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Council again amends residential abatement ordinance and delays a vote by at least two weeks

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.

Cincinnati officials say they want more public feedback before voting on a proposed overhaul of the city’s residential tax abatement program. City Council also made further changes to the proposed ordinance during Tuesday's Equitable Growth and Housing Committee.

Committee Chair Jeff Cramerding says two special meetings of the committee will be scheduled in the next two weeks, in the evenings, to get input.

Mayor Aftab Pureval proposed the ordinance and says these conversations are about creating the best possible version of abatement reform.

"Because the core goal here is really straightforward," he said. "We are significantly lowering tax abatements in our wealthiest communities, and significantly increasing abatements and our lower income communities to achieve a more equitable result."

RELATED: How Cincinnati's residential tax abatement program works, and how it could soon change

The amended ordinance is set for an initial vote in the next regularly-scheduled Equitable Growth and Housing Committee March 14. If it passes in committee, it would be up for a full council vote the next day.

Vice Mayor Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney briefly scheduled a special meeting of the Healthy Neighborhoods Committee, which she chairs. The meeting was set for Saturday in North Avondale. The announcement came out Monday afternoon; less than 24 hours later it was cancelled.

Amendment for 'middle housing'

The committee voted to amend the ordinance to add bonuses for building multi-unit housing along public transit corridors.

The new bonuses follow the template of an amendment passed last week, which adds a tiered bonus for multi-unit housing anywhere in the city. The transit bonus doubles those amounts:

  • Two units: $75,000 for all, plus $75,000 along transit corridor
  • Three units: $150,000 for all, plus $150,000 along transit corridor
  • Four units: $225,000 for all, plus $225,000 along transit corridor

"I think this touches on the equity piece," said Council Member Liz Keating, who introduced the motion. "If we can take away the cost burden of owning a car and get people closer to public transit lines while trying to close the housing gap, we are helping more people and making a bigger impact."
The definition of a "public transit corridor" isn't quite clear yet; it's designed to overlap with upcoming proposed changes to zoning along transit lines, which could mean Bus Rapid Transit routes and/or 24-hour bus service routes.

"[The administration] will be looking at some of the work going on with Connected Communities and just determining if we would expand it like an eighth of a mile or quarter-mile outside of the actual bus route," Keating said.

Connected Communities has not even been introduced yet and is not expected to pass for a couple of months. Council Member Seth Walsh says it still makes sense to include this amendment now.

"We're not closing the door to make amendments as we see things may be necessary over the next three years," Walsh said. "Trying to be proactive on the front end, so we don't have to make those adjustments, I think is critical."

The amendment will be incorporated into a "C version" of the ordinance.

Impact on CPS revenue

The City Manager’s Office presented a new memo about how the changes might impact revenue for Cincinnati Public Schools. The memo says if all current abatements were changed to the proposed rules, CPS revenue would increase by about $1.3 million a year.

"The administration does conclude that given this projection, the proposed changes to the existing program will result in additional revenue to CPS as opposed to the continuation of our existing program," Assistant City Manager Billy Webber told Council.

The report shows abatement values would decrease in all three tiers of the proposed changes, most of all in the "Sustain" neighborhoods that currently get the most valuable abatements. The changes would actually increase abatement value in "Lift" neighborhoods, but the analysis includes abatements under older regulations with much higher or even unlimited caps. In this hypothetical scenario, those very high-value abatements would be significantly reduced, which shows up as an overall decrease in abatement value for those neighborhoods.

LISTEN: Cincinnati's residential tax abatement program could change. Will it be more equitable?

Some critics of the proposed changes are critical of tax abatements more generally. Michelle Dillingham of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers says the entire abatement program is detrimental, estimating CPS loses out on $6 million to $7 million annually because of residential abatements.

It's virtually impossible to estimate that number with certainty because abatements are designed to incentivize improvements or construction that wouldn't happen otherwise. Without the program, many of these improvements or new construction homes may not have happened.

See the full memo below:

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.