Downtown Residents Find Themselves Caught In Affordable Housing Gap — Are Solutions Coming?
The cool, marble-lined lobby of the historic Court View Apartments building welcomes residents coming in from the bustle of downtown Cincinnati.
They'll have to find a new place to call home soon. A real estate investment group called Vision and Beyond Capital Investments bought the building in April and gave its occupants a 30 day notice to vacate in May. When planned renovation work is done, the company says rents will need to be significantly higher than the $500 to $650 residents pay monthly now.
That's left those living in the 24-unit building scrambling to find other affordable housing.
They risk joining the estimated 19,000 households struggling with housing affordability in Cincinnati, according to data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Some housing advocates fear that number could rise as Cincinnati's real estate market continues on a white-hot uptick.
Tim Reed has lived at Court View for almost two decades. He's seen the changes in neighboring Over-the-Rhine, the arrival of a new Kroger grocery store just down the street, and recent efforts to revitalize the business district around Court View. He's upset after all that investment, he has to go.
"I've been Downtown 20 years, in this building for 19 years," he says. "I'm comfortable here. I love it here, I love the neighborhood, I love the neighbors. I didn't want to make another move in my life."
Since it was founded in 2018, Vision and Beyond has invested more than $84 million in real estate and acquired more than 1,200 rental units in neighborhoods like Avondale, Mount Auburn, and Walnut Hills. It also has investments in cities like Columbus and Lexington and operates offices in Cincinnati and Tel Aviv.
On its website, Vision and Beyond touts its commitment to thriving neighborhoods and social responsibility, including a youth jobs program. It also notes its business model is built on acquiring properties at below market value and increasing the rents there to maximize profits for its international investors.
In a June 4 interview on YouTube, Vision and Beyond Co-founder Stas Grinberg describes why the company chose Cincinnati. He cites relatively low property values, the city's increasing growth and, as he says, it's "an eviction friendly place."
"Not that eviction is necessarily positive," Grinberg says in the interview, "but from an investor perspective, to be able to force ownership on your property is important. In those aspects, it's absolutely phenomenal."
This investment model is becoming more common nationally, in the Midwest and in the local housing market, says managing attorney at Legal Aid of Greater Cincinnati Nick DiNardo. That nonprofit often aids renters who could face eviction or other housing issues.
Investment groups like Vision and Beyond buy everything from single-family homes to large apartment complexes, DiNardo says.
"We're seeing a lot of kind of, private equity investors, some more formalized than others," DiNardo says. "It's all different areas of the rental market, but I definitely think it's a trend we're seeing."
A spokesperson for Vision and Beyond did not respond to phone calls requesting comment for this story. A representative for the company, Stacey Walton, did speak to Cincinnati Council June 16 about the situation at Court View. She said the company is willing to extend the move-out date by a couple weeks, help residents find other apartments and pay up to $300 in moving assistance.
"We understand and we empathize with all of our residents in the building," Walton said. "There is a lot that gets involved with a redevelopment. We do have a development schedule that we are needing to adhere to, and so thus we have given the residents a 30-day notice."
Residents, however, say even the two-week extension doesn't leave them enough time in Cincinnati's hot rental market. For some, it's just the latest experience with having to move for redevelopment.
Jeff Stout has lived in Court View for the last two and a half years. He had moved multiple times due to rising rents and redevelopment in Over-the-Rhine. He spent much of that time at a job doing community outreach at the nearby Downtown library, work he's proud of. The repeated need to search for housing has been dispiriting, however.
"It makes me feel like I'm trash, or like people think I'm trash that just needs to be moved around," he says. "I was literally serving my community, and have been repeatedly treated like an inconvenience."
Stout says the thing he'll miss the most about Court View is a sense of belonging. "It is an extremely diverse group of people, and we all just care for each other," he says. "It's just a really wonderful feeling of community that is now getting destroyed."
Solutions for Cincinnatians like Reed and Stout remain murky.
Earlier this year, Cincinnati voters decided against a charter amendment that would have forced the city to spend $50 million per year on affordable housing. Elected officials and activists continue to float other ideas, including an increase in the city's earnings tax.
DiNardo, the Legal Aid attorney, says he thinks the way the city offers tax abatements and other incentives to developers needs to change.
"That's the bigger issue here," he says. "It's a policy issue for the city. If we're going to maintain a diverse group of people who get to live downtown and in Over-the-Rhine, city policy is going to lead that."
In the case of Court View, the city's hands are probably tied, Cincinnati Council Member Chris Seelbach said during council's June 16 meeting. The company has indicated it's not seeking any tax abatements or other incentives from the city.
"If they come to us and ask for an abatement, I'm a no vote," Seelbach said. "But unless we have something over them, I'm not sure there's anything we can do."
Meanwhile, long-term residents like Reed are having a hard time finding new places they can afford.
"I'm on a fixed income, you know," he says. "And it's like, 'what am I going to do?' I'm losing my home, and I don't think I can keep roots Downtown because of the way the housing market is. That's what hurts me the most."
This feature was produced as part of a full hour on housing issues airing on Cincinnati Edition June 30.
Joining Cincinnati Edition to discuss Cincinnati's affordable housing shortage and potential solutions are Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati Executive Director Margaret Fox, Cincinnati City Council Member Greg Landsman and former Court View resident Sarah Ewing.
Listen to Cincinnati Edition live at noon M-F. Audio for this segment will be uploaded after 4 p.m. ET.
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