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LISC leads the way in building affordable housing

By Hillary Copsey
11.20.2017

Providing small loans to West End homeowners looking to improve their houses. Helping to finance a homesteading program revitalizing homes in Price Hill and turning renters into homeowners. Advocating for a housing trust fund to pay for more projects across Cincinnati.

LISC of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky is working hard to build affordable housing in the region, even as its research into the problem guides the conversation about sustainable solutions.

CHANGING THE CONVERSATION

A study of housing affordability in Hamilton County commissioned by LISC, in partnership with the Community Building Institute at Xavier University, shows the county is short 40,000 units of affordable housing to meet the needs of the lowest income households. For every 100 of these families — households making $14,678 a year or less — only 28 homes exist that are available and affordable, meaning they cost less than 30 percent of the family’s income, and are available.

“40,000. It's a lot of units. It's scary,” said Cincinnati Vice Mayor David Mann. “But it helps dramatize the depth of the problem. … (The study) is a powerful resource. It's a powerful marker that's hard to ignore.”

Since the study was released in February 2017, community development organizations report an increase in discussion about Greater Cincinnati's affordable housing problem.

“I've told LISC, I didn't realize how powerful a voice they had,” said Kevin Wright, executive director of the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation. “There's a much more intentional conversation happening around housing.”

At development hearings, officials now are asking: “Is there affordable housing?”

“That wasn't necessarily the case, even a year ago,” Wright said.

“(The study) is a powerful resource. It's a powerful marker that's hard to ignore.”
— Vice Mayor David Mann

HELPING MAKE HOUSING AFFORDABLE

While the conversation changes and expands, LISC's work on affordable housing continues.

LISC's partner agencies, including Price Hill Will and Seven Hills Neighborhood Houses in the West End, have reported for years the need for more affordable housing. As Price Hill Will rehabbed old homes and sold them at market rate prices, the agency saw families in the neighborhood for whom those prices simply were out of reach. Or, worse yet, families could handle the monthly costs of homeownership, but, because of poor credit and other issues, couldn't secure financing.

Many families in need of affordable housing have a roof over their heads, said Ken Smith, executive director of Price Hill Will. But that roof is often substandard and overpriced.

“In a lot of instances, these landlords, they're even charging a premium,” Smith said. “People are not able to get good quality housing because they can't pass a background screening.”

For every 100 households earning 50 percent of the median income, nearly half can't find housing that won't eat up the majority of their paycheck. Even families earning 80 percent and 100 percent of the area median income sometimes struggle to find affordable housing.

LISC helped Price Hill Will start a pilot homesteading project that puts low-income families in homes that need work. Price Hill Will fixes the buildings up to code, then enters into a land contract with the family that requires them to pay the mortgage — $16,000 for the first two homes — and make certain improvements to the property. Families receive support through financial and home repair classes.

Home repair loans also are available this fall to West End residents, thanks to LISC, The Homeownership Center and U.S. Bank.

The West End is participating in the city's Neighborhood Enhancement Program, a 90-day project to “cool down” crime, fix code violations, and clean and beautify public spaces. Knowing some homeowners simply don't have the cash to make needed repairs, LISC is helping Seven Hills track homes that need repairs to provide some funding along with The Homeownership Center.

PRIORITZING FUTURE AFFORDABLE HOUSING

Beyond neighborhood programs for affordable housing LISC is funding and supporting across the region, the agency is working closely with Cincinnati officials to prioritize large-scale efforts to tackle the problem.

A request from Vice Mayor Mann resulted in $4 million of City funding earmarked for affordable housing. Half the money is being spent to create affordable housing in Over-The-Rhine, a gentrifying neighborhood just north of downtown that has seen long-time residents displaced by pricey condos. The other half will be spent throughout the city.

City Council has established a new policy that would ask developers requesting a tax abatement to make payments to support affordable housing initiatives. Mann said the fee could generate $800,000 annually.

This new policy is an important step towards the establishment of a local housing trust fund. More than 400 cities in the U.S. have housing trust funds, which provide money for affordable housing.

The conversation around a housing trust fund and other solutions might never have happened without the housing affordability study. Making sure people understood the magnitude of the issue was an important first step, said LISC Executive Director Kathy Schwab.