Mayor Pureval: Cincinnati has momentum, but change requires hard decisions
Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval says hard decisions about the city budget, zoning, and transportation are necessary in order to build the type of city residents want.
Pureval gave his second "State of the City" address Monday night at the Aronoff Center, wrapping up the first half of his four-year term.
"Time and time again, we've seen Cincinnati rise to the occasion," Pureval told WVXU. "I'm confident that we will continue that momentum into the future to make the bold decisions that we deserve and create the city that we deserve."
Pureval points to three big wins over the last year: securing $1.6 billion in federal funding for the Brent Spence Bridge companion bridge project; the voter-approved sale of the city-owned Cincinnati Southern Railway for $1.6 billion; and the city reaching recommended financial reserves for the second year in a row (only the second time ever).
But these wins are partly overshadowed by dire predictions for the future, including an expected $30 million deficit in the Operating Budget for the next fiscal year.
"Whatever we do in order to address that is going to be challenging," Pureval said. "Whether it's the revenues that we're taking a look at or the expenditures, there's going to have to be some wholesale changes to the fiscal realities of the city to ensure that we are on sound fiscal footing moving forward."
In last year's State of the City address, Pureval announced the formation of the Futures Commission to take a comprehensive look at city finances and recommend changes. The group is considered independent from City Hall; the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber is managing the process and Procter & Gamble CEO Jon Moeller is the chair. Pureval says he hasn't been involved at all.
"I take very seriously the commitment to empowering our subject matter experts to have every option on the table and to make recommendations that are unbiased and in the best interest of the city," he said.
The Futures Commission is expected to release recommendations in early 2024. Pureval says there should be enough time to incorporate at least some of the recommendations into the next city budget, which will be passed in June.
Public safety and poverty
Pureval says public safety — especially reducing gun violence — is his first, second, and third priority. He says the numbers are trending in the right direction, with a reduction in homicides and reported shootings compared to a year ago. But crime levels still haven't reached pre-pandemic levels, and Pureval says he's far from declaring victory.
"I refuse to believe that this is the status quo — that children playing outside of their home can be victims of a mass shooting in a matter of seconds," Pureval told WVXU, referring to a shooting in the West End last weekend in which 11-year-old Dominic Davis was killed and five others were inured, four of them children.
In his last State of the City address, Pureval announced a series of gun regulations that City Council passed in February.
"We will continue to throw everything that we have at public safety, because unless people are safe and feel safe in our city, nothing else matters," he said.
Pureval says poverty is the primary cause of violence, and points to upcoming work to reduce wealth inequality as an important part of the puzzle. City Council has earmarked funding to implement three strategies from the Financial Freedom Blueprint, a grant-funded external study:
- $1.5 million to remove medical debt for as many as 30,000 residents
- $375,000 over three years for a savings account for each child enrolled in Preschool Promise
- $250,000 in "seed money" toward a $2 million guaranteed basic income pilot study for about 100 eligible residents
Pureval says he expects all three projects to get started in early 2024.
Housing and zoning
Pureval's first State of the City address last year was focused on redesigning Cincinnati. He announced early plans for comprehensive zoning and land use reform aimed at making it easier to build housing.
Since then, the city's Department of Planning and Engagement has led several public meetings related to that reform effort, dubbed Connected Communities. A first draft of the ordinance is expected soon, but Pureval won't commit to a specific deadline.
"It is my hope that before my first term is up that we will have passed zoning reform," he said. "In order for zoning reform to not only happen but to take root, we have to make sure that as much of the community is behind it as possible, and that takes time."
The transcript below is the mayor's address as-prepared and may differ slightly from the final speech. Web links to WVXU reporting have been added for additional context.
Cincinnati, it is my honor to join you at a turning point for our City. This year, we have made undeniable history. With the Brent Spence Bridge Corridor project, with the sale of the Southern Railway, and with the investments we are poised to make in the years to come, we have created the conditions to change the face of our city for generations.
And with the burden and responsibility of history, we now turn our attention to the question that will define our time in office: what did we do with this transformational opportunity?
Cincinnati, this is our moment to grow, but to remember that it’s equally important how and where we grow. It’s our moment to take strides on climate action and justice, always with racial equity in the center of the frame. To clearly state our goals, to improve our community now and lay the foundations for our future.
