By Bill Woods
"While the region has experienced successes, we are leaving lots of our neighbors behind, and this will not change without significant, intentional, sustained effort - an effort that will mean we have to change how we allocate resources, and address long term socioeconomic issues." This quote comes from "Fair Housing Assessment," a just released report completed by Xavier University's Community Building Institute for the City of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. The report, authored by Liz Blume, the Director of CBI, assesses the region's housing market and the ability of different groups to find adequate, affordable housing. Such assessments are required every five years from cities and urban regions that receive funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
How is Greater Cincinnati's housing market doing in terms of providing adequate and affordable housing for all its population groups? The opening quote indicates that although the City and County have rebounded from the Great Recession of 2008, a large percentage of African- American residents and other low-income individuals and families have not fared well. In fact, this report reinforces the recent LISC-study that found that Cincinnati and Hamilton County possessed a shortage of 40,000 affordable housing units.
The report highlights some facts that showcase the affordable housing crisis. The area's homeless population in 2017 totaled 7,197. Meanwhile, 8,465 households experienced evictions from 2014 - 2016. Of the 54,200 residents living in the most depressed, disinvested neighborhoods, 75-percent were Black, and these neighborhoods housed 7,122 families with children.
One of the focuses of these regular assessments is the extent of racial segregation in urban regions. Have federal laws prohibiting racial segregation in terms of renting and selling housing had an impact on where people live in a city and a region? The report notes, that over the years, Greater Cincinnati has been one of the most segregated urban regions in the country. The current assessment finds that although this region had improved statistically in recent decades, the last ten years brought increased segregation that erased these improvements. The new report also found overt discrimination impacting the housing opportunities of people with disabilities, young people, and families with children.
The report declares that housing discrimination and housing affordability are separate issues, but they are nevertheless "tightly intertwined." It acknowledges that the major affordable housing shortage "exacerbates" problems confronting African-Americans and other groups protected by ant-discrimination laws in their search to find adequate housing. With fewer affordable housing units being built or rehabbed, existing zoning codes and rising rents dovetail to make the search for housing almost impossible for these individuals and families.
The assessment includes maps that detail the housing patterns existing in Greater Cincinnati. It also reviews factors over time that has inevitably led to the current affordable housing crisis. The emphasis on promoting growth and commercial development in neighborhoods like Over-the-Rhine has led to displacement and a loss of once available affordable units. At the same time, wage inequity has made rising rents a mounting obstacle for the working poor. Meanwhile, the current public transit system fails to connect city residents to better paying jobs available in the metro area, while high priced housing and restrictive zoning make it impossible for the development of more mixed income housing in the suburbs. Probably the biggest factor of all is the steady cutting of public dollars for various housing assistance programs (especially federal funding) since the 1980s.
What is to be done? The report provides a series of recommendations focused on increasing resources and improving systems. In terms of resources, the top recommendation is to establish affordable housing trust funds at the city and county levels (City Council established such an entity this year.). Increased support for community and regional organizations that create and assist affordable housing is also endorsed, while the report also backs further support for agencies that protect vulnerable households. A final recommendation calls for community and economic investments in north central Hamilton County.
In terms of system improvements, the assessment calls for expanded public transportation. It sees a need for the creation of more lending practices that assist African-Americans and other protected class households, and also changes in zoning codes that "open new areas for protected class households. It calls for better housing code enforcement, and the ability and commitment of local governments and agencies to better respond to individual and family housing crises.
The release of this report comes at an opportune moment. LISC (the Local Initiatives Support Corporation) is working on a housing plan for the region, and groups such as the Homeless Coalition and Advocates for Affordable Housing are gearing up for a ballot initiative to provide adequate funding for the City's Housing Trust Fund. "Fair Housing Assessment" by Xavier's Community Building Institute adds yet another credible document calling for serious and immediate action to address Greater Cincinnati's affordable housing crisis. (The full report is available on line: http:/ bit.ly/ fairhousing2019)