Affordable Housing Charter Amendment Language Rewritten Per Ohio Supreme Court Ruling
The ballot language for a Cincinnati charter amendment related to affordable housing has been finalized after the Hamilton County Board of Elections certified a revised summary in an emergency meeting Wednesday. The Ohio Supreme Court ordered the changes in response to a lawsuit filed by advocates who petitioned to put the amendment on the May ballot.
City officials have vehemently opposed the amendment, which would require an annual allocation of $50 million into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. The actual amendment is too long to appear on the ballot in full; City Council approved a summary that had been substantially changed by city administration.
In an opinion released Tuesday, the state Supreme Court determined the Hamilton County Board of Elections should not have certified the new summary because it included statements that constitute legal opinions and not fact.
The amendment submitted by advocates includes a list of potential funding sources. City officials say most of those sources are not possible, and included statements that some sources are "prohibited by state law" in their revised ballot summary.
"We hold that the statements saying that two of the funding sources are prohibited by state law are inappropriately argumentative because they are legal opinions on questions that the proposed amendment does not address," the opinion says.
The Board of Elections said it merely chose between the two summaries available, but the judges say the board had ultimate responsibility.
"Regardless of what language was proposed to the board, the board alone had the legal duty to prepare the language," the court opinion says.
The court dismissed all other complaints about the new summary, including against Cincinnati City Council and the Ohio Secretary of State.
"On the whole, we are pleased," said Don McTigue, an attorney representing the advocates.
Margaret Fox is executive director of the Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati. She says $50 million a year would be a start, but still wouldn't solve the crisis quickly.
"That gets us to 14,000 additional units in 10 years," Fox said. "And there's a need of 28,000 units of affordable housing."
City Solicitor Andrew Garth says the court's opinion vindicates the city's decision to change the ballot summary.
"We are disappointed that the Court did not affirm the full extent of the City's efforts to keep voters from being misled," Garth said in a statement. "It is still a victory for the voters, however, and a marked improvement over the incomplete description first proposed by the backers of the Charter amendment."
The county Board of Elections certified a new summary nearly identical to the one challenged in court. The final version removes two phrases: "which appropriation is currently prohibited by state law" in reference to the lease or sale of the Cincinnati Southern Railway, and "which tax is currently prohibited by state law" in reference to a personal income tax on the award of stock options in publicly traded companies.
Board of Elections Deputy Director Sally Krisel said only a handful of ballots have already been mailed to overseas service members, but they will need to be resent.
Early voting for the May election begins Tuesday, April 6.
This story has been updated. See the full text of the ballot language below.