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.

City of Covington Gathering Public Input On How to Spend CDBG Funds

City of CovingtonThe U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development distributes federal funding to communities throughout the United States each year. The allocation of those funds is based, in part, on need and population, but also on the input provided by the residents of each respective community receiving funds.

To that end, Covington is currently gathering public feedback for how it should use the federal funds it receives from HUD. In most cases communities spend the money on things like homebuyer programs, infrastructure improvements, recreation programs, crime prevention efforts, park maintenance or playground equipment.

According to Jeremy Wallace, Grants Administrator and Real Estate Specialist with the City of Covington, public input is solicited as part of Covington’s annual action plan process for Community Development Block Grant funds from HUD.

“We typically hold public hearings and have stakeholder meetings, but this year we decided to add an online survey,” Wallace explained to UrbanCincy. “We collect all the public comments from the various forms of public outreach and incorporate that into our strategies and programming of these funds to address the needs identified in the pubic comments.”

This year’s online survey will remain open until Monday, April 4, so people are encouraged to leave their feedback as soon as possible so that it can be incorporated into the public record. Once it is all compiled, Wallace says that the City of Covington will put together an action plan and submit it to HUD for their consideration and review.

The survey takes just a few minutes to complete and can be filled out online here: http://conta.cc/1SCUwZb.

Hamilton Looking For Public Input on Annual Action Plan

Hamilton OHThe City of Hamilton is seeking input from the general public as it prepares its Annual Action Plan for 2016-17 for grants received from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The funds are disbursed to localities throughout the country to help address the needs of low- to moderate-income residents. Some of the programs that are funded fully or in part by these HUD grants include youth services, elderly services, transportation improvements, neighborhood stabilization programs, crime prevention, job training, and much more.

Hamilton qualifies for support due to its higher-than-average poverty rate (22.9%) and its lower-than-average homeownership rate (56.5%).

If you currently live or work, have ever lived or worked, or just generally care about the future of Hamilton, city officials are hoping to get your input on how these resources should be used.

In particular, the 15-question survey asks about the state of housing maintenance, balance of rental and owner-occupied housing, public transportation, social services, historic preservation, infrastructure, and economic development strategies.

The survey takes only a few minutes to complete, and all responses, including those to demographic questions, are kept anonymous and confidential. Any questions should be directed to John Creech at Hamilton’s Department of Community Development at 513-785-7350 or creechj@ci.hamilton.oh.us.

Report Finds Homelessness Is Decreasing in Hamilton County and Cincinnati

A newly released report shows that homelessness in Cincinnati and Hamilton County declined in 2014 to levels not seen since 2010.

The report comes from Strategies to End Homelessness, a local leader of 30 homeless service organizations. Using data from the Homeless Management Information System, the non-profit organization said that they saw positive results all around.

The number of people on the streets, which saw a large jump in 2013, returned to 2011 levels. Those staying in emergency shelters also dropped by 7% since 2012, which officials say can be attributed to the increase in people being served by permanent housing programs, which has increased 167% since 2010.

Local leaders also say that this drop is also partially a result of their member organizations’ homeless prevention efforts, which Kevin Finn, CEO of Strategies to End Homelessness, told UrbanCincy in March is one of the most critical factors in reducing homelessness.

Since 2011, these organizations have seen only 10.2% of the people served by their shelter diversion programs later become homeless. Finn says that preventing people from needing a shelter is not only effective, but it saves money as well.

“Homelessness prevention activities work and at a fraction of the cost of assisting after a person is already homeless,” said Finn. “Stopping people from ever needing to enter a homeless shelter just makes sense.”

The report found that men make up 59% of Cincinnati and Hamilton County’s homeless population, and that some 66% of those that are homeless are black.

One of the national trends is that women and children make up one of the fastest growing segments of the homeless population. In Cincinnati and Hamilton County, the report found that children are 29% of the area’s homeless – 6% of which are children without adult accompaniment. Furthermore, approximately 15% were found to be veterans.

In all, the number of people on the streets, in shelters, or in transitional programs in all of Hamilton County was 7,810 in 2014.

