Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Issue 24 asks voters to change Cincinnati's charter to fund affordable housing

 an open door to a new home with key in the lock with a home-shaped keychain.

If you've looked for an apartment or house in Cincinnati recently, you're well aware it's gotten more expensive to keep a roof over your head. That's especially true for lower-income Cincinnatians. But is the answer raising the city's earnings tax to pay for more housing? Voters will decide in November.

Cincinnati residents will once again have a chance to weigh in on a charter amendment to address the city's housing needs. But the proposed amendment to the city's charter is a bit different than the one voters turned down in 2021.

Not everyone is on board with the idea. Detractors — including the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber and many city officials — say the city shouldn't raise its earnings tax and shouldn't tie itself to spending so much money on housing when it faces financial challenges in the years ahead.

A coalition of nonprofits and faith groups called Cincinnati Action for Housing Now is presenting the ballot initiative. It would raise Cincinnati's earnings tax from its current 1.8% back to 2.1% — the level it was at prior to a reduction as part of Hamilton County's Issue 22 transit and infrastructure levy in 2019. Action for Housing Now says the 0.3% increase would cost the average Cincinnatian about $132 a year and would raise between $40-$50 million a year.

RELATED: Issue 20 asks voters whether to boost levy for Hamilton Co.'s public library system

The ballot language requires the money go into a fund that would pay for construction of housing affordable to people making at or below 80% of the area's median income (AMI). It also stipulates 65% of that spending must be focused on housing for people making at or below 30% AMI. Recent studies suggested that Cincinnati needs between 19,000 and 28,000 more units of housing affordable at that level, which equates to roughly $21,000 a year for a single person. Another 30 percent of the funding would be spent on housing for people making 50 percent of the area median income. The rest would go to programs for homeowners making up to 80 percent of that income mark.

Put another way, Cincinnati Housing Action Now promises that, "in our plan, two-bedroom apartments will cost no more than $1,075/month, and most will cost $645/month or less."

The coalition supporting the amendment needed to get 5,385 signatures to place it on the ballot. The Hamilton County Board of Elections certified the group gathered more than 6,000.

It will actually take two votes to do what advocates are hoping for. The amendment that will be on the ballot Nov. 7 will create the fund, but a separate charter amendment put on the ballot by Cincinnati City Council in November 2024 will be needed to enact the tax increase.

RELATED: These 2 charter amendments will be on Cincinnati's November ballot — and this one won't

Supporters of the initiative asked Cincinnati City Council in August to put the tax on the ballot themselves, which would have eliminated the second step. Council declined to do so, citing timing constraints with election deadlines.

Instead, councilmembers have touted other efforts to create more affordable housing, including a housing advisory board, a revolving loan pool to help close gaps in financing for affordable housing development, and use of some stimulus funds toward affordable housing projects. They also point to the city's affordable housing trust fund. That fund was first proposed by Council member David Mann and approved by council in 2018. Money meant for that particular fund has been diverted in subsequent years into another account now overseen by the nonprofit Cincinnati Development Fund.

But the criteria for that funding is different than the proposal by Cincinnati Action for Housing Now and the original affordable housing trust fund. The CDF process allows city funds to go toward projects with higher rents at 100% of the area median income — up to $1,000 for a studio apartment.

Issue 24 advocates say Cincinnati's need for affordable housing is so urgent, more needs to be done.

RELATED: Your guide to voting in Ohio's November 2023 election

"This is so important to me, because as an affordable housing developer, I can tell you good-intentioned efforts aren't enough," Over-the-Rhine Community Housing Executive Director Mary Burke Rivers told council at an Aug. 2 meeting. "This council has recognized the affordable housing crisis in this city ... Cincinnati has the opportunity to lead the way."

OTRCH is among the groups making up Cincinnati Action for Housing now, along with the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, the AMOS Project, the ACLU of Ohio, CAIR Ohio, The Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati and other groups.

However, a majority of candidates running for the nine seats on City Council this year say they do not support Issue 24, with many citing a reluctance to raise taxes and the fact that the city faces a $25 million deficit in its operating budget.

Issue 24 ballot language

Shall the Charter of the City of Cincinnati be amended to require the City of Cincinnati to raise income and withholding taxes by three-tenths of one percent (0.3%), if subsequently approved by the electorate, annually beginning January 1, 2025, which new taxes shall be deposited into a non-lapsing special revenue fund restricted only to finance housing affordable to households with income up to 80 percent of the area median income as established by federal law with 65 percent of the fund restricted to support housing affordable only to households with incomes up to 30 percent of the area median income; which new taxes shall fund such housing throughout the City of Cincinnati through grants, subsidies, and loans, including to third party housing developers, which may be of low or no interest, and/or forgivable; which new taxes can be spent to increase, preserve, maintain, repair, improve, and pay off indebtedness related to privately owned homes and rental properties owned or rented by people with incomes up to 80 percent of the area median income as established by federal law; which new taxes can be spent to provide down payment assistance, mortgages, loans, financial counseling, and construction loans to people with incomes up to 80 percent of the area median income; and which up to five percent of annual revenues collected from the new tax may be used to support city staff and operations established for the purposes of administering the funds; and which imposes long-term restrictive covenants on property that receives funds from these taxes to maintain affordability and provide first right of refusal to purchase rental property funded through these taxes to tenants and the City, and shall be administered in consultation with an 11 member board of private citizens?

Nick has reported from a nuclear waste facility in the deserts of New Mexico, the White House press pool, a canoe on the Mill Creek, and even his desk one time.