Affordable Housing Advocates held its annual meeting on June 28th. AHA, a diverse coalition of local housing, civic, religious, and human service organizations, utilized this event to highlight the great need for more affordable housing in Greater Cincinnati. AHA members and friends convened at LADD’s Center for Community Education in Avondale to celebrate another year of advocacy, to honor Vice Mayor David Mann, and to hear words of encouragement from guest speaker Bill Faith, Executive Director of COHIO.
The first order of business was to present Vice Mayor Mann with AHA’s annual award to a person who has shown leadership in promoting affordable housing. AHA-board member Alice Skirtz presented the award and described Mann’s advocacy for housing assistance programs throughout his years as a City Council member, as Mayor, and as a Congressman. As a current leader on Council, he has successfully promoted using General Budget funds for affordable housing grants to neighborhoods. These grants represent the first time the City has used general funds for affordable housing rather than relying on federal housing dollars.
After the award to Vice Mayor Mann, John Schrider, Attorney and Director of the Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio and AHA’s secretary, reviewed the coalition’s activities and achievements over the last year. One achievement was the completion of “The Critical Need for Affordable Housing in Cincinnati,” a report by AHA and the Homeless Coalition. Not only does the report document the affordable housing need, but it describes several successful neighborhood housing projects that managed to overcome “the not in my neighborhood” syndrome” (Nimbyism). AHA used this report in its public education work, and members spoke on housing issues to a number of community groups and at local forums in 2015 and 2016. It offered testimony to the Cincinnati Child Poverty Collaborative about the importance of stable housing in successfully raising a family.
In terms of preserving existing affordable housing, noted Schrider, AHA has served as an effective watchdog. When Hamilton County began phasing out its Tenant Based Assistance Program, AHA helped to facilitate the often difficult transition of tenants to obtain housing choice vouchers. AHA’s Housing Preservation Committee worked to both improve and preserve HUD-subsidized rental housing with a focus on several hundred units owned by out of town companies. AHA also advocated that the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) insure that any conversion of public housing to the new Rental Assistance Demonstration Program (RAD benefit all affected tenants while minimizing displacement.
When introducing Bill Faith, Mary Burke Rivers, AHA’s President and a COHIO board member, said that COHIO’s Executive Director would deliver a message of hope. Faith quipped that the current political environment didn’t lend itself to a very hopeful message, but he would try his best. He noted Ohio has come a long way since adopting a Constitutional Amendment thirty-five years ago that made housing a public purpose.
According to Faith, the Housing Trust Fund that was established soon after that vote has been a huge benefit to developers of affordable housing in Ohio. Over the years, the Fund has allocated approximately $770-million for housing. This translates to $45-million a year, and the projects that it helped build have touched the lives of at least a million people.
Nevertheless, Faith acknowledged, Ohio and the country have a long way to go to provide affordable housing for the four out of five people who qualify for assistance but who do not receive it. He suggested that today’s political realities in Ohio and in Washington D.C. call for housing advocates to be collaborative. We need to look for “opportunities for partnerships” with other causes where affordable housing can be effectively integrated.
Faith described several collaborations that he has recently been forging. A legislative effort is underway to address Ohio’s very high infant mortality rate, and the task force working on solutions is aware that housing is part of the problem. Faith and others are attempting to convince the task force that housing assistance for families in “deep poverty” must be included in its legislative package.
He also cited a potential collaborative approach for a project designed to assist former Foster Care youth, and an effort to more effectively serve people with major health issues. Besides these state initiatives, he said that more can be done to promote affordable housing at the local level. Beyond the City of Cincinnati using some of its general budget dollars for neighborhood housing grants, he pointed out that a number of cities were utilizing inclusionary zoning and affordable housing percentages for large development projects. At this juncture, creativity and continued advocacy are the watchwords for coalitions like AHA and COHIO.