Pureval marks first year as Cincinnati mayor with a challenge: 'We have to redesign the city'
Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval credits federal stimulus for funding many of his policy initiatives during his first year in office. Pureval gave his first State of the City Address Tuesday night in an auditorium at historic Union Terminal, announcing new efforts on local gun regulation and land use reform.
In his address, Pureval touted a “new culture” at City Hall, one that abandons the "dysfunction and chaos of the past" in favor of "debates and disagreements out in the open."
"Our number one priority coming into City Hall was public safety, and it remains our number one priority," Pureval told WVXU in a previous interview.
So far this year, 70 people have been murdered in the city; that’s about a 17% decrease from this time last year.
"I'm really proud of the fact that we're down on homicides, but no one is declaring victory," Pureval said.
Homicides are still trending higher than before the pandemic, when homicides and shootings spiked nationwide. Cincinnati had two straight years of record-high homicides — 94 — in 2020 and 2021. So far in 2022, homicides are up about 26% compared to 2019.
One of the first actions of the new council was to declare gun violence a public health crisis.
New gun legislation on the way
Pureval used the State of the City address to announce two pieces of gun legislation coming in the next few weeks: a city law prohibiting people convicted of domestic violence from ever legally possessing a firearm; and a city law to require safe storage of firearms.
"This administration has spent more on mental health than any other administration previous to us," Pureval said, touting the pilot Alternative Response to Crisis program and a record high Human Services Fund. "But limiting access to illegal guns must also be part of that analysis and that equation."
The two proposals are only possible now because of a temporary injunction on a 2019 state law that prohibits local gun-control legislation. As the Columbus Dispatch reports, the city of Columbus sued the state, saying the law violates cities' home-rule authority.
When Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Stephen L. McIntosh issued a temporary injunction about two weeks ago, Columbus City Council quickly announced new gun-control legislation. The legal status of the injunction is uncertain, however. On Friday, McIntosh stayed the preliminary injunction.
Pureval says Cincinnati's proposed gun laws are critical, even if they end up being short-lived.
"I'm in this seat for a limited amount of time, and I'm going to do everything in my power to get guns off of our streets," he said. "If that means these laws are only in effect for a year or less than that will have been worth it."
On funding initiatives
Pureval highlighted significant funding for pedestrian safety and affordable housing.
"Because of the American Rescue Plan, not only did we not have to [cut basic services], we could make strategic investments into our priorities. Those investments, however, are one-time investments; we were very careful not to take on funding liabilities from those American Rescue dollars, because we knew they wouldn't last."
And when those funds run out, the city is projected to face a deficit as high as $50 million in 2026. That’s partly due to the expected increase in remote work, which could reduce the city’s single largest source of revenue: the earnings tax.
Pureval announced Tuesday the creation of a new commission to evaluate the city’s financial position and recommend necessary changes, using the model of the Smale Commission in the 1980s. Procter & Gamble CEO Jon Moeller will chair the new commission.
"[The commission] will do a deep dive on our budget, will create an economic development plan for the city, and will engage in robust community engagement to ask our constituents, what are their funding priorities?" Pureval said.
He says an increase to the city’s earnings tax is one possible solution.
"What's also on the table is cuts; also on the table is shared services with the county," he said. "When I say everything's on the table, I mean it. It would be foolish for us to predetermine the conclusion of this commission. It would also be foolish for us to take anything off the table."
More specifics are expected in early December, with work beginning soon after.
The future of zoning and housing
Pureval says the two biggest issues that will define Cincinnati for the next generation are the budget commission and comprehensive land use reform.
"Cincinnati was designed to be car-centric; we were designed to be segregated; and we were designed to concentrate poverty," he said. "If we want to create a Cincinnati that is dense and diverse; walkable, with good public transportation; a Cincinnati that is truly a world destination for young talent, we have to redesign the city."
He points to zoning that prohibits anything but single-family homes in over 50% of the city’s residential areas and parking requirements that he says prevent economic development. Pureval says the administration is close to rolling out significant changes to zoning with input from the community.
"I'm under no illusions that this will be easy," he said. "But we've already started a lot of community engagement on the front-end starting with Council Member [Reggie] Harris's housing summit last summer."
A series of roundtable discussions followed, and Pureval says a few draft ordinances on land use reform will be ready for more specific public feedback early next year.
Pureval concluded his first State of the City Address with a challenge.
"We will demand more of ourselves. We will reject the expectations of what our ceiling is. It is the honor of my life to be on this journey with you, and I promise you now: our best days have yet to come."
