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Council Votes Down Proposal Asking Voters For Income Tax Increase To Fund Affordable Housing

cincinnati city hall
Becca Costello
Cincinnati City Hall.

Cincinnati City Council voted 7-2 Wednesday to oppose a proposal to ask voters for a small income tax increase to fund affordable housing.

Council Member Chris Seelbach proposed the charter amendment, which would have appeared on the November ballot if approved. It would have increased the city's earnings tax from 1.8% to 1.9% and earmarked the revenue, an estimated $17 million a year, for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

Council Member David Mann opposed the proposal, pointing to funding for affordable housing council approved in the latest budget.

"That $19 million that we set aside — some for The Port Authority, some to increase the Affordable Housing Trust Fund of the city — creates some real opportunities to generate partnerships with developers, with nonprofit organizations and the like," Mann said.

Seelbach says he drafted the proposal with support from city administration, and the existing plans to address the affordable housing shortage are not enough to meet the needs.

"By voting this yes on this, we're giving the voters the final say on a well-designed, well thought out proposal with an authentic sunset and required renewable to keep going, and modeled after multiple housing levies nationwide," Seelbach said.

City administration seemed to indicate support for the idea when it was first announced at a committee meeting in June.

"It really has been a team effort," said Deputy City Solicitor Emily Smart Woerner in that committee meeting. "This is a proposal that obviously Council Member Seelbach had proposed, but we worked closely with the manager's office and the Department of Community and Economic Development in vetting this draft ... it really does negate a lot of the issues that we presented from the Issue 3 [affordable housing] proposal, so this is one that the city administration supports."

The City Manager's Officer later clarified that while the proposed amendment meets the necessary legal and practical requirements, they did not intend to communicate support for passing it.

City Manager Paula Boggs Muething reiterated that sentiment at Wednesday's council meeting, in response to a question about whether city administration is supportive.

"I have not been presented with that question, but certainly we are prohibited from lending support for or against a charter amendment," she said.

Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney was the only member to join Seelbach in supporting the measure.

"This would be a real plus for our city; we know that we need affordable housing," she said. "It's a very small increase, it's 0.1%. We're already below what other Ohio cities are charging. And so it just makes sense all the way around."

Wendell Young voted in favor of the proposal in committee earlier this week, but joined the majority of council in voting no Wednesday. He did not explain his vote.

Interim members Liz Keating and Steve Goodin both voted against it.

"I see this as a regional problem, not just the city," Keating said. "I think it needs to be addressed in a regional way, not just on the back of the city and our taxpayers."

Landsman said his "no" vote stemmed in part from the proposal having the six votes needed to get on the ballot.

"I've been thinking about this a lot and it comes down to sort of, what is the symbolic vote then for each of us?" he said. "These big issues that we face — whether it's affordable housing, childcare, and internally around fiscal stability and protecting core services — [need] a plan with a broad coalition that ultimately gets to the ballot and passes. And so I believe we need that; it's something that I hope to help lead on in the months and years ahead."

Seelbach says he does not plan to collect signatures to get the issue on the ballot. He says the advocates who proposed Issue 3 earlier this year may take it up for next May's primary election.

Editor's note: A previous version of this article stated the city’s planned HUD loan fund for affordable housing would need to be repaid by reducing future spending on HOME and CDBG projects. In fact, the city’s current and future CDBG allocations would be used as collateral to issue loans to third-party developers. The city’s current and future CDBG allocations would only be used to repay HUD if a third-party recipient defaulted on the loan and other collateral or guarantees were insufficient to cover repayment.

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.