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Documenting an Old Crisis Reenforces the Need for an Adequate Local Response

By Bill Woods

Cincinnati confronts a major affordable housing crisis. A recent study by LISC found that a 40,000 affordable housing unit deficit exists in this city and Hamilton County. What caused this crisis, and what can be done to effectively address it?

Today's affordable housing crisis didn't emerge over night. In fact, the problem has been critical since the mid-1980s, and it has simply grown worse over time. While less and less money was allocated to public housing programs during this thirty- five year period, the shrinkage of affordable housing units exacerbated homelessness and poverty.

Much of AIR's research since its founding in 1981 has focused on homelessness and housing. When it conducted Cincinnati's first homeless study in 1986-87, AIR found that housing related issues comprised the number one cause of homelessness among families. It also acknowledged "public welfare and housing programs" we're diminishing and the city was experiencing a loss of affordable rental units.

A follow up report by AIR in 1989, "Cincinnati's Community Based Housing Efforts," dealt exclusively with this loss and what to do about it. "Almost all of Cincinnati's low- income neighborhoods," noted the report, "had a net loss of housing units from 1980 to the present." Depicting the major cuts in federal housing assistance programs in that decade, the authors concluded: "Until housing advocates succeed in persuading Congress to restore a strong federal role, the initiative for low-cost housing efforts has to come from non-profits, philanthropy, and state and local governments."

By the time AIR researched its second homeless study in 1993, it included a section on the lack of affordable housing as a major reason for the further growth of homelessness in Cincinnati. "There are numerous factors involved in the housing crisis confronting the homeless," reads the report, "but most of these factors relate to the clients' lack of income and the absence of affordable units." The study cited that federal funding for publicly assisted housing programs shrank from $30-billion in 1981 to $8-billion in 1987. It noted that in Cincinnati, less than 30-percent of the households that qualified for some form of federal housing assistance received it.

In addition to the second homeless study, AIR undertook a project for the Greater Cincinnati Foundation that focused exclusively on the affordable housing dilemma and how best to address it. This 1993 study emphasized the need for local responses to this growing "crisis." "Cities such as Cincinnati," reads the GCF-report, "we're simply not prepared when the federal government slashed funding for housing assistance by over 70-percent in the 1980s. Communities have been playing catch-up ever since, and local leaders have been slow to admit that the affordable housing 'buck stops here'."

This review of AIR's research in the 1980s and 1990s reveals the longevity of the affordable housing crisis in Cincinnati. Although a number of factors created this crisis, the steady loss of federal funding for housing assistance over the years remains a primary reason. This longevity and the severity of the crisis today finally prompted Advocates For Affordable Housing and the Homeless Coalition to draft the proposed Charter Amendment that would require the City to adequately fund the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

Even a well-funded Trust Fund would not be a panacea. It would, however, provide a substantial resource that with other funds could begin to address the crisis. Passage of the Amendment would finally require the City to accept the fact that at least a portion of the 'affordable housing buck stops here.' So once normal life returns to Cincinnati, look for the volunteers who will ask you to sign a petition to place the Charter Amendment proposal on the November ballot. Or better yet, become a volunteer yourself!

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