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Council amends Affordable Housing Trust Fund rules as the first subsidized project is announced

City Hall as seen from Plum St. in Cincinnati, Ohio, Wednesday, May 12, 2021.
Jason Whitman
City Hall as seen from Plum St. in Cincinnati, Ohio, Wednesday, May 12, 2021.

A lengthy debate in a Cincinnati Council committee Tuesday resulted in a compromise over the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, but not one most advocates are pleased with. The committee voted 5-3 to restrict $5 million of the fund to units affordable to households making 80% or less of the Area Median Income (AMI).

“This comes down to process and progress,” said Council Member Meeka Owens. “We have made the most traction on this issue than any other council. And as a woman who has been on [Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Association]’s waiting list, housing is supremely important to me. And so today my vote... is about progress and moving the city forward.”

The three council members opposing the motion sided instead with affordable housing advocates who say the money should be restricted to lower-income units as outlined in the original trust fund ordinance in 2018: all money going to units affordable at 60% or less AMI, and at least half the funds going to units affordable to 30% AMI.

“I think what's bothering me, is this sounds like trickle down,” said Council Member Victoria Parks. “Where you take care of the people at the top and then as they make progress, then the progress trickles down and the less fortunate, they get some crumbs.”

The biggest argument for this approach is federal data showing the vast majority of Cincinnati households paying too much for housing are making between 0% and 50% AMI.

"If you need housing affordable at 60% AMI or lower, then that's where we should require the money goes," said Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition. "That's the best way to get it done."

Current requirements allow for subsidy of units priced at up to 100% AMI, albeit at much lower levels than units priced at 60% AMI.

A pair of presentations from the city manager's office and the Cincinnati Development Fund, which is managing the city's trust fund, made the case for not restricting the funds any further. See those presentations below (story continues after).

Council Member Reggie Harris, previously an affordable housing developer himself, says lower restrictions would result in fewer overall units.

“If you believe that we should just build these 15 units and be good with that, then that's where this restriction goes. But if you're thinking about a strategy that can build more units, and give us the opportunity to continue to build more units, that's where we're going with this motion,” Harris said. “At this point, it's a philosophical difference on how we move forward.”

Five council members supported the motion capping the $5 million to units at 80% AMI: Harris, Owens, Jeff Cramerding, Mark Jeffreys, and Liz Keating. Three council members opposed it: Parks, Vice Mayor Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney, and Scotty Johnson.

"The historical track record in this city when it comes to the disenfranchised is abysmal, is disgusting," Johnson said. "I clearly understand why there is a serious distrust that [city officials] are going to do what they say they're going to do."

The motion will go to full council Wednesday, where it is expected to pass.

The fund has never been used for its intended purpose: to subsidize housing production for low-income households. City officials announced the first award from the fund on Tuesday morning, nearly four years after it was first established.

First award from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund

The first-ever award from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund will go to a permanent supportive housing project in the West End.

Slater Hall on West Court Street will have 62 efficiency units for people with mental illness.

"The Affordable Housing Trust Fund dollars were the last dollars to come into the project, and they came in at a critical time where the project was really stalled," said Ben Eilerman, project manager for Over-the-Rhine Community Housing.

All the units will be affordable to people making 50% or less AMI. Eilerman says most of the units will go to people who have experienced homelessness, meaning their income is more likely to be 30% AMI or less.

"This project will serve those who are in most need of housing," Eilerman said.

Rendering of Slater Hall, a permanent supportive housing project planned for the West End.
Over-the-Rhine Community Housing
Rendering of Slater Hall, a permanent supportive housing project planned for the West End.

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.