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.

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.

Popular Brewery Rhinegeist Prepares Restaurant Space

Rhinegeist, the popular brewery in Over-the-Rhine, recently received approval from the city’s Historic Conservation Board to make alterations to the space at the southwest corner of their building, at the intersection of Elm and Eton Place.  Specifically, they requested to make the following modifications:

– Install a new lift/elevator and stairwell entrance

– Install new two-over-two windows

– Repair and improve stairs at entrance

– Install new entrance door

Within their application, they include proposed drawings for the space.  The renderings are of a restaurant that includes a kitchen, bar, dining area, and a private event/dining space.  Rhinegeist declined to comment or provide any further details on the space, saying they are not yet ready to make a detailed announcement.

This development follows a flurry of investments that Rhinegeist has made since opening in June of 2013.  Rhinegeist then invested $10 million to expand operations.  This included the purchase of their building from Orton Development for $4.2 million in November of 2014, new brewing equipment in early 2015, and the 4,500 square foot deck that opened in 2016.  The new production equipment enabled them to triple production from 11,000 barrels in 2014, the first full year of operation, to 31,000 barrels in 2015.  Rhinegeist also built an almost 8,000 square foot private event space in 2015 that began holding weddings and other events in September of 2015.

Besides changes made inside the building, several assets have been added outside of Rhinegeist since their opening in 2013.  In 2014, Rhinegeist was the first business to pledge funding for streetcar operations at $5,000 per year.  The Brewery District stop for the Cincinnati Bell Connector, which began operations in September earlier this year, is located just outside of Rhinegeist’s entrance.  In addition to the streetcar stop, Cincy Red Bike also opened a station outside of Rhinegeist’s entrance in July of this year.  Additionally, ArtWorks completed a mural outside the brewery last month.

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.”