Watch the full address below or on the city's Facebook page, followed by an annotated transcript of the full address.
Annotated Address Transcript
The transcript below is based on the mayor's address as-prepared, and has been edited to more closely reflect what was actually said.
Annotations are written by WVXU Local Government Reporter Becca Costello. Web links to WVXU reporting have been added for additional context.
Cincinnati, friends, fellow citizens — it is my distinct honor to stand before you this evening and fulfill a sacred duty. Each year in our history, in times of hardship and prosperity, during wars and epidemics and World Series victories, our Mayor has faithfully delivered on a profound responsibility.
To pull down the curtain and spark an honest conversation about where we are, where we’re headed, and how we’re going to get there. This moment of reckoning – this opportunity for introspection, celebration, and planning – it’s emblematic of the very foundation upon which we’re built. We are a people who come together to solve our problems, who pitch in together, and who rise up together.
Cincinnati, I am proud to carry forward a rich legacy, standing on the shoulders of all who have helped us reach this day today, to tell you that the State of the City is Strong!
Speaking of those who followed me, we are honored to have former mayors [Charlie] Luken and [Mark] Mallory with us. Please stand, gentlemen, so you can be recognized.
Cincinnatians, there’s a new energy here. It’s something you can feel from the Banks out to Roselawn, from Westwood to Mount Washington.
We’ve come back together – in our shops, on our streets, in our award-winning parks, folks are out enjoying everything this community has to offer. We’ve hosted one-of-a-kind events that brought millions of visitors to our hotels and restaurants. Showcases for our city’s beautiful, diverse culture – like the Cincinnati Music Festival, Black Tech Week, and BLINK, which saw over 2 million visitors to enjoy an experience you can’t find anywhere else. Thanks to the hard work of Visit Cincy, of our local business community and creative leaders, downtown occupancy this year is up 33%, and hotel revenue is up 62%.
At a time when growth is critical to our success, we have the momentum to reach new heights as a community and an economy. Just this year, in partnership with REDI and JobsOhio, we have attracted or retained over 1,000 jobs, creating over $23 million in payroll. Through our economic development incentives, we’ve created or retained another 763 jobs.
When we think about what that means for Cincinnati, the impact goes far beyond dollar figures. We’re talking about new opportunities for residents to secure a good paying job. We’re talking about transforming empty office spaces, in the heart of our urban core, into places full of life and productivity. And we’re talking about a revitalized business district, a space where people want to spend their time, a place where more patrons come to support our local restaurants and small businesses.
And through all of this, we have taken action to put racial equity at the center of our revitalization. Thanks to a strong partnership with the Regional Chamber and the Minority Business Accelerator, more than 70 Black and brown owned businesses with over $1 million in annual revenue have now been supported in their growth. From our investments in the Lincoln and Gilbert Fund, in organizations like Represent, the African American Chamber, and MORTAR – we are seeing in real time the power they can have in dismantling systemic racial barriers.
Our region is on track for over 100 minority owned businesses creating over a million dollars in revenue by 2025. And this revitalization, this turning of the page, it’s the cornerstone of how Cincinnati will win the next generation. Fostering our incredible, diverse, home-grown talent. Creating more Black ownership of businesses, neighborhoods, and homes. That’s how we do it.
Look no further than our progress towards a revitalized Convention Center District. Thanks to a strong shared vision with the County, the Port, and 3CDC, we’re full steam ahead on our plan – to build not just the kind of hotel and facilities that will allow us to be a world destination, but to design a cohesive, mixed-use district where minority and women-owned firms are a part of the prosperity. President Pro-Temp Victoria Parks and Vice Mayor Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney have been instrumental in securing strong equity goals, and we will leverage this project to create opportunity for those who have been excluded from the table for far too long in our city’s history.
- Reporter’s note: Vice Mayor Kearney and President Pro-Temp Parks pushed for more direct language about minority inclusion to be included in the agreement with 3CDC. They have also filed a motion directing city administration to work with 3CDC to establish an Equitable Development Mentoring Program for minority and women developers and contractors. That motion has been in committee for about a month with no vote.
We are thrilled to work in tandem with our County in this revitalization. It is because of the leadership of Commissioners Alicia Reece, Denise Driehaus, and President Stephanie Dumas that the City and County have a strong, renewed partnership and commitment.
Our esteemed commissioners are here with us. Please stand, ladies, and be recognized.
