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A proposal to change city's tax abatement process aims to boost affordable housing

Reggie Harris at a podium
Becca Costello
/
WVXU
Council Member Reggie Harris (at podium) with Vice Mayor Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney (left) and Mayor Aftab Pureval.

A proposal at Cincinnati City Hall would proactively grant tax abatements to developers applying for federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC).

LIHTC is administered at the state level. Cincinnati's current policy is for developers to get a letter of support from city administration to include with their application to the Ohio Housing Finance Agency (OHFA). If OHFA approves the project, developers would then go back to the city for a local tax abatement, which requires City Council approval.

Council Member Reggie Harris says his ordinance would streamline the process and incentivize new development in two ways.

"One, it strengthens the developer's application so that the Ohio Financing Agency sees city commitment, sees city dollars, sees a stronger application — so we're more likely to get funded with the increased city support," Harris said. "And then two, it shortens the turnaround time for the building of those projects."

Harris says the city's Department of Community and Economic Development already vets each project before providing a letter of support, so there's no need for a developer to go through a second city approval process.

Related: What Does 'Affordable Housing' Mean In Cincinnati?

Harris' ordinance would provide a "blanket" approval for future tax abatements for residential development projects applying for LIHTC, contingent on OHFA approval.

City staff would ensure a project meets eligibility requirements for the highly competitive tax credits, such as providing affordable rents to low-income households (typically earning 50-60% of the Area Median Income). If OHFA approves the project, the city's abatement would be automatic.

Harris says he's not aware of any other Ohio cities with a similar process. The text of his ordinance is not yet available and it's not clear when it would go into effect. Harris says he will introduce it in the next couple weeks.

Harris is chair of the new Equitable Growth and Housing Committee, which meets for the first time on Wednesday at 11 a.m. (Future meetings of this committee will be every other Tuesday at 1 p.m.).

Mayor Aftab Pureval announced a few first steps in his plan to address the affordable housing crisis. He says the city is hiring a new person for the Law Department's Quality of Life Division.

"This division is charged with prosecuting those who refuse to improve the safety and quality of properties," Pureval said. "The additional team member will support our law division in enforcing violations by nuisance landlords and improving even more challenging and improving our challenging properties."

Pureval also says he will introduce a motion next week to ask the administration for a comprehensive review of zoning practices like parking minimums and accessory dwelling units.

"Zoning laws and policies are incredibly personal to our 52 neighborhoods, and making sure that we start by engaging our community on these important issues to ensure that their voices are heard is critically important," Pureval said. "We are looking to get this done and make recommendations very quickly."

City administration is transitioning from City Manager Paula Boggs Muething, whose last day was Tuesday, to Interim City Manager John Curp. Assistance City Manager John Juech announced his resignation Tuesday, effective Feb. 17.

A few affordable housing efforts initiated last year have not yet yielded public results.

Council approved the creation of a Housing Advisory Board in April, which will oversee the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and millions of dollars in a HUD-funded revolving loan pool to finance development.

Then-Mayor John Cranley appointed 10 members to the board, which were approved by council in September. A city spokesperson says the board is planning to meet for the first time in mid-February.

Members of the board are:

  • Council Member Greg Landsman
  • Greg Johnson (CEO, Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority)
  • Sister Sally Duffy (Nun, Sisters of Charity)
  • Bobby Maly (CEO and principal, The Model Group)
  • Steve Leeper (president & CEO, 3CDC)
  • James Watkins (president, TriVersity Construction)
  • Roxanne Qualls (former Cincinnati council member and mayor)
  • Jeniece Jones (executive director, Housing Opportunities Made Equal)
  • Susan Thomas (National Tax Credit Lending team, Fifth Third Bank)

Local officials have disagreed on how much affordable housing Cincinnati needs, citing different statistics.

According to HUD data released late last year, more than 25,000 households are severely-cost burdened (paying at least half of their income on housing costs). Another 24,700 households are cost burdened (paying more than 30% of income on housing costs).

Households (both owners and renters) with low and extremely-low income are much more likely to be cost burdened or severely cost burdened.

Housing cost burden data graph
Data: HUD; Graphic: Flourish