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How An Affordable Apartment Complex Ended Up Displacing People In 28 Units

The Arts Apartments at Music Hall are located at 845 Ezzard Charles Drive.
Courtesy Of The City Of Cincinnati
The Arts Apartments at Music Hall are located at 845 Ezzard Charles Drive.

"I don't know what the future is going to hand me," one resident being displaced said.

When City Council unanimously approved a tax exemption for the Arts Apartments at Music Hall in November, they hailed the project as one that will provide 248 units of affordable housing in the city's gentrifying West End. But now, residents in 28 units are being displaced.

Most of them were given 90 days notice to move, according to property owners Birge & Held.

Melvin Griffin, who has lived at the Arts Apartments for 26 years, may be one of the people being displaced.

He said representatives from Birge & Held, which owns the property, had community meetings with residents and broke down how the finances would work for improvements to the building.

"We were told that no one would be affected. No one would have to move. That's what we were told," he said.

Initially, the building was set to cap income at 80% of the area median income, which is about $48,350 for a single person in the city. Some units would have lower AMI requirements, but there was supposed to be enough leeway for nobody to be displaced.

But, according to Birge & Held, that was reduced to 60% AMI at some point.

The company said in a statement, "As part of the application process, Birge & Held attempted to maximize the number of households able to stay and attempted to utilize the Income Averaging election allowed in the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program."

The company went on to say the Ohio Housing Finance Agency did not accept their proposal and "required Birge & Held to price all rents at the 60% AMI Level."

OHFA, however, says the organization has requirements for funding, but it's not true it would have "required" the company to change rent prices.

Chief Communications Officer Dorca Jones said, "There's no policy that we have that tells them they have to pick 80%, 60%, 50% or income averaging. They made that decision."

As a result of the AMI changes, housing is limited to those with a total income of approximately $35,880 for a single-person household or $51,240 for a family of four. That's more than $10,000 less than originally proposed.

'The Developer Needs to Fix This'

John Schrider, director of Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio, says the organization has been working with a group of tenants to give them legal advice and work with officials to help line up financing that would keep people in their homes.

"We're continuing to advise residents as they were in contact with residents and I think it's really important for the residents to hang in there," he said.

Schrider says an outcome where people are displaced is not what people invested in the project wanted, and Birge & Held should find funding that honors their original pitch to the tenants. If they do that, he says, tenants might be able to stay put. 

"So the important thing is this isn't over. And I think the residents rightly see this as a problem that the developer needs to fix. There's still time to do that. And it should be fixed. Because everybody who's been a resident there and worked to preserve this housing should have the right to stay. And there's time to fix this. It's not too late," he said.

Birge & Held representatives did not respond to additional questions about whether they are seeking alternative funding sources that would allow people to stay in their homes.

But said in its statement, the company said it's "taking extensive measures to ensure the 28 displaced families have the means to relocate."

That includes:

  • Paying all moving expenses
  • Assistance in finding a new residence
  • Paying the difference between current and future rent for three and a half years

The company says, so far, eight households have left the apartments and half of them were able to stay in the West End.

Meanwhile, the company is making upgrades to the units, including adding new air conditioning and HVAC systems, new roofing and electrical, and adding new appliances.

'It's Gut-Wrenching'

But for longtime residents at the Arts Apartment, getting displaced isn't just about money. It's about uprooting the lives they've built in a neighborhood they know.

"I'm going to be quite candid with you," Griffin says. "It's almost as if they're asking me to dig my own grave. I've lived here for 26 years. And you know, I have possessions and stuff … It's gut-wrenching. I can't. I'm getting some therapy, mental health help, in reference to this because it's so traumatic."

Griffin also helps support his son, who lives with a disability and cannot live on his own. He says he's asking the company to reevaluate their finances in an effort to qualify to stay in the building.

He doesn't know what his future looks like, as of now.

But Derek Prince, 68, is definitely being displaced. He pays just over $600 a month for rent and he's working long hours to afford that. He says he works for two janitorial services and, some days, works from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. the next day.

He grew up in the West End and likes the accessibility the neighborhood offers. For instance, he often walks to buy groceries at Kroger or Findlay Market.

But soon, he'll be moving into an apartment in Bond Hill where he'll pay $925 a month and be forced to take buses with less frequent routes.

"It can be very inconvenient for a lot of people who don't have transportation," he said about being priced out of the West End.

He doesn't know if the company will stay true to its word and pay the difference between his current and upcoming rent, which will be around $300 per month.

The company helped him find a new apartment as promised, but after changing AMI requirements, he says he doesn't trust them.

Even if the company does come through with 42 months of rental assistance, he's pretty sure he'll be looking for another apartment with lower rent afterward.

"I don't know," he said. "I don't know what the future is going to hand me with that."

Jolene Almendarez is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants who came to San Antonio in the 1960s. She was raised in a military family and has always called the city home. She studied journalism at San Antonio College and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Public Communications from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She's been a reporter in San Antonio and Castroville, Texas, and in Syracuse and Ithaca, New York.