I’m confident that through this process, we will create something that will benefit the entire region for generations to come.
At the same time, thanks to championing by Councilmember Jeff Cramerding, we are stepping up to rebuild Cincinnati – with over $109 million in deferred capital investments in the public spaces and facilities our residents depend on.
- Reporter’s note: The city is anticipating a $137.2 million funding gap for infrastructure maintenance by FY 2027.
Also at the leadership of Mr. Cramerding, for the first time in a very long time, we have put new dollars into our pension plan. We have more work to do, but this council is committed to having the backs of our public service employees.
- Reporter’s note: Council, at Pureval’s suggestion, amended the city’s carryover budget process to add the pension fund to the bottom of a “waterfall” that allocates extra money leftover each fiscal year into pre-determined accounts. This year, the allocation for the pension fund was a full $2 million – the maximum amount. Future carryover budgets will likely be smaller and will not yield that much.
And I want to make it clear that all of this doesn’t just happen. It is the common drive of our community, and the strength of our shared vision, that makes it happen.
A year ago, when this Council and I were elected, we found ourselves walking into a fire. The pandemic was surging to record heights. Our hospital network, one of the best on earth, was struggling to keep up.
And during this crisis, when residents desperately needed sober, passionate leadership from their elected officials, they instead got a wave of scandals.
And they called, they mandated, for us to step up and chart a new future. To change the culture in City Hall, to work as a unified body for the common good, to have our debates and disagreements out in the open, and to implement a comprehensive plan to build a bright, equitable future for Cincinnati.
And in this first year, we have answered that call!
We have constructed a government that directly targets our strategic priorities, and we’ve built a culture and an institution where our public servants put residents first. Not egos, not agendas, but intentional action to make government work for people.
We restored public trust through ethics training, creating the first ever code of conduct in City Hall, enacting aggressive campaign finance reform – and at long last, getting rid of the Mayor’s pocket veto and voluntarily giving power back to our beloved Charter.
- Reporters note: Council voted to approve a first ever code of conduct in February, while the Mayor’s office approved a similar code without needing council approval. New rules about campaign donations from developers also went into effect in May. These anti-corruption measures were enacted by the previous council, however.
We conducted an open and transparent process for a national City Manager search, resulting in us hiring the best top executive possible in City Manager Sheryl Long, who is here tonight. Please stand and be recognized, Sheryl.
- Reporter’s note: When Pureval took office, he chose John Curp to serve as Interim City Manager during the search for a permanent manager, with former City Manager Paula Boggs Muething resigning. Curp was one of two finalists for the job. When Pureval chose Long instead, Curp left the city with a $400,000 payout. The search for a new city manager did get some criticism, especially once it was announced the two finalists were internal candidates.
Speaking of those we follow, we have two former City Managers in the audience: Paula Boggs-Muething and John Curp, please stand and be recognized. Even on stage with the lights, I could see the eye roll from Paula. Thank you. I love you Paula, thank you for being here, I really appreciate it.
And we have stepped up, in the wake of an unprecedented rise in violent crime during the pandemic, to keep residents in every neighborhood safe. That starts with ensuring our public safety workers, folks who, day in and day out, risk their lives in service of this city, have the staff and resources they need. With funding this year for record fire and police hires, a 30% increase in police recruit pay, and $20.9 million towards public safety infrastructure, we’ve had their back every step of the way.
- Reporter’s note: The current CPD recruit class was budgeted for more than 50 people, but only 33 were enrolled as of last month. Since then, Council approved a pay increase for recruits from $19.18 an hour to $25 an hour; council also approved a $2,000 signing bonus, plus another $2,000 for anyone coming into training with other police agency experience.
Thanks to Council Member Scotty Johnson’s leadership, we are working with our police and fire community partners to build upon a data-driven, innovative approach to safety that embodies the values of the Collaborative Agreement.
Working with the Crime Gun Intelligence Center, where CPD collaborates with federal and state officials to track and prevent violent crime, nearly 1,450 guns have been recovered and taken off our streets just this year.
In partnership with Women Helping Women, through DVERT and their amazing services, 4,500 survivors of gender-based violence have been supported on their path to recovery and empowerment.
And we’ve taken bold action to improve our emergency response services, with an alternative response pilot that has provided unarmed mental health professionals for over 200 non-violent 911 calls, getting residents the services they need and freeing up nearly 250 hours of police time so that they can focus on preventing violent crime.
