By Mariel Carbone
Discussion is churning at City Hall around a proposed charter amendment that would establish a “trust fund” that supporters say would help mitigate the city’s affordable housing shortage. But others worry it could come with unintended consequences.
City Councilman David Mann chairs City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee and is running for mayor. He worries the charter amendment as proposed — which would require lawmakers to allocate $50 million annually for affordable housing – doesn’t specify how the city budget will pay for the fund.
“Of course we are all for affordable housing. That’s not the question; the question’s how can it be paid for? And can it be paid for without taking away from other things?
“Frankly, I’ve never seen anything like this, and I’m very troubled about what impact it could have on our ability to meet our basic requirements as a city.”
The proposed amendment would add a new article to the City Charter. A petition meant to demonstrate support for the amendment is now being circulated.
The new article lists multiple potential funding sources for the affordable housing budget, including the city’s $400 million general fund, which raised flags for Mann.
“It says spending $50 million a year on affordable housing. The only way we can do that is take that money out of our budget, which is about $400 million a year,” Mann said. “So that’s one-eighth of the money that has to be averted. And how do we do that without impacting police services, ambulance services, firefighters, snow removal?”
Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, supports the amendment and said Mann’s concerns are unfounded.
“There is nothing in this charter amendment that requires cuts to anything. It’s just not there,” he said. “People should read it. It doesn’t say that.”
The proposed charter language also identifies the prospective lease of the Cincinnati Southern Railway – that deal has not been made yet – a fee on residential developments that include four or more units and on all commercial or non-residential developments, or a personal income tax on stock options in publicly traded companies.
The proposed amendment would also prohibit using a general income tax levy to finance the fund unless such an increase was approved by voters at the ballot for that express purpose.
For Spring, Cincinnati and Hamilton County’s shortage of affordable housing mandates a solution like the charter amendment, especially as more and more neighborhoods see an influx in investment and development and subsequent increases in property values and rental costs.
“The question is, in your neighborhood where you live, has life gotten better for you and your neighbors? Are all your neighbors even still there? Have they been able to afford to be there? I think for a whole lot of Cincinnatians, life is harder.”
A 2017 study found Hamilton County was short its affordable housing need by more than 40,000 units.
State Sen. Cecil Thomas said in a written statement, “As mayor, I will make expanding the supply of affordable housing a top priority,” but said a charter amendment “should be a last resort.”
“The way it is written…the proposed charter amendment is not a viable path to providing a sustainable solution. Although well-intended, an unfunded mandate of $50 million is not the solution. It would bankrupt our city.”
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