Just one project in Hamilton County will get a low-income housing tax credit this year
Ohio officials recently announced awards for low-income housing tax credits, and the list includes only one project in Hamilton County. Only one other project even applied for LIHTC this round.
"I think there's a natural ebb and flow of having more applications, less applications; more awards, less awards. But I do think the concerning part is that even with the ebb and flow, the trend is down," said Council Member and former housing developer Reggie Harris.
Last year the county had four awards, three of them in Cincinnati. And that was already a down year for the city:
- 2022: 5 applications (236 units), 3 awards (146 units)
- 2021: 7 applications (347 units), 4 awards (198 units)
- 2020: 9 applications (460 units), 5 awards (250 units)
- 2019: 9 applications (678 units), 4 awards (341 units)
Affordable housing is expensive to build and operate, and LIHTC projects are limited to the lowest incomes for at least 30 years.
Harris says there are a lot of factors that could be contributing to the decline, including the now all-too-familiar rising construction costs.
"We have a handful of developers, maybe four, that have the capacity to be competitive for LIHTC projects," Harris said. "It's not sustainable for those same four organizations to apply for a big project every year."
Harris says the city is hosting a Black Developers Conference in September. The goal is to build capacity for small developers and invite out-of-town groups to work here. Harris says more information about the conference is expected to be released in the next few weeks.
Over-the-Rhine Community Housing is the only developer to win a LIHTC award this year, for permanent supportive housing in Over-the-Rhine.
Project Manager Ben Eilerman says the criteria for LIHTC favor other parts of the state.
"Places like Cleveland are able to obtain essentially all those points and so it does put us at a competitive disadvantage," he said. "Putting together these applications and getting them ready to even submit for an application is a costly endeavor."
LIHTC is federally funded but awarded by the Ohio Housing Finance Agency.
Spaeth and Kelly Hall
Spaeth and Kelly Hall on West 12th operates as permanent supportive housing through Tender Mercies, for people who are currently or have previously experienced homelessness. There are 50 private rooms with shared bathrooms, kitchens and other communal spaces.
Eilerman says the historic buildings need to be stabilized.
"We will complete a gut renovation of both buildings and put a small addition on the back to create 30 units that will be efficiency apartments, that will also have common space for the residents, space for 24-hour onsite staffing, as well as space for supportive services," he said.
Current residents will have the option to move into Slater Hall, a permanent supportive housing development in progress on W. Court Street in the West End. Slater Hall is the first project to be awarded a grant from the city's Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
The tax credit for Spaeth and Kelly Hall is worth $9.5 million over 10 years. The project is also using federal Historic Tax Credits, but is not eligible to use state Historic Tax Credits because of a recent state law change.
Eilerman says this is exactly the kind of project where they would typically "stack" the historic and low-income housing tax credits.
"So it's really unfortunate that we're not able to utilize those dollars," he said. "And what that means for a project like this is that we have to make up those dollars from other sources, whether it be deferred developer fee — money that both our nonprofit organizations use to serve the folks in our neighborhood — or it means asking for more money from the city and the state to fill that gap."
State lawmakers are currently debating the next state budget, which may include a state version of LIHTC to subsidize affordable housing.