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.

New Group Launched to Focus on Midwest Urbanism

Great places are often referenced as places where people gather in urban centers around the world. In Cincinnati places like Fountain Square and Washington Park are often associated as the City’s front lawn or back yard. Streets are often referenced as great places such as Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine (OTR), Hyde Park Square or Madison Avenue in Covington. These places usually already exist, are reclaimed and sometimes created brand new.

Creating great places not only involves understanding what makes places great but also spreading awareness, education and building partnerships to do the hard work of revitalizing and celebrating the urban environment. That is the central mission of the proposed new Midwest chapter of the Congress for New Urbanism.

The group was engaged by the national Congress for New Urbanism (CNU) to create a regional chapter of the organization spanning from western Pennsylvania to central Indiana and from Lake Erie to Lexington Kentucky.CNU Midwest

They are having their first event which will be an introductory meeting and happy hour tomorrow May 17, at Graydon on Main in OTR.

CNU-Midwest is working to advance the issues of revitalizing urban neighborhoods in cities and towns across the region. The organization has three central goals including reclaiming public space for people, reactivating and reconnecting vibrant neighborhoods and championing urban development that is enduring, adaptable and human scaled.

“The ultimate goal is the reimagining and repopulation of our urban cores and inner ring neighborhoods,” said Chapter Organizing Committee Chairperson Joe Nickol told UrbanCincy, “Starting at the level of the street and continuing up through the neighborhood, town, city, and region, we encourage the development of great, equitable, urban places where all people can enjoy all aspects of daily life.”

By launching the CNU Midwest Chapter, the group aims to positively influence the dialogue around healthy urban policy and design within Midwestern cities.

This event which is from 5:30pm to 7:30pm is open to the public and will serve as an introduction to the group and networking opportunity for attendees. Anyone interested in participating can sign up here.

Graydon on Main is located at 1421 Main Street in OTR. There is a Cincy Red Bike station across the street and is easily accessible via Metro bus routes #’s 16,17,19,24.

The CNU is a national 501c3 organization which is dedicated to the cause of helping to create and advocate for vibrant and walkable cities, towns, and neighborhoods where people have diverse choices for how they live, work, shop, and get around. CNU’s mission is to help build those places.

UrbanCincy is a media partner for CNU Midwest and a promotional partner for CNU24, the organizations annual Congress which is being held next month in Detroit.

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.

Record Crowd at Niehoff for Burnet Woods

Over one hundred and fifty people gathered at the Niehoff Urban Design Studios in Corryville to see and hear what University of Cincinnati design students had come up with on a reimagining of Burnet Woods. The Woods, which once included the land that is now the University’s west campus, is still one of the largest parks in the Cincinnati Park system and also the central focal point of three Cincinnati neighborhoods.

Both Masters and Bachlors degree students from the School of Planning at DAAP focused on the park as part of a year long planning effort coordinated by the City of Cincinnati and the university to envision a revitalized Burnet Woods.  A recent study conducted by the university polled 2,000 students. One of the biggest findings from the study is that 87% of the students polled do not think the Woods are safe. Another 7% did not know it existed at all.

As part of the event, UrbanCincy moderated a discussion panel with some of the regions’ top experts on park planning and programming. Chris Manning from Human Nature joined Ken Stapleton from Ken Stapleton & Associates and Christy Samad from Center City Development Corportation (3CDC). Panelists discussed ways to make the park appear safer including better lighting, more programming and activities and better gateway connections into the park.

The hour long panel focused on a range of topics regarding Burnet Woods including a student proposal for a green land bridge between the park and the school. The bridge proposal was praised by the panelist for its outside the box approach at incorporating an aspect of the park in a way that overcomes the physical separation caused by the wide and traffic heavy Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Audience members were also encouraged to participate and some voiced concerns about the park being underutilized. One participant asked about residential housing on the periphery as part of the park redevelopment noting that connecting residential to the park would be an opportunity for change.

UrbanCincy media specialist Travis Estell was on hand to take photographs and record the conversation which will appear later this week on The UrbanCincy Podcast.

The open house was a joint event between the Niehoff Urban Design Studio, the Urbanists and UrbanCincy. Stay tuned for our next joint event in the fall!