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.

Celebrate Summer at UrbanCincy’s July #URBANexchange

URBANexchange at Taste of BelgiumSummer is finally upon us which means its time to enjoy some craft brews outside at this Thursday’s URBANexchange event (weather permitting)! We’ve received so much good feedback about our location change that we have decided to make Taste of Belgium’s Short Vine location our main venue for the happy hours.

Join us for crepes and craft beers this Thursday from 5:30pm to 8pm. This is a great opportunity to check out the continued progress of the new streetscape being installed on Short Vine in Uptown and discuss some of the transportation topics we brought up in our latest podcast.

As always, the event will be a casual setting where you can meet others interested in what is happening in the city. We will gather in a section near the crepe bar so that each person can choose how much or little they buy in terms of food or drink. Although we do encourage our attendees to generously support our kind hosts at Taste of Belgium.

As always URBANexchange is free and open to the public.

Taste of Belgium is located on Vine Street in Corryville between the University of Cincinnati’s east and west campuses and is located just two blocks from a future uptown streetcar stop. If you choose to bike, free and ample bike parking is available outside the building. The venue is also served by SORTA’s Metro*Plus bus, as well as buses on the #19, #78 and #46 routes.

What Influence Does Population Density Have on Neighborhood Improvement?

Data from the Cleveland Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank shows that a poor neighborhood’s income growth, while affected by internal factors, is also highly influenced by its surrounding metropolitan area.

Much the same that a poor family in a strong neighborhood is more likely to be lifted up by the rising tide in their neighborhood, it seems that poor areas of cities have the ability to function in the same manner.

The data from the Federal Reserve measures neighborhood growth, or lack thereof, from 1980 to 2008. Several statistics from the report come as a surprise.

First, while the report finds that a neighborhood’s percentage of residents with a high school degree, bachelor’s degree, and its unemployment rate in 1980 all have some correlation with that neighborhood’s chances of having income growth, the statistics are not all that strong.

The difference in bachelor’s degrees between neighborhoods with no income improvement and those with a high degree of income improvement was around 3%. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate was only about 2% lower in high income growth neighborhoods.

But perhaps the most striking evidence, at the local level, is how much population density correlates with a neighborhood’s likeliness to achieve high income growth.

Neighborhoods that had no improvement had, on average, a density of 12,028 people per square mile in 1980, while neighborhoods with high improvement had an average density more than double that of 30,399 people per square mile.

The City of Cincinnati, by comparison, has a population density around 3,810 people per square mile.

By 2008, the change is stark. Neighborhoods that received high income growth increased their educational attainment, population and population density at a much higher rate than what the report classifies as no-improvement neighborhoods.

The report also found that poor neighborhoods in low-growth metropolitan statistical areas (MSA) were more likely to remain stagnant or even shrink while poor neighborhoods in high-growth MSAs had a higher chance of experiencing income growth.

Growing at just 0.4% annually since the 2010 Census, the Cincinnati MSA would fall into that low-growth category.

While the average income of an MSA in 1980 may not be a good predictor of whether a neighborhood will experience high or low growth, neighborhoods that experienced high income growth were located in regions that experienced higher growth in income, a growing population and increased their population density.

As a result, two identical poor neighborhoods in New York City and Cleveland in 1980 would look much different in 2008, despite being in the same position 38 years prior. The assertion is that a growing metropolitan area has a tendency to lift the tide for all neighborhoods.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland points out, however, that some of this improvement in high-growth neighborhoods could be due to what they deem residential sorting; basically, changing demographics in the neighborhood.

While the evidence is not certain, the data also shows neighborhoods that experienced high-growth from 1980 to 2008 were also more likely to have gained residents (10%) than low-growth neighborhoods (-20.9%). Therefore, neighborhoods that experienced high growth were those that also had the greatest opportunity for demographic shifts to occur within the neighborhood.

Interestingly enough, while much of the gentrification argument has centered on white residents pushing out minorities, the report found that neighborhoods that experienced high growth rates were more likely to reduce their share of black and white residents, while increasing their share of Hispanic residents.

These trends have wide implications for American policy regarding poverty and urban development, but appear to be less relevant in the Cincinnati region where very few neighborhoods have any sizable Hispanic population.

With this strong evidence indicating population density is linked to a poor neighborhood’s ability to improve, it only reinforces the growing narrative about the suburbanization of poverty in America.

Still, however, there is a long way to go before this narrative is fully realized locally; as it is estimated that roughly half of all children in the City of Cincinnati live in poverty – a number that does not appear to be changing.

While policy makers at City Hall will surely be discussing youth jobs programs, career training, early childhood education and neighborhood health centers, one other item on the policy agenda should be the urban form of our region’s neighborhoods.

We do not know whether higher population densities were a cause or merely correlated with a neighborhood’s ability to improve, but we do know, thanks to this data from the Federal Reserve, that the two issues appear to be more connected than what we may have previously thought.

OPINION: Sterling’s Discriminatory Housing Practices Should Have Been His Undoing

The other week the NBA finalized the forced sale of the Los Angeles Clippers from Donald Sterling to Steve Ballmer. The move comes after weeks of heated criticism of Sterling following his racially charged comments caught on tape to his young, mixed-race girlfriend.

This was not, however, the first moment of controversy for the billionaire owner. More significantly, is his history of racism with regard to the management of his apartment properties in California.

First, in 2001, he was sued by the City of Santa Monica for “harassing and threatening” to evict rent control tenants. Then, in 2003, tenants filed a federal lawsuit against him claiming discriminatory housing practices, which Sterling settled out of court by paying $5 million in legal fees and an undisclosed settlement to those tenants.

All of this was then followed in 2006 when the Department of Justice sued Sterling, once again, for housing discrimination against African American and Latino tenants. This DOJ suit was settled the following year for roughly $3 million, and was quickly followed by a civil lawsuit, filed by Clippers General Manager Elgin Baylor, claiming wrongful termination.

There were other instances of racism, but it is the discriminatory housing practices of Sterling that should be most significant to urbanists.

“Discrimination in the housing market has been crippling to the attempts blacks and Latinos have made to empower themselves economically. The worst examples are in the sales market — there’s a wealth of urban economic evidence showing how the inability to buy homes has affected the black-white wealth gap — but such behavior in the rental market is just as damaging,” Bomani Jones wrote for ESPN in 2010.

“Consider that, frequently, moving to a fancy neighborhood like Beverly Hills provides the best chance a family has at placing its children in decent schools, something we all can agree is pretty important.”

The zoning practices and transportation systems built in America throughout much of the 20th century facilitated the segregation of our communities, not only by income, but by race. These actions, many would agree, helped create dangerous inner-city neighborhoods with little academic or economic opportunity. Places where it is far easier to get a bag of chips or bottle of soda than it is to get fresh fruit or vegetables. Places that are violent and unhealthy.

As a society, we seemed to have condemned Sterling for the words he used, but pay little attention to the harsh realities tied to his racial discrimination as a landlord. As Jones says, these, not the words Sterling was caught saying, are what pose real and every day challenges for many racial minorities in America.

“People tend to think of the more annoying manifestations of racism, like how hard it can be for non-white people to get cabs in New York. But in the grand scheme, stuff like that is trivial. What Sterling is accused of is as real as penitentiary steel. But for some reason, that hasn’t qualified as big news in most places.”