New Market Tax Credits Key to City’s Revival

Cincinnati’s development coffers got a little fatter last week, as $125 million in federal tax subsidies flooded into the city. These subsidies, called New Market Tax Credits (NMTCs), incentivize local investors to funnel capital into low-income communities and have essentially bankrolled Over-the-Rhine’s entire revitalization.

For example, Washington Park — perhaps the most emblematic example of OTR’s rebirth — received nearly $14 million in New Market Tax Credits (NMTC) from the Local Initiatives Support Coalition (LISC) to help support its reconstruction. Several ongoing developments have also received some or all of their funding through NMTCs, including the Market Square and Ziegler Park projects.

Ziegler Park Aerial

New Market Tax Credits helped transform parts of Over-the-Rhine like the reconstruction of Ziegler Park (Photo by Travis Estell)

Developers often balk at the prospect of developing low-income communities because they fear their investment will be wasted. NMTC are the federal government’s attempts to allay these concerns. Congress first authorized the subsidies through the Community Renewal Tax Relief Act of 2000. Over the past fifteen years, the bill’s success has earned it bipartisan support. According to the program’s 2016 report, the tax credits have created 750,000 jobs and invested over $75 billion to businesses and revitalization projects in communities with high rates of poverty and unemployment.

Less than 25 percent of the applications submitted each year are awarded, but three major Cincinnati developers beat the odds this year: Cincinnati Development Fund ($65 million), Uptown Consortium (45 million), and the Kroger Community Development Entity ($15 million).

To win an NMTC grant, a corporation — in federal parlance, Community Development Entities (CDE) — must lobby the U.S. Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) Fund on behalf of private investors like the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC). If the CDFI approves the application, then the investors who pledged money to the CDE will receive a seven-year tax abatement to support development.

3CDC, in particular, has secured a eye-popping $238 million since the program’s inception. Without this capital, it’s unlikely that OTR would have changed as drastically as it has. The community was a no-brainer for NMTC-driven development due to its extreme poverty. The neighborhood’s median household income during the 2010 census was a paltry $14,517. Six years and billions of dollars have certainly improved its lot, but its average income still pales in comparison to the city’s 2015 median income, $56,826.

While OTR will likely continue to receive the majority of NMTC-driven development, other distressed neighborhoods are receiving attention. According to Director of Development Thea Munchel, the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation expects approximately $6.5 million in NMTC Equity for its expected revitalization of Paramount Square. “It is too early to know who all will participate in the deal,” she said. “But Cincinnati Development Fund received a huge award and has indicated that they will contribute some into the project.”

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.

DOTE Hosts Final Open House for Liberty Street Narrowing Alternatives

The City’s Department of Transportation and Engineering will present the final two design alternatives for consideration at its third public open house tomorrow night at the Woodward Theater. The study which began in 2013 as a Complete Streets initiative proposed by the OTR Brewery District Master Plan now lives on as a proposal to physically narrow the street by ten to twenty feet on the south side. The new land could potentially unlock development sites along the street.

In its original configuration Liberty Street was once the dividing line between unincorporated territory and the city of Cincinnati. It was a narrow street with enough room for parking and less than two full lanes for traffic. In 1959 the City began to demolish properties along the south end of the street to widen the street to seven vehicle lanes and two parking lanes. The once quiet side street became a thru-way for automobile traffic looking to connect to the interstates and Central Parkway.

As revitalization progresses in Over-the-Rhine renewed attention is being paid to the street. The narrowing is an attempt to stitch back the fabric of the north and south halves of the neighborhood. Because of its configuration it is difficult for pedestrians to cross the street in the provided amount of time and bicycling is unsafe due to the high volume and speeds of automobile traffic.

Initial configurations were many ranging from a restoration of the original street width to preserving the current set up. In between proposals called for a reduction to four or five lanes with bicycle lanes or rush hour traffic configurations. After two subsequent meetings the options are down to two: A five-lane and a six-lane configuration. Input taken from this open house will be used to narrow down to the final alternative. Once that alternative is selected it will be presented for adoption at the Over-the-Rhine Community Council in September.

The meeting is this Tuesday evening, 6PM at the Woodward Theater on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine. The Theater is accessible by the #17, #19 and #24 Metro bus routes, and is within 100 feet of a Cincy Red Bike Station located at Main Street and Orchard Street.