- Reporter’s note: the city piloted this program for six months starting in July. Council approved funding in the carryover budget to extend the pilot through the end of June 2023.
With this program, our police department is once again leading the nation. Demonstrating that they are enthusiastic pioneers. Creating collaborative partnerships, believing in the power of innovation in a way that you will not see in many cities across our nation.
All of this is about taking a comprehensive view of what it means for every child to grow up in a safe environment, and our law enforcement will be the first to tell you that we can’t simply police our way out of it.
Homicides are down 16.7% compared to last year, which means we are trending in the right direction. But let me be clear. The violence epidemic in our streets is unacceptable. In order to see lasting change, we have to do everything in our power to address the root causes of the violence.
- Reporter’s note: Homicides are still trending higher than before the pandemic, when homicides and shootings spiked nationwide. Cincinnati had two straight years of record-high homicides — 94 — in 2020 and 2021. So far in 2022, homicides are up about 26% compared to 2019. The city’s online data portal indicates there were 73 homicides in Cincinnati as of this week. CPD officials say the actual number is 70 and they’re looking into the discrepancy.
And as part of that work, this year, we’ve built out a robust Career Pathways Initiative for young Cincinnatians to access the training and network for a successful career. Thanks to buy-in from partnering organizations like the Cincinnati Public Schools – and consistent, passionate leadership from Congressman-Elect Greg Landsman and Vice Mayor Kearney – young residents have access to a range of opportunities from environmental engineering to entrepreneurship. And we’ve already seen how interconnected this program can be with our public safety approach.
In June, two Black teenage boys were arrested while selling water bottles at a busy intersection on Reading Rd, putting themselves and others in danger. This young group of entrepreneurs, now called Brothers in Motion, had the right intentions and a passion for creating a business – but what they didn’t have was access to the people who would help them understand how to do it. And thanks to Interim Police Chief Teresa Theetge’s commitment to the Collaborative, thanks to City Consultant Iris Roley and the City Manager’s office, what could have been a situation with no winners turned into an opportunity to support the next generation’s innovators. The Brothers in Motion were set up in the Entrepreneur Track of Career Pathways – where they can work with experts, apply for licenses, and get on their way to building a great business.
I think some of the brothers are in the audience today. Would you fellas stand up and be recognized?
What I love about this story is that these boys could have been just another headline. Just another kid churned up by the system. But because of the City’s action, these boys are on track to grow their business and even more important, they have created a new system for the city to support entrepreneurs who follow in their footsteps. All before the age of 18.
That’s exactly what we want to see more of. Our goal is to continue expanding partner organizations and to create an ongoing, million dollar a year commitment to this vital program – part of which will help us increase lifeguard pay to $16 an hour and get more pools open next summer.
- Reporter’s note: more than half of the city’s public pools didn’t open this summer because of a severe shortage of lifeguards and other pool staff. Cincinnati pays between $11.53 and $12.40 an hour for lifeguards, although council approved bonus pay of up to $2,000 this year. Raising the hourly pay to $16 an hour would put the city higher than Coney Island ($14/hour) but still lower than Kings Island ($18/hour).
I had a feeling that would be an applause line.
Before we move on, our incredible Interim Chief Theetge is here. Let’s give her a round of applause. And our city consultant Iris Roley, who was really the mastermind behind the entrepreneurship path.
People are at the center of our mission. We’re committed to empowering everyone to build a healthy, happy, rewarding life – to support the organizations that lift up residents in need. Our $2 million increase in support of the Human Services Fund, bringing us to a record investment of $8 million, means the folks on the ground in our neighborhoods are better equipped to save and improve lives.
This year, we’ve made the largest investment in mental health in our city’s history. Organizations connected 846 families to improved childcare options. We’ve provided funds for vital efforts like Community Works’ Phoenix Program – a powerful program to break the cycles of generational poverty and risk of violence, by promoting career development and leadership opportunities.
And beyond the Human Services Fund, we’ve invested in life-altering services for our most vulnerable.
With $5 million in City support, Bethany House has completed the construction of a state of the art, consolidated facility in Bond Hill that will maximize their impact on families experiencing homelessness.
Thanks to this project, people going through unimaginably difficult moments will have access, all under one roof, to shelter, rehousing support, mentorship and advocacy.
I am truly humbled by what so many organizations like Bethany House do every day to give Cincinnatians the attention and care that they need.
