• Thu. Jun 1st, 2023

By Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney, Esq.

Vice Mayor

City of Cincinnati

Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney. Photo provided

Affordable housing was a campaign platform promise by most of us running for City Council in the last election, and I was no exception. With the need for 28,000 units of affordable housing, our city is in a crisis. Affordability means that no more than 30% of family income is spent on housing, including utilities. Rather than focusing on housing affordability across the City, the Density Ordinance aims to increase profits for developers with the hope that the increase in profits will trickle down to benefit low-income families.

Let me speak to four points:

       •      The Density Ordinance does not incentivize the creation of affordable housing. Although the narrative for the past few months has been that this is an “affordable housing ordinance,” there is no affordable housing in it. The Density Ordinance does not require the inclusion of any affordable housing in exchange for allowing more density/higher profits. Incentivizing affordable housing in development plans is like getting your kids to eat broccoli: Parents say, “You get dessert if you eat your broccoli.” This ordinance says, “You get your dessert even if you don’t eat your broccoli.”

       •      The Density Ordinance will lead to further segregation for Black, Brown and low-income residents in a city that already is classified as one of the most segregated cities in the country: The ordinance affects neighborhoods that already are dense and makes them denser. These are mainly Black, Brown and low-income neighborhoods. The ordinance does not affect single family zoned areas, although 77 percent of Cincinnati is zoned single family. Cities that were cited in support of this ordinance – Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland – in fact, did just the opposite of what this ordinance does: Those cities reformed single family zoning to allow duplexes, triplexes, and accessible dwelling units.

       •      The Density Ordinance will lead to displacement: Along with development comes rent increases: Most new rental units in Cincinnati entered the market at the high end of the price spectrum with average rents of $1,700/month. (Capstone Apartment Partners in LISC’s “Housing Our Future”, p. 8, fn 1). Housing stock has increased in Cincinnati and Hamilton County in the last 10 years, as shown by the 80% increase in permits issued for new residential buildings from 2008 to 2018. And yet, housing prices have gone up, not down. Rents have increased by 25% in recent years in neighborhoods such as Pendleton and the West End.Meanwhile, Hamilton County is losing each year about 1,375 units that cost less than $800.The Density Ordinance leads to smaller units at increased rents and that is a recipe for displacement for low and middle income residents.

       •      “One size does not fit all”: The attached letter from Invest in Neighborhoods was signed by 102 residents from 31 neighborhoods.

The Cincinnati NAACP stated in its attached letter in opposition to the Density Ordinance, “The proposed ordinance will increase density in neighborhoods that are Black, Brown and low income, but does not demand developers to commit to true affordability for renters who are already struggling to meet rents. It also fails to address single family zoning and a path to home ownership for those who need it most in the city.”

We need development across our city, but let’s make it equitable.