November 2021

Not everyone sharing in excitement of Columbus’ hot housing market

Courtesy of The Columbus Dispatch
By Theodore Decker
November 28, 2021

These are heady times to be a homeowner.

Even if the local real estate market is starting to cool, it’s still smoldering. Those miserable Zillow estimates from years gone by — excuse me, Zestimates — that homeowners had avoided like a packed arena during peak COVID-19 have moved into a sunnier realm.

There we gaze upon them and smile. We wipe the sweat from our brows and exclaim, shooting a quick glance over our shoulders just to make sure the darker times are behind us, “Well, now that’s more like it! These Zestimates are finally accurate!”

The turf may look greener on this side of the fence, but earlier this month came a reminder that the housing picture in Greater Columbus isn’t being celebrated by everyone.

With winter approaching, Black community leaders issued a joint warning that affordable housing remains desperately needed.

“This is a health care crisis,” U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty, a Gahanna-area Democrat, said during an event at Trinity Baptist Church on the city’s Near East Side. “This is a social justice crisis.”

Columbus has set aside a $50 million bond package for affordable housing and Mayor Andrew J. Ginther appointed the city’s first assistant director of housing strategies in May. But Black leaders of various organizations said those efforts fall short, and a shortage of affordable housing persists.

At the call to action a few weeks ago, Stephanie Hightower, president of the Columbus Urban League, said her organization had since July fielded 12,000 calls from people seeking help because they felt they were at risk of losing their homes.

“Most of these calls were from Black single moms,” Hightower said.

The problem? Rents have jumped, and so has the population. About 235,600 new residents settled in Greater Columbus between 2010 and 2020, but only a third of that number of new homes and apartments were added during the same time period.

Rod Dumas poses for a portrait on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021 inside his apartment in Columbus, Ohio. Dumas lives in a 10-unit apartment building in the King-Lincoln neighborhood, and his rent is increasing from $600 a month to $950 a month after his building was sold and taken over by new managers. He may be forced to leave because he can’t afford that amount of rent.

The symptoms are popping up everywhere. Christie Angel, president and CEO of YWCA in Columbus, said the average shelter stay there of 22-30 days had jumped to 82 days. Shelter funding has remained flat while costs to run it keep climbing, she said.

The city has a number of affordable housing projects in the works, including one on the site of the former Alrosa Villa music venue.

The complex at 5055 Sinclair Road is expected to be completed sometime next year, with 180 apartments available for residents at a variety of income levels — 30%, 50%, 60% and 70% of the area median income. But the pace of these projects can come at a slow, and costly, crawl. That makes other ideas, like those floated by community activist and former Columbus City Council candidate Joe Motil, worth a look.

Motil proposes that the city and Franklin County spend $60 million each in federal American Rescue Plan dollars, with the Columbus Partnership kicking in another $60 million, to build 6,200 affordable housing units.

He also proposes that the city boost the percentage of the hotel-motel tax revenue going toward the Affordable Housing Trust fund from 8.43% to 20%.

These concerns might sound far away if you’re making your mortgage payments, or looking at the latest lists of luxury home sales in the region. A handful of homes here sell every week at prices well north of a million bucks.

On the flip side, there is this: With the onset of colder weather a few weeks back, the Columbus Coalition for the Homeless announced the opening of a warming center for the city’s homeless population at the Broad Street United Methodist Church, 501 E. Broad St.

The center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday through March 22 and offers warm beverages and showers, supplies and laundry service.

“It’s been a long-time value of this church to care for the persons in the heart of the city,” the Rev. John Girard, the church’s senior pastor, told The Dispatch.

Similar centers that opened Downtown last winter served 243 people who visited 2,200 times.

If the affordable housing crisis feels like so many of these issues dogging Columbus — namely that they are too big to wrap your hands around — you can always start small.

The coalition is seeking packaged snacks, such as chewy granola bars and fruit bars, as well as new underwear, socks, hats, and gloves. People can them drop off those donations at the Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District office at 23 N. 4th St, or donate money through the coalition’s website.

To borrow a bit of Rev. Girard’s phrasing, even the smallest gesture can show the heart of a city.

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