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Local expert will testify to Congress about the Hamilton County housing market

laura brunner
Ann Thompson
Laura Brunner, with Eric Hunn of Hunn's Construction and Robert Killins with the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, stand inside an Evanston property they helped rehab in 2018.

A local expert will testify before Congress Tuesday morning about the Hamilton County housing market.

Laura Brunner, president and CEO of The Port of Greater Cincinnati, will talk about the negative impact of institutional investors.

These corporations are landlords for thousands or sometimes tens of thousands of single family homes. Although companies like this own a small percentage of rental housing in the U.S., they’re expanding rapidly. Brunner says over 4,000 single family homes in Hamilton County have been purchased by just five institutional investors since 2013.

Brunner says they stifle homeownership rates, especially for potential buyers with lower incomes.

"The investors have a history of not maintaining the properties, and we know that from the code violations," Brunner said. "The tracking that we did last year to identify these 4,000 homes that are owned in Hamilton County started with the city of Cincinnati telling us who their five worst landlords are."

Brunner says code violations can be difficult to enforce with out-of-town landlords. And she says it's common for such companies to form dozens of LLCs to spread out the "ownership" of thousands of single family homes. For example, one company owns about 3,000 homes spread across at least 91 LLCs.

"We've also found that a very high percentage of these 4,000 homes [in Hamilton County], they're still getting homeowner credit on their property taxes," Brunner said. "They're not paying taxes as a business, they're paying taxes as if they were a homeowner."

That's one area where Brunner says state-level legislation can help: requiring more transparency.

Brunner will tell senators about The Port's recent purchase of nearly 200 homes in an effort to convert the rental properties back into homeownership. The Port is working with families renting those homes to help them buy the property and become homeowners.

"As far as we know, we're the only ones in the country that have made a purchase of this size, specifically to return rental homes back to single family home ownership," Brunner said.

The U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs invited Brunner and four other experts from across the country to testify. The other speakers are: Prof. Matthew Desmond (Director of The Eviction Lab at Princeton University); Rosana Morey (small property owner); Darion Dunn (Managing Partner, Atlantica Properties); Diane Yentel (President and CEO, National Low Income Housing Coalition).

The committee includes Ohio’s Sherrod Brown, Ranking Member Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania, and former presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren.

The hearing is Tuesday morning  at 10. It will be streamed live on senate.gov.

Becca Costello grew up in Williamsburg and Batavia (in Clermont County) listening to WVXU. Before joining the WVXU newsroom, she worked in public radio & TV journalism in Bloomington, Indiana and Lincoln, Nebraska. Becca has earned numerous awards for her reporting, including from local chapters of the Associated Press and Society of Professional Journalists, and contributed to regional and national Murrow Award winners. Becca has a master's degree in journalism from Indiana University and a bachelor's degree from Cincinnati Christian University. Becca's dog Cincy (named for the city they once again call home) is even more anxious than she is.