Asian Food Fest Returns to Washington Park This Weekend

Pho, Pad Thai, Nasi Lemak, Bibimbap. Great Asian cuisine can sometimes be hard to located with it being spread throughout Uptown, Northern Kentucky and northern suburbs like Fairfield or Springdale. However, this weekend many of the best Asian dishes will be available at the sixth annual Asian Food Festival in Washington Park.

This two-day extravaganza will celebrate and feature the diverse and tasty cuisines of Asian countries including Vietnam, Thailand, China, Korea, Malaysia and many more.

Created in 2010 by a diverse group of friends who wanted to spread their love of Asian food and culture, the festival has since been building awareness of the city’s diverse Asian population and food scene.

Over the past six years, the festival has showcased some of the city’s best Asian restaurants and chefs, while fostering connections between community members and local Asian-American organizations and businesses. Past vendors, such as Pho Lang Tang and Huit, have since started retail establishments in the center city; and festival organizers hope the event can play a bigger role in continuing to grow the local Asian food scene.

A new feature at this year’s festival is the “Secret Menu” booth, which will feature unique food from home chefs and aspiring food entrepreneurs.

“This is a special chance for foodies to get a taste of a homecooked Asian meal from local amateur chefs who are excited to share the food they grew up with,” Marketing Director Tessa Xuan told UrbanCincy. “We hope the Secret Menu chefs will gain enough experience to become independent vendors and even restaurant owners someday.”

New vendors this year include Hawaiian food stand Ono Grindz, Clifton-based carryout spot Thai Express, and the West Chester-based Filipino restaurant Dai Trang. And, of course, many crowd favorites will be returning, including the Indonesian Fusion restaurant Huit BBQ, Taiwanese bubble tea cafe Boba Cha, and Red Sesame – the food truck famous for their Korean BBQ Tacos.

Admission to the festival is free, but donations are encouraged – proceeds from the festival will go towards supporting the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Asian American Cultural Association of Cincinnati (AACAC), and to host future Asian cultural events throughout the region.

Asian Food Fest will be held at Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine this Saturday and Sunday. Hours on Saturday are from 4pm to midnight, and Sunday from 12pm to 8pm. The event is free and open to the public, but dishes from vendors will range from $2-$6.

The festival is easily accessible from #21, #64, #78 & #46 Metro bus routes and Cincy Red Bike with a station in the park.

City Hosting Open House On Conversion of Main Street to Two-Way Travel

13063206_10153551968558597_3927391729015920711_oAlmost two years ago we reported that community groups in Over-the-Rhine requested City Hall to evaluate the possibility of converting Main Street from one-way to two-way travel.

Converted in the 1930’s, the street acts a couplet with Walnut Street directing automobile traffic northward on its two travel lanes to facilitate the speedy flow of traffic. However, as evidence of the detrimental effects of one-way streets has been documented, this practice is slowly falling out of favor.

Nearby, in 1999, the City of Cincinnati converted Vine Street in OTR to two-way and, despite the city’s Department of Transportation & Engineering finding the change caused seconds worth of delay for motorists, the street has flourished with pedestrian activity.

But as Vine Street flourished, Main Street stagnated.

Despite long time storefronts such as Iris Bookcafe and Mr. Pitifuls, the corridor, from Twelvth Street to Liberty Street, has had difficulty in attracting and retaining retail activity, despite the growing availability of storefronts that were previously galleries for Final Friday.

So the question many neighborhood leaders are now asking is whether similar treatment, as Vine Street, could work similar magic on Main Street.

On Wednesday, April 27, the City’s DOTE will host its third open house on the matter. City officials say that purpose of the open house is to present information that the City has gathered, and to also solicit public input regarding the request.

A flyer for the event states that, “The business association’s desire is to calm traffic speeds, improve pedestrian comfort and promote better vehicular accessibility of the businesses. They perceive that the two-way traffic pattern will provide these needs.”

The open house will take place at the Woodward Theater and run from 6pm to 7:30pm. The theater is very accessible by Metro routes #16, #17, #19 and #24, and is less than a block from the Main and Orchard Red Bike station.