We’re also putting in the work now to secure our future as a Climate resilient city. Under the charge of Councilmember Meeka Owens and our Administration, we are creating through the Green Cincinnati Plan a community vision for what a sustainable, equitable, and resilient future looks like for our city.
That is why we have launched programs like WarmUp Cincy, which has now invested in energy efficiency improvements in over 500 low-income households dealing with energy poverty. It’s why we have furthered our investment in cleaning up this City, a mission embodied by Councilmember Liz Keating’s tireless and passionate commitment to empowering residents, Cintrifuse, and our start up ecosystem through the Litter Hackathon.
And it’s why we’re pursuing an EPA grant to address environmental justice issues concentrated in the Lower Mill Creek Corridor, to improve the quality of life and economic outlook for the predominantly Black and brown communities that were impacted by the industry of the last century.
But we can’t secure our future – we can’t build towards a Cincinnati where every resident has the chance to grow and thrive – without unprecedent action on affordable housing.
And for the first time in our city’s history, Council, the Mayor, and the City Administration, every single person working in City Hall, is fully committed to working on affordable housing. We came into office with a comprehensive strategy – increasing housing production at all levels through gap financing, in particular affordable housing. Reforming our City processes, such as abatements and land use, to put equity and affordability at the center of the frame. And ensuring a continual commitment to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
In just eleven months, we have delivered on a truly equity-focused plan. We created the first ever sustainable stream of revenue to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Councilmember Harris worked to reform our Low Income Housing Tax Credit process to make it more accessible. With Vice Mayor Kearney’s leadership, we increased opportunities for home-ownership and wealth building through direct financial assistance for first time home buyers. And we moved forward on our contract with the Cincinnati Development Fund, to leverage our Trust Fund dollars and get affordable housing projects across the finish line.
And what this means for us isn’t theoretical. Just a few weeks ago, the first housing project to come through the Trust Fund became official. Slater Hall in the West End, a project spearheaded by Tender Mercies with the support of OTR Community Housing and the Cincinnati Development Fund, will create 62 units of permanent supportive, affordable housing, targeted towards those among us who have experienced homelessness and mental illness. These are folks with little to no income – the most vulnerable among us – and they’ll now have a home they can be proud of, a home they can depend on. That’s what our commitment to the Trust Fund is all about, and we can’t wait to create more stories just like this one.
Through this work, to quote Councilmember Harris, we are adding tools to a toolbox that equips us to address housing in a way that has never been done before. For example, we’ve increased our NOFA program by over $3 million over original projections, bringing low-income and affordable housing to nine neighborhoods. From Lower Price Hill, to Evanston, to Northside, these projects represent an opportunity to remove blight, attract new mixed-use development, and bring jobs and cohesiveness to the surrounding community.
And in just 11 months, this comprehensive strategy is showing incredible results. This year alone, we have incentivized the creation or renovation of over 1,029 units of housing, and 417 that are affordable – 391 of which are at or below 60% AMI.
- Reporter’s note: AMI stands for Area Median Income and is the standard way to describe how affordable a unit of housing is. The AMI for the Cincinnati metro area is $99,100 for a family of four; a one-person household at 60% AMI makes $40,340 a year, while a four-person household at 60% AMI makes $57,300 a year. Income and rent limits are established by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and updated each year. Although Cincinnati Council has been united on nearly all policy changes, a recent debate centered on what level of AMI should get subsidy from the city's Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
Learn more about affordable housing terms in this WVXU guide from 2021: What does ‘affordable’ housing mean in Cincinnati?
And let’s pause there on what affordable means. This is new, quality housing being made accessible to teachers, to sanitation workers, to childcare professionals. These are folks, these are families in our city who deserve –just like you and I – to live in a stable, quality housing situation. To be able to focus on work, on school, on the rest of their lives, because they don’t have to worry about where they’re going to be sleeping next week.
Our core mission as a city is to build vibrant, safe, walkable neighborhoods for all of our residents. Neighborhoods that have been designed to ensure that you and your children are able to freely use our public spaces without fear of harm. But tragically, Cincinnati like many other cities has seen far too many of our pedestrians lost or injured by a vehicle.
Residents have long been asking for more help to keep our streets safe, and our City – spearheaded by the amazing work of our Department of Transportation and Engineering, with leadership and guidance by Councilmember Mark Jeffreys and Councilmember Scotty Johnson – has been taking action. In East Westwood, Kim Springer and Elder Rodney Christian saw a need at a park by 3rd Presbyterian Church. The basketball courts were popular with children in the area, and yet kids would have to dart across a major road to get there. Something had to change, and our City officials listened. The new crossing includes signage, markings and bump-outs to make sure these children are safe, but also that this park has the greatest use and impact possible. This is how a comprehensive vision connects together, and I’m extremely grateful for those who spoke up to make their community a better place.