And above all else, to take on the challenges we face with humility, with intention, and with an understanding of the power we have all around our community.
It’s only fitting that tonight, I am surrounded by an audience that beautifully encapsulates the story of our City’s success.
The people in this room, and those they represent, are the embodiment of what makes Cincinnati so special. Police and Firefighters, led by Chief Teresa Theetge and Chief Frank McKinley. Members of labor, healthcare workers, business leaders, community advocates and faith leaders.
[specific shoutouts to any leaders]
Progress happens because people make it happen. And it’s thanks to this one-of-a-kind ecosystem we have, this community of people – who on their own are doing something great, but combined have created the unique tapestry that is Cincinnati. That the State of the City is strong and only getting stronger.
Two years ago, we entered office while Cincinnati was at a crossroads. Many families were dealing with unexpected hardships, made worse by the persistent inequities in our community. Many businesses were struggling to adapt to a rapid shift in how work gets done. And our City, like cities across the nation, was facing a sobering reality: that we would have to make major changes merely to sustain ourselves, let alone to thrive.
These conditions inevitably create a shock to a community’s spirit and optimism. And at that kind of moment, the existential question in front of us was could we do what it takes to overcome that shock and come out stronger. Would we be willing and able to make the difficult choices, lean into the risks, and reset the old culture of how things get done. Would we tackle, head on, the systemic challenges that have held us back from reaching our fullest potential.
I am proud that we have done exactly that. And in just two years, we have emerged with unprecedented resiliency, unprecedented momentum, and a clear path towards unprecedented prosperity.
Cincinnati is a player on the national stage, and leaders are taking notice that the future lies here. This year began with the President of the United States standing beside the Brent Spence Bridge as he announced the single largest federal grant in our country’s history. $1.6 billion. That happened here. President after President has come to this bridge and promised action on one of the most important arteries for our national economy. But now, action has arrived.
And we’re not only full speed ahead, but in partnership with ODOT, the Regional Chamber, our Department of Transportation and Engineering, and community organizations like Bridge Forward, we have taken full advantage of this opportunity to hear from the residents impacted and right the wrongs of the past. We’ve reclaimed nearly 10 acres of land in the heart of our urban core. And we are continuing to advocate for more improvements that will help stitch together communities that were torn apart by the infrastructure decisions of the 20th century. Just last month, the City introduced a new set of major proposals to improve pedestrian connectivity and safety, including new decks over the highway along Ezzard Charles. This is a huge deal. Union Terminal, one of Cincinnati’s greatest cultural assets, has for too long been divided from the West End. But with this proposal, we can help make it truly feel like a part of the neighborhood. And we are going to do everything in our power to make it happen.
From downtown throughout our neighborhoods, we are living through a period of expansion by any definition of the word. Cincinnatians are coming back downtown and supporting local businesses. We’re hosting jaw-dropping major events to showcase our one-of-a-kind diverse culture. This year’s BLINK, the largest immersive art experience in the county, created an economic impact of $126 million. Black Tech Week, led by Candice and Brian Brackeen, took over some of our largest event spaces and filled them with the preeminent Black creators and entrepreneurs from around the nation. And from Cincy Music Festival, to Taylor Swift, to Lionel Messi, we hosted an historic slate of live entertainment.
We’re continuing to support and empower the organizations that are doing truly impactful work toward our mission of equity: like the African American Chamber, the Urban League, and Clothing the Health Gap. And we are attracting significant economic wins, not just downtown but throughout our neighborhoods. In Madisonville, working in partnership with REDI, JobsOhio, and our Department of Community and Economic Development led by Director Markiea Carter, we secured 1,500 new jobs with the expansion of Medpace. Since REDI’s inception, this is the single largest job creation commitment within Cincinnati. And in Bond Hill, we broke ground on a home for Emerge Manufacturing. A Black-woman-owned PPE manufacturing business, led by Cynthia Booth. A Woodward graduate. Who is building something, and bringing a hundred local jobs back to her neighborhood. These projects are a part of the excitement we are seeing in so many of our communities, and this year, I am thrilled to report that DCED projects have attracted over 1,800 jobs and retained nearly 2,400.
