Black leaders say more money needs to be spent on affordable housing in Greater Columbus
Courtesy of The Columbus Dispatch
By Mark Ferenchik
November 11, 2021
Black community leaders urged public and private officials to do more to create affordable housing in Greater Columbus, saying the need has become as dire as ever.
“We are demanding an affordable housing action plan,” said Nana Watson, president of the NAACP Columbus chapter, who said there still aren’t enough units being built.
“This is a health care crisis. This is a social justice crisis,” said U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty, a Gahanna area Democrat, during an event at Trinity Baptist Church on the city’s Near East Side.
Despite many efforts — such as Columbus’ $50 million bond package for affordable housing, Mayor Andrew J. Ginther appointing the city’s first assistant director of housing strategies in May, and the work of groups such as the Affordable Housing Alliance of Central Ohio — Black leaders from various organizations on Thursday said numbers indicate the problem of the lack of affordable housing is worsening.
That’s especially true among single Black mothers who can’t afford child care, which makes it difficult for them to work, they said.
Stephanie Hightower, president of the Columbus Urban League, said her organization has since July fielded 12,000 calls from people looking for help because they felt they were at risk of losing their homes.
“Most of these calls were from Black single moms,” Hightower said, who often were dealing with financial setbacks because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“These moms are calling more than once,” she said, because of “skyrocketing” housing prices.
“We want to keep people in their homes,” Hightower said.
Rents in the Columbus area have jumped by 10% just in the past year, according to ApartmentList.com, with the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment at $931 and two-bedroom unit at $1,133.
From 2010 to 2020, Greater Columbus grew by 235,600 residents, but during that period just about 82,000 new homes and apartments were added, not enough to keep pace with demand.
“We face a problem,” Hightower said. “This truly is a community issue. COVID upended all our lives and livelihoods.”
Beatty noted that the most-recent version of President Joe Biden’s $1.75 trillion infrastructure and climate plan includes $150 billion for housing.
Christie Angel, president and CEO of YWCA in Columbus, said her organization now shelters 188 individuals, 76% of whom are Black. She said the average shelter stay should be 22-30 days, but the average stay is now 82 days.
“This is supposed to be an emergency program,” Angel said. She said the YWCA has a $2 million-a-year fund to pay for emergency shelter expenses, but that amount has remained flat while costs keep increasing.
Sidney Childs, the new chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer for the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority, said the authority plans to build 500 units of affordable housing a year for the next five years, and is looking for more landlords to sign up to receive tenants using federal housing vouchers to subsidize their rents.
Franklin County Commissioner Erica Crowley said restrictive zoning prevents affordable housing. The community cannot cater to the needs of the few against the needs of the many, she said.
The city of Columbus is in the process of updating its zoning code. A consultant the city hired said the code, which has not seen a major overhaul since the 1950s, is outdated, with the city relying too much on rezonings and variances that often prove controversial with residents.
On Oct. 28, city leaders discussed how the remaining $36 million of the voter-approved $50million affordable housing package would be spent. Through the end of the year, $21.2 million is to be spent on 12 projects with a total of 580 housing units. In 2022, the remaining $14.6 million will help build seven projects with 178 units.
A total of $4.35 million of affordable housing bond money is going toward the $45-million Sinclair Apartments. Ground will be broken on Monday for that project on the former Alrosa Villa site at 5055 Sinclair Road on the North Side.
The three-story, 180-unit project is to be affordable for those making up to 70% of the area’s gross median income. For example, at 60%, the income level would be $35,220 for a one-person household and $50,520 for a family of four.
In a separate action critical of the city’s tax abatement policies Thursday, community activist and former Columbus City Council candidate Joe Motil said the city and Franklin County should spend $60 million each in federal American Rescue Plan dollars, with the Columbus Partnership adding another $60 million, to build 6,200 affordable housing units.
He also said the city needs to increase the percentage of the hotel-motel tax revenue going toward the Affordable Housing Trust fund from 8.43% to 20%.
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