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Ohio lawmakers roll out housing bills, but movement likely won't come this session

Sen. Michelle Reynolds (R-Canal Winchester) in the Harding Briefing Room.
Sarah Donaldson
Statehouse News Bureau
Sen. Michelle Reynolds (R-Canal Winchester) in the Harding Briefing Room.

Ohio only has 40 affordable units for every 100 households, according to a 2023 study from the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio and the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

With that affordable housing crunch in the limelight, Ohio lawmakers released new recommendations Wednesday that argue the demand issues in the state's fast-growing urban cores—namely Columbus—starkly contrast those in its numerous shrinking rural communities.

Kelli Burkhardt knows that contrast. For nearly two decades, she has been volunteering with transitional housing organizations in rural northwest Ohio.

To Burkhardt, also an Evangelical Lutheran, housing offers someone health and it offers them dignity. The clients she works with aren’t always as visible, she said—they may not be under doorways or on sidewalks but instead surfing couches.

She believes more and more Ohioans can afford less and less. As home-rental and buying costs soar simultaneously, she said she's watched the need for assistance swell, too.

“Truly, I just know that over the past few years, and especially since COVID, the lists are getting longer,” Burkhardt said in an interview.

Michael Jones is a longtime realtor in Columbus. Jones sees the market as strong and robust, he said, but not to everybody's benefit.

“We have to figure out how do we help the first-time home buyers, people with limited means and resources, become homeowners,” Jones said in an interview. “We know for a fact that homeownership is the single path toward financial wealth and independence, and we want to help more people be able to do that.”

Those anecdotal housing woes have caught the attention of some state lawmakers, who brought forward a slate of proposals to address a laundry list of issues.

“People, I think, intuitively understand the need for more housing, but they also have a lot of issues, like, ‘Well, I don't necessarily want a lot of this new housing in my backyard.’ It's become more of a state issue because of that,” said Sen. Bill Blessing (R-Colerain Township).

Blessing argues the crisis largely starts in late 2007 with the Great Recession. Since then, homebuilders haven’t been building nearly enough units to meet current demand. A six-year study of the city of Columbus' housing needs by the Building Industry Association showed the city needed to nearly double construction to meet population growth needs.

Some investors are sitting on properties, he said, not doing anything to add to stock.

“They're just using financial leverage to hoard housing, which makes it even more expensive and more profitable for them,” Blessing said in an interview.

Led by Sen. Michele Reynolds (R-Canal Winchester), Blessing and a cohort of other senators on a bipartisan select housing committee zig-zagged the state over the last six months, putting together a cohesive “Housing Reimagined” profile on Ohio’s housing environment, with 23 summary recommendations.

Some of those come in the form of legislation, which Reynolds and Sen. Hearcel Craig (D-Columbus) are starting to roll out. They introduced four bills Wednesday. One would authorize local communities to create residential stability zones to provide partial property tax exemptions; another would expand the Department of Development to the Department of Housing and Development.

Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said some of the changes should have come long ago. But it’s an election year, which often offers lawmakers less in-office time between now and the end of the legislative session in December.

“I don't think that's enough time to have the hearings, do something comprehensive, or even not comprehensive,” Huffman said

He sees this as the start of a longer process, he said.

On Tuesday, before the Ohio Senate bills were unveiled, Rep. Adam Mathews (R-Lebanon) and Rep. Dani Isaacsohn (D-Cincinnati) proposed awarding local governments grants for passing and implementing “pro-housing policies.” The state would set the standards, funding it by eliminating a non-business tax credit for property owners not living in the property.

“If it's a property you don't live in then it's probably not a non-business and shouldn't utilize a tax incentive that was meant to boost homeownership,” Isaacsohn said.

Blessing tried to create stricter regulations of the same credit during last year’s budget cycle but was blocked. He's for taking another crack at it, he said.

Sarah Donaldson covers government, policy, politics and elections for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. Contact her at