This is our moment to seize on this momentum. Right now, we are looking to the future, with the ongoing Convention Center District and Hotel Project. With the 2023 Green Cincinnati Plan – under the leadership of Councilmember Meeka Owens, OES, and an amazing group of community partners, we have for the first time made a commitment to carbon neutrality by 2050. And we are taking bold steps with the generational opportunity of the Inflation Reduction Act to set ourselves up as pioneers in the Green Economy.
We’ve made game-changing investments in creating new civic spaces in our urban core, spaces that will attract new energy and growth and talent. We have been working in partnership with the Regional Chamber and the County to raise the matching funds for a $150 million federal grant to cap Fort Washington way. This is our chance to bring more life and connectivity to the very heart of our downtown, and we’re united in our work to win this opportunity. We have submitted that application, and we expect to hear back from our federal partners in the first quarter of 2024.
Cincinnati, this year, thanks to the strong collaboration between our Council, our Administration, and my office, we have built upon the foundations of our strategic plans. And more importantly, we have moved our City toward its brighter, more equitable future.
Our first, second, and third priority is public safety. Nothing else matters if families can’t feel safe and secure going about their lives – and together with our Administration, our Council, our police and community advocates, we have taken significant strides. After funding a 30 percent increase in police recruit pay last year, we redoubled our efforts to ensure our public safety workers have the staff and resources necessary – with a financial commitment to three police recruit classes and four fire recruit classes through 2024. And at the same time, we have continued to lean into a data-driven, innovative approach.
Last year, we made a fundamental change to the way we responded to crises with the launch of the Alternative Response to Crisis pilot. Becoming one of the first cities in the country to send trained behavioral health professionals, without police, to nonviolent 911 calls. The ARC program, our commitment to explore how we could best use our resources and best serve those in need, has demonstrated a tremendous positive impact. We’ve freed up officers’ time to prioritize the prevention of violent crime, with over 3,700 police hours saved to date. And importantly, no ARC team has needed emergency assistance from CPD.
Crucially, we’ve also been able to provide and connect residents in crisis with the services that can help them. The ARC mental health professionals have connected more than 130 residents to one of the extraordinary social services organizations in our community, organizations like PATH, GeneroCity, and Shelterhouse. We are working to support in a cohesive network – we have invested an historic level of funding in mental health services, and we are leveraging our resources to make the greatest impact possible. I’m proud that ARC, and our collaboration with Talbert House to connect some 911 calls to 988 Lifeline calltakers, will be a model for other cities. And because of the success of the program, we were proud in this year’s budget to establish a permanent allocation to continue building on these successes.
We know that our comprehensive, problem-oriented approach to safety has made a positive impact. Shootings are down significantly, and homicides are once again down over 11% year over year, and 25% year to date since 2021. But far too often, I think it’s tempting and dangerous for elected officials, for all of us, to use a number – a positive trend – as a crutch. Progress is something to be proud of, but it’s not the same thing as victory.
Not when children in our city are falling victim to gun violence at an alarming and heartbreaking rate. When just 10 days ago, 6 people, 5 children, were shot in the West End. When an 11 year old boy, Dominic, was senselessly killed just steps from a park and a walk from his elementary school.
The West End is a neighborhood of families, of young kids who should only have to worry about learning and growing. But because of the epidemic of gun violence, they’re mourning a friend. They’re working through unimaginable trauma, and they’re wondering when they’ll feel safe going outside again.
In our darkest moments, moments of shock and loss and fear, we see what communities are made of. And I couldn’t be more grateful for how our community has responded. Neighborhood partners, Karen Rumsey and CPD Victim Services, Deanna White and City Human Services, Assistant City Manager Virginia Talent, our Councilmembers and our brave first responders. Folks all around us have stopped at nothing to make sure resources are available to the families and children going through this trauma. Spending time in our schools because every child is worth saving. Going door to door, working tirelessly in the name of community healing.
But I also want to paraphrase something City Manager Long told me: justice, and healing, it isn’t enough.
Twenty-two rounds. Fired in an instant. Into a crowd of children. We can’t accept anything less than an all-in approach if we’re going to put an end to the senseless violence.