We have a lot more work to do, and we know that this is only the beginning. This year, we’ve implemented pedestrian safety measures such as new speed cushions, bump outs and crosswalks in 15 neighborhoods. And we’re ready to grow that number in the year to come. We’ve also secured funding for over eight new miles of protected, shared use paths, to make sure all residents, not just car owners, are able to safely access the places where they live, work, and play.
- Reporter's note: here are the eight new miles of protected, shared use paths referenced above:
- 8th St and Linn St (RAISE grant)
- Gilbert Ave (STBG grant)
- Little Miami Scenic Trail Elstun to Ranchvale (Transportation Alternative grant
- Ezzard Charles sidepath
- Central Parkway Phase 3
- Erie Ave protected bike lanes
Right now Cincinnati has the fewest number of year-to-date pedestrian crashes dating back to at least 2013:
We know we can’t do this alone. Cities with our resources depend on strong partnerships – with the County, with the State, and with our Federal government, for our most transformative projects. And we have been extremely aggressive pursuing support to move forward. The City has applied for more than $330 million in funding opportunities — to bring more resources to neighborhoods and improve the lives of residents through infrastructure improvements, public safety investments, environmental cleanup, and public health.
And already this year, we’ve secured grants totaling nearly $200 million. This includes funds for a Western Hills Viaduct that safely transport cars, bikes and pedestrians to our urban core, as well as complete streets improvements to make three of our major arteries safer and better connected: Linn Street in the West End, Gilbert Ave in Walnut Hills, and Harrison Ave –a street where we’ve seen unacceptable levels of speeding, and where in 2018, we tragically lost a 15-year-old girl named Gabby Rodriguez. Gabby’s parents are here with us tonight. After an unfathomable loss, they have worked day in and day out to advocate for our children – so that no parent has to experience the same kind of pain.
Cincinnati is a safer community because of their contributions, and while we still have so, so far to go, I can promise that we will never stop fighting to get better.
I couldn’t be prouder of how far we’ve come this year. Our Administration, our Council, and my office have collaborated to create lasting change. And in the next year, we’re going to take this progress to the next level – to secure our economic future and build the Cincinnati of tomorrow.
Most notably, Cincinnati is moving forward on the signature infrastructure plan of our era. The Brent Spence Bridge Corridor project, and our regional collaboration to pursue $2 billion in federal funding, provides us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape the future of economic development in our region.
But this is an opportunity for more than just that. With this project, we are engaging with residents, the Regional Chamber and the Ohio Department of Transportation to reclaim land and stitch together the communities that the construction of our highways tore apart. Our City has proposed, with ODOT’s support, a new design – one that reclaims 9.5 acres of land and includes bridges crossing the highway in our urban core that maintain safety and a neighborhood feel. Getting this project done is one of our highest priorities, and this represents an enormous improvement for Cincinnati. And we are making sure that equity, and fixing the mistakes of the past, remain front and center.
I want to especially thank Jill Meyer from the Chamber of Commerce; I think she’s here.
Let me end the Brent Spence with this: before I leave office, we will break ground!
The work to come in the next year will be laser focused on advancing our strategic priorities as a city, and that includes doing everything in our power to prevent violent crime. We see far too often in Cincinnati the tragedy that stems from the universal accessibility of guns. And yet lawmakers in the state of Ohio have tied our hands behind our back, precluding cities from implementing common sense gun safety measures.
But that fight is not over. This month, a Columbus judge issued an injunction invalidating the State of Ohio’s preemption laws. And you better believe that Cincinnati is going to take advantage of this opportunity. At my direction, our Administration is currently pursuing two gun policies.
- Reporter’s note: The two proposals are only possible now because of a temporary injunction on a 2019 state law that prohibits local gun-control legislation. As the Columbus Dispatch reports, the city of Columbus sued the state, saying the law violates cities' home-rule authority. When Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Stephen L. McIntosh issued a temporary injunction about two weeks ago, Columbus City Council quickly announced new gun-control legislation. The legal status of the injunction is uncertain, however. On Friday, McIntosh stayed the preliminary injunction.
First, a City law prohibiting people convicted of domestic violence from ever legally possessing a firearm again. This local law would give us a better ability to find, prosecute, and get guns out of the hands of people with a history of this kind of abusive, violent behavior.
