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Housing advocates say they have enough signatures to put charter amendment on Nov. ballot

Advocates with Cincinnati Action for Housing Now gather outside City Hall on Aug. 2, 2023, rallying in support of a proposed charter amendment that would use a 0.3% earnings tax to fund affordable housing.
Nick Swartsell
Advocates with Cincinnati Action for Housing Now gather outside City Hall rallying in support of a proposed charter amendment that would use a .3 percent earnings tax to fund affordable housing.

Advocates pushing for an amendment to Cincinnati's charter to fund affordable housing rallied outside City Hall Wednesday. They also spoke during council's public comment session, saying they had enough signatures to put their initiative on the ballot and asking council to expedite the process.

The proposed amendment from Cincinnati Action For Housing Now would use a 0.3% city earnings tax to raise a claimed $40 million to $50 million a year to fund affordable rental housing for low- and moderate-income residents.

Organizers say they have almost 12,000 signatures — twice the roughly 5,385 needed to get the amendment on the Nov. 7 ballot.

RELATED: A new Ohio tax credit program incentivizes affordable housing. Advocates are still wary

"This is so important to me, because as an affordable housing developer, I can tell you good-intentioned efforts aren't enough," Over-the-Rhine Community Housing Executive Director Mary Burke Rivers told council. "This council has recognized the affordable housing crisis in this city ... Cincinnati has the opportunity to lead the way."

Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition Executive Director Josh Spring told council the group was prepared to present the signatures for verification by the Hamilton County Board of Elections, but that under state laws, the public would have to vote again in November 2024 to implement the new tax, meaning revenue collection wouldn't start until the following January. But if council voted to place the initiative on the ballot themselves, it would go into effect in January 2024, a year earlier.

Cincinnati City Solicitor Emily Smart Woerner told council the deadline for presenting earnings tax increases to the board of elections is 90 days before an election, which is next week. In that time, the city's law office would need to research the legal details of the issue, advise council and draft an ordinance that would then need to be voted on by a council committee and full council.

"All of that is an extremely tight timeline given where we are," Woerner said, noting that there are no council meetings scheduled next week.

Advocates pushed back on that assertion.

"What city council didn’t say is that we’ve been in conversations with several of them for well over a year on this," Cincy Action For Housing Now organizer Rev. Nelson Pierce tweeted after the meeting. "They’ve refused to help on one side and then trumpeted solutions that don’t work on the other. This shouldn’t have been unexpected."

The proposed 0.3% increase in the earnings tax would restore the city's current 1.8% earnings tax rate to 2.1%, its 2020 level when council rolled it back as part of a successful campaign to convince voters to fund a levy for improvements to the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority's Metro bus system.

A 2021 charter amendment effortlooking to raise money for affordable housing would have required the city to set aside at least $50 million a year into an affordable housing trust fund. After contentious campaigns for and against the measure, voters defeated it by 73% in the May 2021 election.

RELATED: What does 'affordable' housing mean in Cincinnati?

Research over the past few years has returned somewhat differing results for the exact number of affordable units Cincinnati needs, though the general consensus is the number is in the five digits. Studies suggest somewhere between 19,000 and 28,000 units of housing for low-and-moderate income residents are needed.

Nick has reported from a nuclear waste facility in the deserts of New Mexico, the White House press pool, a canoe on the Mill Creek, and even his desk one time.