We as a City are fighting like hell against the universal accessibility of guns. While leaders at the state level are actively working to put more guns on our streets, this year we passed critical gun safety measures: a safe storage law, to help make sure deadly weapons don’t make it into the wrong hands, and a law banning those convicted of domestic violence from owning a gun. But we have to go further. This is not a political statement, it’s a fact: because of State laws preventing us from enforcing common sense measures – like an extreme risk protection law to protect those experiencing temporary moments of crisis and their families – we are being held back from doing everything we can to prevent gun violence.
We have sued the state to allow us to do what’s necessary to save lives, and we know we are right: in September, our Law Department earned an injunction against the worst of the state’s preemption laws, and we are not going to stop fighting until we win.
Here in Cincinnati, our police and the Crime Gun Intelligence center have confiscated over 1,100 guns off our streets this year. But police will be the first to tell you they can’t solve this alone. That’s why we have been proactive in our communities to take a holistic approach to vibrancy, violence prevention, and the systemic root causes in our neighborhoods.
We expanded PIVOT to the West End, which in the Northern OTR district has seen a more than 50% drop in shooting victims through a year and a half. This kind of placemaking, targeting the physical spaces where systemic problems persist, makes a significant impact – that’s true for violence reduction, and it’s true for so many of the social, mental, and health challenges our communities face.
This year, City Manager Long hired the City’s first Place Based Initiatives Manager, Brooke Lipscomb to build upon the strategy of meeting folks where they are and better connecting the services our City provides. When a resident with hoarding disorder posed a threat to his own health and caused neighbors concern, the Fire Department called Brooke. She set up biweekly visits from social workers, she connected the Department of Public Services to provide tools to clean the home. And now, not only is this resident getting the mental support he needs, but Buildings and Inspections is able to review his home and see if he’s eligible for our HARBOR home improvement grants.
I want to take a moment to lift up this example, because it’s exactly how government should work. Under City Manager Long’s leadership, not only is our Administration connecting services together to provide the best support possible, but we are actively establishing a presence where those services may be needed. And throughout our local government, engagement has been transformed in Cincinnati.
The Manager’s Rock the Block series has brought City employees to neighborhoods throughout our city to directly engage with local businesses, schools, and youth organizations. From West Price Hill, to Roselawn, to Carthage, City Hall is coming to communities in an unprecedented way.
Importantly, this commitment to consistent engagement has been made systemic. Councilmember Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney’s Healthy Neighborhoods Committee has made it an expectation, not a treat, for government leaders to continuously educate and listen to folks about the issues concerning them. And Councilmember Reggie Harris has reformed our Budget Process to include more community empowerment than ever before – with three public Budget and Finance Committee meetings prior to this year’s proposed budget in Evanston, Sayler Park, and Northside.
And the budget we passed reflected these values. For the first time, we allocated dedicated funds to community budget requests, irrespective of the departments involved. From a traffic study in Bond Hill, to speed control in Mt. Airy, to park improvements in Sedamsville and South Cumminsville, we supported neighborhoods throughout Cincinnati in addressing their challenges. In the first year of this new process, 25 neighborhoods have received a combined $5.82 million in support of their requests, marking the City’s largest ever investment in Community Council priorities. I want to take a moment to lift up the exceptional work of our Administration, Assistant City Manager Billy Weber, Budget Director Andrew Dudas, and Councilmember Walsh for their commitment to continually improving our relationship with and support of our local business districts.
At the center of everything we do is one overarching vision: creating vibrant, accessible, safe and healthy neighborhoods. Where folks of all income levels, all backgrounds, can build a rewarding life. That requires dramatic action on affordable housing, and in our first two years, we have delivered remarkable progress on our comprehensive plan.
The Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which this Council created the first sustainable stream of revenue for, has now received $112 million in total funds from the City, the County, and outside support to get projects across the finish line. That meant $31 million administered by the Cincinnati Development Fund in grants and loans for affordable housing. In the first year alone.
It has been crystal clear that this investment is making a difference. This partnership has produced 568 units at or below 60% of the area median income. And preserved another 114. We are on pace to produce three times more truly affordable housing than the previous 5 year average – housing for essential members of our community – teachers, childcare workers. And it’s true for low-income families as well: in one year, we’ve produced twice as much housing at or below 30% AMI as the previous 5 years combined.