Second, in response to this injunction, we will be moving forward swiftly to get safe storage laws on the books and in effect. When you own a deadly weapon, you should have a legal requirement to take precautions. To keep it away from children or those around you who are at risk. That’s just common sense, and it’s not just important for preventing the horrific mass shootings we’ve seen around the nation. Research shows that safe storage laws can have a significant impact on preventing suicide and self-harm.
So in Cincinnati, if you don’t take the responsible steps to secure your firearm, we are going to work to make sure you are criminally liable for what it’s used for.
We are proud of our work on housing, but we have more work to do to design, at a systems level, the environment to incentivize housing production. Today we are announcing two strategies to complete our comprehensive approach: Reforming our residential tax abatement program and reforming land use in our city.
Reform of our residential tax abatements, to increase equity and target them towards the neighborhoods that need development, is something that we’ve talked about with residents since Day One. That Councilmember Harris and Congressman-Elect Landsman have led on, and that we will be proud to deliver.
Right now, the majority of these abatements go to our wealthiest neighborhoods. Many residents, particularly lower-income residents, aren’t even aware of the ability to use this citywide incentive to build wealth through home improvement. Because of this, a City tool to support our residents and improve aging housing isn’t working as well as it can.
I will be introducing legislation to address that. Our new proposal establishes three tiers – Lift, Expand, and Sustain – and neighborhoods will fall into them based on metrics of income levels and poverty rate, the value of homes, and the level of development that’s already occurring in the market. Neighborhoods in the Lift tier – where income, home value, and development activity show our incentives are most needed – will have access to heightened levels of abatements to catalyze residential projects. On the other end, neighborhoods in the Sustain tier – where the market is producing these projects on its own – will see lower abatement options.
This is a phased approach where tiers will be updated every three years, and it will allow us to evaluate how neighborhoods are growing over time and apply the proper incentives to promote that growth.
Simultaneously, our Administration will be rolling out changes to make these abatements more accessible to everyone. This includes a simplified application process, a streamlined system for connecting residents to eligible abatements, and education for lower and middle income residents on what the program is and how it can help them.
Second, we are announcing an ambitious plan to reform our approach to land use in our city.
- Reporter’s note: according to the mayor’s office, this new system will be similar to what a recent third-party report recommended, with changes based on feedback from stakeholders and the Housing Advisory Board. For example, the neighborhoods included in each tier will look different than what is recommended in the report.
This work has been a strong collaboration between Councilmembers Harris, Jeffreys, and Vice Mayor Kearney. In June, we held a housing summit organized by Councilmember Harris to connect residents and advocates with experts and City leaders to think creatively – about what we look like as a City, what policies have led us here, and how we can retool our design to better achieve our vision of equitable growth.
Because right now, Cincinnati is designed to be segregated and to concentrate poverty. And in order to grow equitably, we have to fix that.
A key part of doing this will be allowing and encouraging more types of housing options – multi-family units, row houses and townhomes – near our commerce centers and transit corridors. Right now, simply too much of our city is zoned for single family homes exclusively.
Allowing more options, in more parts of our city, will be essential to making sure more people are able to live near the community resources they value.
We’re also working to reduce the barriers to housing production at all levels, while nurturing the development of new affordable housing through greater zoning flexibility.
And finally, a lot of our zoning is deliberately car-centric. Go almost anywhere in town and you’ll see infrastructure, in the cultural centers of communities, that is designed specifically for car owners. Because of our parking requirements for businesses, rows of storefronts are often broken up by parking spaces that customers need to walk through.
Adequate parking is important, but these policies also serve to disrupt the flow of connected, walkable Main Streets – and due to the expense and the space required for parking lots, they also drive up prices and limit the ability to create more housing where it’s most beneficial to residents. As we work to make sure neighborhoods serve everybody, we have to change our relationship with parking – so that it’s a factor in building, but not what we are building for.
This fall, the Planning Commission held extensive deep dives with community leaders and housing experts to build potential policy options that target these values. For the remainder of the year, we will be rolling out public surveys with the goal of taking these policy options back to our communities. I am thrilled about the promise of this package. And because of the Planning Commission’s hard work – and Councilmember Harris’, the building and engagement and coalition creation that we’re working on right now, we are on track to create the potential to change the very face of Cincinnati.
