By Dr. Mark Mussman
The new year always brings a renewed interest. People head in droves to the gym for the first, attendance at Church spikes, and people’s resolutions stay on their mind. In a year, a great deal of things change. This year, we need to be vocal about things that have a disparate impact on people experiencing homelessness, as well as, those who are on the edge of homelessness. The following are a few things that we need to stay on top of this year.
For your housing to be considered “affordable,” you should be spending no more than 30% of your income on your housing, including utilities. Last year, Duke Energy raised everyone’s bill by $200, spread over the course of the year. This rate hike was approved by the Ohio Legislature, and there was literally nothing that we could do to stop it. This year, we are looking at higher food prices, higher cable and internet prices, and higher parking costs. In Over-the-Rhine, south of Liberty, all on-street parking will now be either metered or permit only. The cost to park in Over-the-Rhine has increased dramatically recently, and it is the most expensive outside of the Central Business District. Whether you will be paying at the meter, or for the parking permit, you will be spending more time looking for parking, and more time walking from your parking spot.
The residential parking program needs to over-sell the spots to be successful. By using my basic math skills, I’ve found that at full price, the City must sell 1250 parking spots to break even. (There are projected program costs of around $75,000, and the permits cost $60 each. An unlimited number of permits will be sold.) There are only 500 parking spots, so each spot will have been, at least, double sold. The fees and tickets that people who park in the residential parking spots may be able to cover some of the program costs, but what is the psychological effect on people who get parking tickets when visiting the neighborhood? The eventual fall out of this program may force the City to scrap the program, or to extend it north of Liberty. It is a new cost that we all need to keep our eyes on.
Privatization of Public Space
Privatization is a perennial issue that affects us all. In the past, I have written on neoliberalism, and the quest to turn public wealth into private riches. We are seeing a robust movement of privatization in Cincinnati, and across the country, which is draining our collective wealth in exchange for individual riches. For example, over the past two years, we lost Ziegler Park to 3CDC, who now controls who is able to use the park, when, and how. They provide private security to force people who are experiencing homelessness away from the park. Others have complained that the 3CDC workers have “banned” them from park bathrooms. 3CDC has leased out the park decades from the City, but they should still maintain their public status. Unfortunately, many people feel that the park is private now.
In 2019, we are looking at the privatization of Findlay Playground. Model Group, a large developer, has plans to lease the alleyway next to the park. Last week, I noticed a fence around the alleyway, which to me, confirms that Model was successful with their privatization. Currently, there is a fence around Findlay Playground, and local organizers are trying to collect the stories of those who frequent the park. I have written extensively about how the police and the City team up to create a hostile environment in their quest for gentrification of Over-the-Rhine. Check out the police lights set up around Findlay Park, watch the increased patrols, and you will clearly see the concerted effort put in place to remove people from the park. This loss of public space continues in other ways as well.
Looking up and down the sidewalk, you will see more restaurant and bars stumbling out into public space. The loss of sidewalk space represents a serious loss of our community. When bars get seating space on the sidewalk, they create a permanent barrier so that people will be allowed to drink alcohol on the sidewalk. While this represents a double standard, as people who are experiencing homelessness are criminalized for the same behavior, it also means that people with disabilities, families with strollers, and large families, are obstructed on the sidewalk. Ultimately, this means that we are pushed out from our usual spaces. Forced to find new routes.
Renaming to Own
The so-called Over-the-Rhine Brewery District plans to have a banner year in 2019. The Brewery District Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation (BDCURC) is getting ready to unveil their own wayfinding signs north of Liberty. You may have already seen medallions in the sidewalk, but have you seen the giant signs that are blocking the sidewalks in some places? The Brewery District’s Master Plan’s mission clearly shows a lack of inclusion of low-income residents: “To envision investment and development opportunities for businesses and real estate developers that will be supported by the neighborhood, and that will help guide efforts for physical public improvements to accommodate such development.” By renaming the part of the neighborhood, the Brewery District is trying to remodel the neighborhood into a false vision of the past, which is only inclusive of white, rich, and alcohol guzzling tourists. Look out for other things being renamed, including streets, so-called “Districts,” and other public spaces.
Housing Protections and the Affordable Housing Trust Fund
In Ohio, renters have very few protections. Your landlord can refuse taking your rent, then evict you for non-payment of rent. This practice is a threat to stable housing. While change in Ohio may take long, we are looking to push forward housing protections that would stop this type of deceitful practice. Along with the local Affordable Housing Trust Fund, housing protections such as these will ensure people will be able to stay in their homes. Unfortunately, the Trust Fund isn’t funded yet, so we will be working this year to ensure funding for affordable housing.
The Homeless Coalition is currently fighting for the right of self-determination in federal court. If we are successful, we will have prevented the stripping of many Constitutional Amendments, including Freedom of Speech and protections against cruel and unusual punishment and the seizure of personal property. This lawsuit will have a large regional impact, and is definitely something to watch this year.
Special Improvement District (SID)
Another thing to keep your eye on this year is the proposed Special Improvement District (SID) for southern Over-the-Rhine. A SID has existed downtown for a couple decades, which funds Downtown Cincinnati Inc. (DCI). DCI employs people as Downtown Ambassadors who spend the days and night sweeping up the sidewalks and gutters. They are also available for people who have questions. As I have written before, 3CDC, Urban Sites, and the Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce, are planning on hoisting a SID on the southern part of Over-the-Rhine. They are using scare tactics to pressure residents at the Community Council to accept the tax plan. Only 60% of the property owners (based upon the linear footage) need to vote for the SID to impose a tax on all of the properties in the proposed SID. In the end, this will cause rents to raise, and will increase homelessness in our area. It will also create a force to police the streets, pushing people who are experiencing homelessness into the shadows. When SIDs are created, laws criminalizing homelessness are likely to follow. When people are forced into the shadows, they are more likely to be victims of violent crime.
Each of these issues negatively impacts the lives of those who are experiencing homelessness and those who are on the edge of homelessness. Without the efforts of the Homeless Coalition, our member organizations, and our supporters, many of these changes would go by without note, and the voices of those who are affected would be lost.