This is integral to our ability to create healthy, diverse neighborhoods. In October, we joined CDF, CMHA, our incredible Department of Community and Economic Development, and County and community leaders to break ground on Logan Commons. A block from Findlay Market, 42 new affordable homes are being built for senior residents who want to live and age peacefully in a vibrant community. That doesn’t just happen on its own. It takes dedicated partners like the ones we have, all bought in on the same vision.
But it’s not just about where our resources go. With the support of partners like our Housing Advisory Board, Invest in Neighborhoods, Homebase and community advocates, we have worked to achieve systemic changes to our housing policy that will produce positive effects for generations to come. Our reformed Residential Tax Abatement Policy has gone into effect to better target incentives for investment in the neighborhoods that need it the most. With Councilmember Jeffreys’ support and leadership, we legalized accessory dwelling units like garage apartments throughout the city, creating the opportunity for more residents to access the neighborhood where they want to live and age in place.
We know that there’s more to do to truly unlock the potential of housing in Cincinnati. For the last year, our Planning Department, led by Director Katherine Keough-Jurs, has partnered with a cross-departmental team, Councilmember Harris, and Councilmember Cramerding to engage with communities and stakeholders about how our communities are designed. From robust public surveys, to interactive educational sessions, to intensive research, leaders have been working to shape an update to our zoning and land use that promotes more cohesive, accessible, and connected communities.
Simply too much of Cincinnati is currently designed to concentrate poverty and stifle vibrant neighborhoods. To grow equitably in every corner of our city, we have to change that.
Our Connected Communities proposal will allow and encourage more missing middle homes our city needs – 2,3, and 4 unit apartments, row houses, townhouses – in and around our neighborhood business districts and along our major transit corridors. It will lower the barriers to getting housing built while incentivizing the creation of affordable housing. And it will promote human-scale neighborhood design, encouraging the creation of business districts where residents can walk or roll past rows of storefronts, rather than past parking lots.
If we want to make wholesale changes, we have to reform our systems. And the implementation of Bus Rapid Transit, in collaboration with a reform of our zoning, will mean more housing and more vibrancy in our neighborhoods.
We have been intentional through this entire process, and we will continue to make sure that equity and engagement are front and center. But what will come out of this work is a policy that allows more Cincinnatians to live near the places where they live, work, and play. And we will bring that policy to the public in the first quarter of next year.
Truly connected communities are about more than just housing. From the start of our time in office, we have aggressively pursued opportunities to reconnect our neighborhoods and make streets safer for every mode of transportation.
The $20 million RAISE grant is empowering safety and revitalization in the West End and Queensgate, through a complete streets transformation of Linn St, W 8th, and State Avenue. With traffic calming, over 3 miles of protected shared use lanes, and new trees planted, this project will go hand in hand with all of our work to build a safer, more cohesive community.
Modernizing our streets has a demonstrated impact on safety. On Glenway Avenue in West Price Hill, we have redesigned one of our most dangerous stretches of road. And in the first year of that redesign, it has resulted in 50% fewer car crashes. The work done by Director John Brazina our entire DOTE team is essential to our support of neighborhoods, particularly our most historically underserved communities. But importantly, it’s a part of a strategy that ties all our efforts together. A couple weeks ago, we joined Price Hill Will, local small businesses, community partners and our DCED team to break ground on the revitalization and renovation of an entire block of Glenway. Across from two local schools, right on this stretch of road, this project will create new mixed-use spaces, retain local businesses, and attract new life and energy.
And we’re only getting started. Last month, we won an $8 million OKI grant to build a shared use path from Westwood through South Fairmount. This path, which was championed by Councilmember Cramerding, is a massive step in ensuring that westside residents, not just car owners, have access to their jobs and parks and schools. Coupled with the ongoing Western Hills Viaduct project, which secured $123 million in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding, this project will mean you can bike all the way from Rapid Run Park in Westwood, through our downtown, and on to the Little Miami Scenic Trail.
