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Permanent supportive housing in Over-the-Rhine appears poised for final approval

The proposed site for permanent supportive housing is at 2000 Dunlap St. in Over-the-Rhine; the lot is currently a surface parking lot.
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The proposed site for permanent supportive housing is at 2000 Dunlap St. in Over-the-Rhine; the lot is currently a surface parking lot.

A new housing project in Over-the-Rhine for people experiencing homelessness is all but finalized after a Council committee vote Tuesday. The project has garnered both intense opposition and support from residents and businesses.

Robert Sehlhorst was the first to speak at a public hearing ahead of Tuesday's vote, saying he lives within 200 yards of the project site at 2000 Dunlap Street.

"Placing 44 chronic homeless souls with drug and alcohol addictions and mental health challenges in a neighborhood with open drug sales, open prostitution and elevated gun violence goes beyond the pale of decency," Selhorst said.

The Over-the-Rhine Community Council was split on the project in April, voting 34-30 to oppose it. Several local business owners also opposed it.

Jeff Nye represents FL Emmert, a pet food production facility across the street from the proposed site.

"We alone have over 100 tractor trailer trucks coming in and out of Dunlap Street — only 25 feet wide — every week," Nye said. "We're very concerned about a pedestrian entrance on that corner directly adjacent to our facility."

Nye said FL Emmert does not want to prevent the project from happening. He said developers were unwilling to change the design of the building so that the entrance is on the east side instead of on Dunlap St. to the west.

Critics also said Over-the-Rhine has several low-income and permanent supportive housing projects already, and adding another would contribute to a concentration of poverty.

Support for the project was just as intense as the opposition. The developer, Over-the-Rhine Community Housing, passed out buttons that said "I SUPPORT DUNLAP PSH."

David Elkins is program coordinator for the Jimmy Heath House, a nearby permanent supportive housing project also operated by OTRCH.

"I hear a couple of things that I have to question," Elkins said. "One is the notion that somehow living outside or living under a bridge is more conducive to someone's health than living in a building where people are parking trucks outside of it."

The site is currently a surface parking lot. It’s about a block away from a streetcar stop and a couple blocks from Findlay Market.

The project's path to Cincinnati Council was a bit uncommon. The Historic Conservation Board approved all but one aspect: an exception to zoning rules in order to allow 44 units instead of the current limit of 14 units.

Council Member Reggie Harris pushed the project forward anyway by introducing the density variance directly to the Planning Commission, which approved it last month.

Council's Equitable Growth and Housing Committee ultimately approved the project unanimously Tuesday, with strong words of support from every member.

"We’re supposed to be this welcoming city in the Midwest, that welcomes all people," said Council Member Scotty Johnson. "That's all we keep hearing about Cincinnati. So hey, let's stop talking about it and be about it."

Council Member Liz Keating says the city needs more affordable housing for vulnerable residents.

"And the comments here today [are] the ugly side of our city," Keating said. "This is something that is a no-brainer to me — that we need to respond to the market demand and take care of those who we need to take care of."

Keating also expressed frustration that Dunlap even needs a density variance; the project wouldn't have needed council approval if Keating's proposed changes to density had passed earlier this year.

"This is the exact scenario that we talked about, that if we are not willing to change our outdated — and I believe wrongfully applied — zoning laws in the city, we are hindering our ability to build more housing," Keating said. "This housing development that we need, desperately need ... has been held up for five months now, and thousands of dollars spent just to get here."

Vice Mayor Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney, who vehemently opposed Keating's density proposal, pushed back a bit: "That previous density ordinance was not equitable, and that was really the problem with it."

But Kearney strongly supported the density variance for Dunlap, saying "there are places where density works."

The Dunlap project is almost fully funded, partly through highly-competitive Low Income Housing Tax Credits. OTRCH has two pending applications to make up the final gap: $1.5 million from the city's American Rescue Plan HOME dollars, and $500,000 from Hamilton County's HOME dollars.

Learn more about the project below:

Corrected: November 9, 2022 at 11:44 AM EST
An earlier version of this story said the Dunlap project is fully funded. It has been updated to show that two applications for funding are still pending.
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.