Budget, but the $3,000,000 in funding does not move along with them. As a result, the $3,000,000 is being used to help balance the Operating Budget, thus eliminating funding for all Focus 52 capital projects, or requiring cuts elsewhere in the Capital Budget to cover the costs.

The clever ledger shift allows Cranley to essentially eliminate the Focus 52 program without a special hearing process, and thus free up $3,000,000 annually for the Operating Budget that would have otherwise gone to support these neighborhood economic development projects.

City of Cincinnati Personnel Changes Since 2013

The City will have its first public hearings on the budget proposal starting tomorrow. For those of you who care about urbanism, UrbanCincy’s editorial team has gone through every page of Cranley’s budget proposal and identified the following major items of concern:

  1. Public Safety (police and fire) would consume 65.8% of the Operating Budget. While consuming two-thirds of the Operating Budget, only one-third of the City’s overall staffing would be made up of Public Safety personnel.
  2. Since the year 2000, Public Safety will have seen its personnel levels decrease by 4% (87 FTE), while all other departments will have collectively seen their personnel decrease by 17.7% (803 FTE).
  3. The City of Cincinnati would not repay $2,000,000 in Tax Increment Financing (TIF) dollars to Cincinnati Public Schools as previously agreed.
  4. The Cincinnati Area Geographic Information System (CAGIS), which is a shared technology and mapping service between the City of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, would see its funding reduced by $335,560, bringing its total funding down to $4,448,000.
  5. An additional $279,100 would be allocated to repair an estimated 8,000 potholes. This money would come at the expense of $154,100 in funding previously programmed for solar trash receptacles/compactors and $125,000 for a customs house at Lunken Airfield.
  6. Even though the Department of Planning & Buildings generates more in revenues than it has in expenses, and has won national accolades the last two years, it would see its Neighborhood Studies fund completed eliminated ($81,700).
  7. The Bicycle Transportation Program would be completely modified to only include funding and staff time for off-road trails, and eliminate all funding and staff resources for the development of any bike lanes, sharrows, bike racks or other on-street bike facilities.
  8. The Office of Environment & Sustainability would have $77,500 cut from its budget; while the Urban Forestry (street tree) Program would see its funding increase $46,650.
  9. A whopping 1,954 vehicles out of the City’s total 2,419 vehicles are out of life cycle because they have exceeded the established standards for maximum mileage, age or maintenance costs.
  10. The Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority would continue to receive $700,000 for operations, but would receive no money for capital projects as had been anticipated following the cancellation of the Parking Modernization & Lease Agreement that would have otherwise provided the Port Authority with a funding stream for capital projects.

While this budget proposal may technically be “structurally balanced”, it does so by craftily moving budget items around from one ledger to the other, defunding programs that either generate or save money over the long-term, and overly relying on what could be considered this year’s one-time budget fix – a reduction to 14% pension contribution that would equate to $7,100,000 in savings annually.

The City should fulfill its payment obligations to Cincinnati Public Schools, fully fund all aspects of its revenue generating Department of Planning & Buildings, renew the Bicycle Transportation Program to its originally intended goals established through an extensive public engagement process, restore funding to CAGIS and the Office of Environment & Sustainability, return the funds programmed for solar trash receptacles/compactors, and shift the funding associated with Focus 52 capital projects to the Capital Budget along with the projects.

Outside of this budget process, the City should also move forward with a comprehensive effort to fix its outdated fleet of vehicles, provide a stable and substantial revenue stream for the Port Authority and balance its budget in a way that does not create a police state.

The clever maneuvers demonstrated in Cranley’s first budget proposal show ingenuity, but UrbanCincy would prefer seeing that ingenuity being used to solve the actual problems present instead of relying on financing tricks.