But we can’t be serious about housing without protecting the more than 60 percent of our residents that are renters. As we’ve seen in national article, after national article, Cincinnati has been home to an increasing pattern of institutional investors buying properties to jack up rents, then neglecting them at the cost of the well-being of tenants. Let me be clear. We will not stand for that. We will work hard to put an end to these outside actors buying up our properties and preying on our most vulnerable. In coordination with our Administration, we plan to push forward a plan that creates a special Code Enforcement Unit to protect tenants and hold neglectful landlords accountable.
We know from our city data that the problem is out there, and when we direct code enforcement resources to our worst offenders, we get results. Now, we’re ready to do more.
Taking a firm stand as a City has the power to improve conditions even beyond where our employees step foot. We want bad out of town landlords to know that if they allow their property to degrade, we are going to come for them.
But code enforcement alone won’t sufficiently address the problem. We’re also going to support our tenants, who are often outmatched when it comes to having the resources to defend their rights. If we’re going to ensure that their interests are supported like they should be, we have to level the playing field. I will be proposing a $1 million annual commitment to build a program in partnership with Legal Aid to support a fundamental right counsel for qualified residents facing eviction. With these resources, Legal Aid will be able to provide legal services, emergency rental assistance and other interventions to help keep people in their homes.
Through City support, we doubled the number of tenants represented in Hamilton County eviction court over the last year. This new program aims to build upon that progress and empower all of our tenants.
There are pivotal decisions ahead of us. During the pandemic, we have stayed afloat, we have been in a position to make strategic investments, thanks to enormous support from the federal government. It has allowed us to maintain the basic services that residents depend on, to build for our future, and protect ourselves against the financial challenges ahead of us. We’ve also prepared for an uncertain future, bringing Cincinnati up to its long standing goal for reserves of 16.7% of general fund revenues – in addition to a $50 million reserve for lost revenue due to remote work, that means a total of $140 million.
This is something to be proud of. But it’s not enough on its own. Starting in two years, we are projecting a $36 million operating deficit, and that gap will grow from there. Expenses are growing faster than projected revenues. And right now, with the position we’re in, we can’t just wait for those challenges to come.
In the 1980s, Cincinnati faced an existential problem. Our streets and infrastructure were rapidly deteriorating, without a clear path forward for how to do something about it. City leaders knew they couldn’t solve this on their own. So they built a coalition of public and private leaders to carefully analyze the state of our infrastructure and funding. To leave all solutions on the table and work together to lift Cincinnati out of the hole it was in. And from that, the Smale Commission was born.
We have been the beneficiaries of this commission, of their recommendations, for over 35 years. And now, we have come to a moment where we must look to the lessons of those who came before us and reenlist our community.
This evening, in partnership with the Chamber of Commerce, I am announcing the formation of a coalition of business, labor, and community leaders led by Procter and Gamble CEO Jon Moeller. The city has relied on P&G since its founding. And today, we are calling on P&G once again, and we are thrilled that its CEO has answered the call. The commission, when established, will be charged with three tasks that are fundamental to Cincinnati’s future. A deep, careful review of our City’s budget. An analysis of our economic development strategy. And a plan to survey the community, and engage with businesses, in order to provide recommendations for our funding priorities
This isn’t going to be easy. It will require creativity. It will require leaving notions about what’s off the table at the door. And most of all, it will require people who are ready to give their time, their expertise, and their passion to an undertaking that could determine whether we prosper or falter as a city. Luckily for us, Cincinnati has those kinds of people in spades.
We’re a people who never back down from a challenge, who refuse to abandon those who fall behind, and who always push for better.
Because, if we’re truly honest with ourselves, we have no other choice.
In this uncertain time, we must take risks. We must look to the horizon line. We must strap up, and unite, and do what it takes to put this city on a path towards unprecedented prosperity.
I am so incredibly proud of this city. Of our hard-working city employees, of our community leaders, of the advocates for our less fortunate and the workers who drive our economy forward. The path that we are forging as a City is only possible because this community is filled to the brim with folks who want the best for everybody. And I know that, together, we are going to take Cincinnati to new heights. We are going to build a strong foundation that will make our grandchildren proud. Proud to be Cincinnatians.
What we all do here, it isn’t just about next year. It isn’t just about the next 10 years. We have the power to shape this city’s future for generations to come, and this is the moment when we step up together and take action.
We will demand more of ourselves. We will reject the expectations of what our ceiling is. And we will struggle and progress. It is the honor of my life to be on this journey with you, and I promise you now: our best days have yet to come.