The accomplishments we have made in our first two years have put us on a strong foundation. Right now, we are making the investments and decisions that will build the Cincinnati of the future. And in the year to come, we will not take our foot off the gas when it comes to our strategic priorities.
That starts right now with our Carryover budget. Once again, thanks to the new process our Council championed, our remaining funds have gone directly to our core needs first. We have topped off our reserves for the second year in a row, we’ve supported our pension and our ongoing commitment to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. And then, we are working to invest remaining funds with an eye toward equity, the challenges our communities are facing, and our financial reality.
That includes a proposed $2 million downpayment in the future of the West End. We will be building on our work in partnership with CMHA, the local community council and CDC, and with residents to plan the strongest possible application for the HUD Choice grant. This grant means groundbreaking resources to improve the quality of existing homes for West End residents; to build new, quality, affordable homes, and build a cohesive plan for the future of the neighborhood.
It also includes an additional $1.6 million towards industrial site redevelopment in the Mill Creek Corridor. This proposed investment is a continuation on a number of projects, spearheaded by Councilmember Liz Keating, that will help reshape our disinvested former industrial sites. The City and the Port won a combined $1.2 million in Brownfield grants this year, to identify and assess the environmental impact of old industrial properties in the Mill Creek Corridor. These partners will be working to clean those properties up and create a plan with the community for productive re-use.
And that’s on top of extraordinary state and local funding for the same mission – with our City’s prior investment of $7 million toward the Port’s site readiness projects, and with $16 million in state clean-up grants thanks to our incredible advocates in the State House –
On behalf of the City, I want to express our gratitude to our entire State delegation: Senator Ingram, Senator Blessing, Representatives Isaacsohn, Thomas, Baker, and Denson, Leader Seitz, and the House Minority Whip, Representative Miranda.
All of this work is about bringing life and health to a historically underserved part of our City – and our continued support of this strategy will bring new health and economic life to the communities that need it the most.
A big part of that mission has been our continued commitment to removing blight and illegal dumping in our underinvested neighborhoods. Unfortunately, there are bad actors in our City who have decided that risking a fine may be cheaper than following the law. Preventing this not only supports community health and pride, but we have found that it can save us money. One problem site in North Fairmount had cost City Contractors over $15,000 in cleanups. Since fences and cameras were installed, there have been zero citations and no City expense. For the sake of our budget and our residents, it is common sense to increase our crackdown on this behavior.
I have introduced a Clean Neighborhoods package to empower Buildings and Inspections, led by Director Art Dahlberg, to fence off vacant lots throughout our City that serve as chronic dumping sites at the cost of the property owner. Additionally, this proposal allows for the impoundment of vehicles used in connection with illegal dumping. I want to be as clear as possible: if you are illegally leaving or allowing waste in our community, we will take every measure available to hold you accountable.
Additionally, we will be expanding upon our work to protect renters from negligent landlords. Through our creation of a new, special code enforcement unit, and through this year’s legal action against two bad-acting, out of town landlords, our priority has been to help ensure no property owner gets away with preying upon their tenant. Now, we are going further.
The proposal I have introduced includes three policy changes to protect our most vulnerable tenants. First, codifying mandated relocation assistance to tenants who were displaced due to serious code violations. If landlords fail to provide this, the City will charge them for any assistance offered.
Second, an expansion of the Residential Rental Inspection program. With this expansion, inspectors will be empowered with heavier penalties and more neighborhoods to monitor and enforce code violations from problem property owners.
And third, a law allowing the City to directly make emergency repairs in the extreme cases where a property owner has left tenants in danger. As we head into the coldest months of the season, our essential services policy will help us protect against the worst-case scenarios: residents with no heating, no plumbing, and major fire hazards.
These are critical tools to help Buildings and Inspections ensure the safety of housing throughout Cincinnati, and we will continue to do what it takes to defend tenants in every neighborhood.
Lifting up, creating new opportunities in our underserved communities is key to our overall success and growth as a City.
And it is a sad reality, both here and across the country – that because of the systemic barriers Black and brown residents face, because of generations of discrimination and institutional racism – the opportunities you have in life are heavily impacted by key determinants like your skin color and your zip code.
