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Ohio's move to modernize recorder fees threatens funding for housing, advocates say

Ohio's Statehouse in downtown Columbus.
James St. John
Ohio's Statehouse in downtown Columbus.

A bill up for a vote in an Ohio House committee Tuesday would modernize fee collection for county recorder offices. But a coalition of 200 organizations says the changes would threaten revenue for the state’s housing trust fund.

The Ohio Housing Trust Fund distributes money throughout the state for homeless services, to develop and preserve affordable housing, and more.

There’s only one revenue source for the housing fund: it receives half of all fees paid to county recorder offices.

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One fee is based on storing paper copies of documents, and that revenue is on the decline as more governments shift to electronic storage. Senate Bill 94 aims to recoup some of that money by charging a $5 document preservation surcharge.

But unlike every other fee with the recorder’s office, the Ohio Housing Trust Fund wouldn’t get any of the revenue.

"We're worried that if they do take away this funding opportunity, this existing funding for the trust fund, what's going to keep them from getting rid of it entirely down the line? And that's just bad policy," said Matt Strauss, housing policy advocate for the Cincinnati-Hamilton County Community Action Agency, one of the organizations asking lawmakers to reconsider.

The coalition sent a letter to the Ohio House Finance Committee on Monday, saying the 50/50 revenue share has been in place for more than two decades and is "considered a best practice amongst states investing in housing."

SB 94 requires county recorders, auditors, and engineers to provide an electronic filing method no later than June 30, 2026. Only fees paid to county recorders share revenue with the Ohio Housing Trust Fund; SB 94 would not remove the revenue-sharing provision for any existing fees, it would simply not follow the precedent for the new document preservation surcharge.

The Ohio Housing Trust Fund awarded nearly $2 million to Butler, Clermont, Hamilton, and Warren counties in 2024. You can see awards for all Ohio counties on the Ohio Housing Trust Fund project map.

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"And this is a time when rents are going higher and higher, when there's less affordable housing available," Strauss said. "We're seeing a lot of people who might have been helped out with some of this COVID-era funding that's now gone, and we're going to see a rise in homelessness."

Strauss says the coalition supports the idea of modernizing recorder fees, but says the bill should not move forward without an amendment to include the housing trust fund.

The Ohio Senate passed SB 94 last month with a vote of 30-1. The House Finance Committee conducted a public hearing June 12, and will have a second hearing on June 25 starting at 9 a.m.

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.