The Cincinnati area received a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant of $15.4 million earlier this year to combat homelessness. This money has not yet been distributed, but once it does, it will be set aside for non-prevention programs.

Local leaders also have reason to be optimistic due to the ongoing investment in new facilities, through Cincinnati’s Homeless to Homes program, to care for the area’s homeless population.

“In 2015, three improved shelters are opening, significantly improving the quality of services being offered to the homeless in our community,” Finn said. “We are also hoping to expand prevention efforts, so that fewer people will have to experience the trauma of homelessness.”

$40M Avondale Town Center Redevelopment Could Change Fate of City’s 7th Biggest Neighborhood

If a team of local organizations have their way, Avondale Town Center will offer a jolt of investment like perhaps none other to date in the neighborhood.

The town center development project is actually the final of three phases worth of work in Avondale that have thus far taken a $30 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and leveraged it into $100 million. So far the money, part of the community’s Choice Neighborhoods implementation, has gone toward rehabbing nine properties throughout the neighborhood, but the final phase will bring new construction to Reading Road.

“Since we initially conceived of the Avondale Town Center development, we’ve entered into robust conversations with the community on the potential for the whole project,” Jeffrey Beam, Director of Development for The Community Builders, told UrbanCincy in an exclusive interview.

Beam says that these conversations have led to an expansion of the original concept, and now includes a two-part $40 million vision for much of the northwest corner of Reading Road and Rockdale/Forest Avenue. Based on feedback from the community, the development, as it stands now, would include residential and commercial uses, along with a long-desired grocery store.

“The mayor is excited to do it all as one development that could leverage other financing like New Market Tax Credits,” explained Beam.

For years, The Community Builders have been working with Avondale Community Council and the Avondale Community Development Corporation in an effort to improve one of the city’s most historically significant and proud neighborhoods.

The centrally located Avondale Town Center site is composed of a large wooded lot, which is referred to as Avondale Town Center North and would be the first to be developed, and the 47,000-square-foot strip mall and an accompanying surface parking. In total, the redevelopment of the site would create three new structures, ideally built out to the street in a pedestrian friendly manner, and include a total of 118 residential units and 80,000 square feet of retail.

Project officials say that while many details need to be fleshed out, Avondale Town Center North is the most fleshed out so far and would include 72 residential units, of which 51 would be reserved for low-income renters.

The goal, Beam says, is to have the design documents complete this spring so that they can begin approaching potential retail tenants, and line up financing like New Market Tax Credits. If all of that happens, then ground could be broken on the project as early as 2016.

One of the things benefiting the effort is the fact that the City of Cincinnati owns the land, and is engaged in a land-lease with a coalition of local churches and individual leases with tenants inside the strip mall, which at one point held an IGA grocery store. The City’s formal interest was made clear when Mayor John Cranley (D) touted the project and showed off a conceptual rendering for the site in his inaugural State of the City address.

“This will provide access to healthier and fresher food choices in one of our city’s under-served food deserts,” Cranley, the first-term mayor from Mt. Lookout, told the audience on September 18, 2014. “Maybe a new grocery store in the heart of Avondale will help us to begin replacing a sub-culture of guns and early death with a culture of long life and healthy eating.”

While no potential grocers have been lined up at this point, the development team says they will be in search of a “proven” operator that can bring healthy and fresh food to the neighborhood, while also offering training and retention programs for local employment.

“We would like the operator to be committed to altering their offerings to be as customized for the neighborhood as possible,” said Beam. “While we are not sure what that means yet, we have gotten into varying levels of discussions with potential operators about it.”

Whatever tenants and operators eventually move in, they will be moving into a markedly different site than what has existed for the past several decades. Noting that the existing strip mall with most likely be torn down, or, at the very least, substantially altered, Beam says the aim to embrace the neighborhood’s urban location.

“The vision is for a mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented development at Avondale Town Center.”

Considering there is a Metro*Plus station at this exact location and that approximately 40% of Avondale’s residents do not own a car, the development team seems to be heading down the right path.