And a core focus of ours since taking office has been addressing this. Growing economic opportunity with racial equity in the center of the frame, and importantly, centered around ownership. Ownership of homes, ownership of businesses, and ownership of neighborhoods.
This year, we were proud to take a significant step toward dismantling the barriers that for too long have contributed to the racial wealth gap. With the release of the Cincinnati Financial Freedom Blueprint, we have a roadmap to help ensure all residents have the opportunity to achieve financial empowerment. Through a yearlong, cross-departmental effort led by the Office of Performance and Data Analytics, our team and partners surveyed over 1,000 residents, worked with dozens of local organizations and experts, to identify the most common challenges holding Cincinnatians back and develop innovative, groundbreaking proposals.
This includes our Access to Counsel program, which is in front of Council right now. One of the most effective programs leveraged with ARP funding was emergency rental assistance, which kept families in their homes during an historically uncertain time. With this partnership with Legal Aid and United Way, we will help ensure our most vulnerable tenants are supported, with legal assistance and rental support.
It includes our Medical Debt Relief Program, which will relieve debt for up to 30,000 Cincinnatians. I want to hammer this point home: medical debt affects 1 out of every 3 residents we surveyed. This has the potential to fundamentally and permanently alter people’s lives. Upon passage, our Health Department, Department of Human Services, and partners will immediately begin work to identify and forgive debt for Cincinnatians in need – but critically, beyond that one-time support, to help make sure those residents have access to primary care. Access to health insurance navigators. And that they’re on a path to a sustainable medical plan.
And lastly, as part of the blueprint, we have worked to build a Child Savings Account program, in partnership with Preschool Promise, to help children take the first step toward saving up for school. This program will reach hundreds of families in its first two years, equipping them with their first savings account to plan for their future education.
These are transformative proposals. And importantly, we have backed up this work – not just with funding to support these programs, but with an infrastructure to manage and track our progress. Thanks to the vision and leadership of my Chief of Staff, Keizayla Fambro, Vice Mayor Kearney, Councilmember Parks, and Councilmembers Johnson and Harris, we have moved for the City to establish the Office of Equity. This office, transitioning from the Office of Human Relations and with the support of an advisory committee, will be charged with helping follow through on our mission to close the racial wealth gap.
Tonight is a moment for celebration of how far we’ve come, but we can never forget that we’re still on the clock. Right now, we are staring down a $30 million operating deficit. A $400 million deferred capital deficit. The federal support that has helped us stay afloat is going to run out, and costs are rising faster than revenues. We don’t have the luxury of hoping to get by with band-aids, because we will be judged, generations from now, by how willing we were to make the hard decisions.
There will be plenty of those decisions ahead of us. For tonight, I want to leave you with my firm belief that we have the people, the drive, and the willingness to do what’s necessary for our future.
Right now, we are bookended by two watershed projects. Last year, at the State of the City, I announced the creation of the Cincinnati Futures Commission, led by Procter & Gamble CEO Jon Moeller. Business, labor, education, and community leaders have spent the last year engaging with local communities, reviewing our budget, and analyzing our economic development strategy. Early next year, they will follow in the footsteps of the Smale Commission and provide me with recommendations for how we get Cincinnati on track for a sustainable future.
Second, just last week, voters approved the sale of the Cincinnati Southern Railway for $1.6 billion. It has long been well understood that our infrastructure needs are tremendous and growing. And with this sale, our City has taken an historic step toward closing the gap. This isn’t just about the short term, about the opportunity we now have to maintain our roads, the facilities our workers spend every day in, the basic services our residents depend on. It’s about where we want to be a century from now.
Like everything we do, in local government, in our respective lives, there’s the decision and then there’s the follow-through. When we are faced with a challenge, we have to take the path we think is right, and then we have to spend every day making it the best path possible. We are the stewards of the Cincinnati our descendants will grow up in. And as we move forward, with serious challenges and exciting new opportunities, we will be accountable for how we live up to our plans.
I couldn’t be more humbled, and happy, to be a part of this work with all of you. Cincinnati is the product of the people who make it up. Our hard-working City employees who work behind the scenes to keep this place running, the business owners and workers who keep their community lively and proud, the neighbors we share our days with, the advocates who push us all to do better. Progress happens because people make it happen.