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Greater Cincinnati's housing shortage is among the least severe (but it's still really bad)


The affordable housing gap in Greater Cincinnati and across Ohio has improved slightly, according to a new report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

The study says the Cincinnati metro area has a shortage of nearly 50,000 rental units affordable to extremely low-income households. Statewide, the gap is over 267,000 units — a very small improvement from the year before.

"The modest improvement really shows us that we're doing the right things," said Amy Riegel, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio. "But we really need to have more investment in the right things, and we need to increase our scale and impact both at the local, the state, and the federal level."

Compared to the 50 largest U.S. cities, Greater Cincinnati has the fourth least severe housing shortage. For every 100 extremely low-income households, only 41 affordable rental units are available — that's better than both the national average (34 units per 100 households) and the Ohio average (40 units per 100 households).

"We still have work to do to make sure that we're not resting on our laurels," said Kristen Baker, executive director of LISC Greater Cincinnati. "That's always the challenge when these kinds of figures come out, is to balance the success with where we still have need and opportunity."

RELATED: $34M of Cincinnati's affordable housing fund can't be spent. Why?

Baker points out the data only goes through 2022, which means the full impact of the pandemic isn't apparent yet.

"Particularly now that all of the rental assistance and a lot of the other COVID-era supports are no longer available to households," she said.

The report also includes renter households, not homeowners, and does not include people experiencing homelessness.

Things are worse for low-income households

Not a single state or metro area has enough affordable housing, according to the report. Even in areas with the least severe problems, more than half of extremely low-income households can't find affordable housing.

Affordability varies greatly across Ohio. Cleveland ranks fifth for least severe shortage, right behind Cincinnati. Columbus, however, has just 26 units available per 100 extremely low-income households.

Nationwide, Black and Latino households experience much higher rates of housing cost burden (spending more than 30% of income on rent and utilities) compared to white renters.

There's an overall housing shortage nationwide, according to the report, but the problem is exponentially worse for lower-income households.

"Extremely low-income renters must compete with all higher-income households for the limited number of rental homes affordable to them in the private market," the report says. "While middle-income renters increasingly face affordability challenges ... they continue to account for just 1% of all severely cost-burdened renter households in the U.S."

The report encourages cities to address restrictive zoning rules and regulations that limit the amount and types of new housing that can be built. Cincinnati officials have proposed a zoning reform package, Connected Communities, that will likely get a vote by the end of June.

RELATED: Mayor Pureval reveals his 'Connected Communities' plan

"These local reforms are necessary — but insufficient without federal resources — for eliminating the shortage of affordable rental housing for the nation's lowest-income renters," the report says.

Read the full report below (story continues after):

Understanding the data

The NLIHC report uses definitions from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"Extremely low-income" refers to households with incomes at or below either the federal poverty guideline or 30% the Area Median Income (AMI).

RELATED: Residents are moving into Downtown's first affordable housing project in over 30 years

"AMI" refers to the median income in the metropolitan area; in other words, comparisons between specific areas take into account the differing income levels.

HUD calculates AMI for the Cincinnati metro area as $103,600 a year for a family of four.

Household Size1 2 3 456
Extremely low-income (30% AMI)$21,250
Very low-income (50% AMI)$35,400$40,450$45,500$50,550$54,600$58,650
Low-income (80% AMI)$56,650$64,750$72,850$80,900$87,400$93,850

Renters at the lower-income levels are significantly more likely to be cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on rent and utilities. Severely cost-burdened households spend more than half of their income on housing.

In Greater Cincinnati, 98% of renter households making the median income are living affordably. By contrast, only a third of extremely low-income households are living affordably. And of all renter households in Greater Cincinnati paying more than half their income on housing, more than 91% are extremely low-income.

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.