Heart and Hustle in Hamilton County

Is Housing in Hamilton County Really that Affordable? Part 2

October 22, 2021 Bridget Doherty Season 1 Episode 11
Is Housing in Hamilton County Really that Affordable? Part 2
Heart and Hustle in Hamilton County
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Heart and Hustle in Hamilton County
Is Housing in Hamilton County Really that Affordable? Part 2
Oct 22, 2021 Season 1 Episode 11
Bridget Doherty

Continuing our conversation with local housing experts: Hamilton County Community Development's Interim Director Emily Carnahan, Liz Blum with the Community Building Institute at Xavier University, and Kristen Baker with Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) get to the heart of the conversation on whether our neighbors can afford to stay in the communities where they live. 

Recent studies have shown that Hamilton County currently lacks 40,000 units of affordable housing.  Listen to what Hamilton County is doing about it. 

To learn more about Hamilton County, Ohio, our services and job openings, visit hamiltoncountyohio.gov.

Show Notes Transcript

Continuing our conversation with local housing experts: Hamilton County Community Development's Interim Director Emily Carnahan, Liz Blum with the Community Building Institute at Xavier University, and Kristen Baker with Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) get to the heart of the conversation on whether our neighbors can afford to stay in the communities where they live. 

Recent studies have shown that Hamilton County currently lacks 40,000 units of affordable housing.  Listen to what Hamilton County is doing about it. 

To learn more about Hamilton County, Ohio, our services and job openings, visit hamiltoncountyohio.gov.

Welcome to heart and hustle in Hamilton County, a podcast entirely dedicated to the people and policies that form Hamilton County government. I'm your host, Jeff saludo, county administrator and Hamilton County, with me, as always is my co host and communications manager for the county Bridget Doherty. Hello, hello. And today, I want to welcome all of you to part two in our two part series on affordable housing in Hamilton County. So if you joined us last time, you'll recall that we spent a lot of our time talking in detail about the problem of affordable housing. And we were privileged then as we are today, to have with us Kristen Baker from Liske Liz Blum from the community building Institute, and Emily Carnahan, with our own Department of Community Development. In last time, we talked about the affordable housing gap in the community. We talked about housing demographics, the out of control, housing pricing, cost market, we talked about the number of cost burdened homeowners, and we talked about the importance of this issue to every sector of our community. From those transitioning out of homelessness, to those running major businesses and needing places for their employees to live, whether you're a senior citizen or a single parent, whether you're a family of four graduating college students, or someone struggling with addiction and mental health issues, you can't have a well functioning community without ensuring that all sectors of the population have this boat most basic need addressed. But in order to have that stage setting conversation, we basically had to forcibly restrain Liz, Kristin and Emily, because like all good professionals in their field, they don't want to just talk about the problem. They want to talk about solutions. And fortunately, there are enough good things going on in this area to warrant an entire second part to our series here. So without further ado, Liz, I'm going to start with you. Because last time you were really pushing to make sure we didn't just leave this all gloom and doom, that there are things that can be done. And there are things that are being done to address the problem of affordable housing in the community. So let's just jump in with both feet here. Why should people be optimistic about the future of housing in Hamilton County. So I think that there are all kinds of really great models in Hamilton County that have already been developed that are both producing more housing at every price point and being conscious of producing housing that's affordable to people who make less than $15 an hour as an example. So a couple of things that I would point to I'm going to pick on Silverton to start at 47 is a new multifamily project. It's not as new as it was when I started to talk about it actually, it's about two years old now. And it's a whole new kind of product in Silverton, it's a multifamily product. And the neighbors like it. It's producing product for new millennials who are moving into Silverton for the first time. And it's a different kind of housing. So part of this conversation is about more housing, but part of it is also about different kinds of housing. We've all heard that millennials are not buying homes as quickly as us Boomer types did. That means they need a different kind of housing, seniors would like to be aging in their communities, but maybe not in their big house, because they don't want to take care of it anymore. And so there's another place I'd like to point to is the reserve itself Martin, which is a partnership between Carlton North College Hill and cmha, there was a whole set of pretty deteriorated single family houses at in the part of North College Hill, those those deteriorated obsolete buildings were removed. And there's now a new senior project that residents from North College Hill live in and they love. And it also made a difference to the single family homes around it because they now have a better neighbor. There's great examples. colerain Township is doing some really interesting things, very intentional things to both build new housing. colerain is interesting because there's a very suburban part of colerain Township and there's a fairly urban sort of for suburbs, part of colerain Township in both kinds of places. They're doing new product, and they're being intentional about connecting a new generation of homeowners that might be black homeowners with an older generation of homeowners that might be white homeowners. So they're doing both production and the sort of cultural connectedness that communities need. So that's just a few things I could go on. But maybe I'll stop and and give Kristin a minute if she can. Yeah, no, that's great. So right out of the gate, a lot of good stuff to be optimistic about and some good things happening out there. So Kristin, as Liz, turn this over to you. Thoughts on reason To be optimistic about housing and and feel free to highlight the the work that you all have done at Liske. And in terms of the housing or future study and want to make sure that folks out there listening, know, what that study is and how they can go about accessing it. Sure. Thanks, Jeff. You know, I think Liz is absolutely right, with the specific examples of some changes we're seeing in the housing landscape. I also feel optimistic, despite, as you said, some of the maybe the rather Stark picture that the data is currently painting in terms of housing affordability in our county that, you know, folks are really rallying around this. You know, it takes it often, for many years, housing was thought of as particularly affordable housing somebody else's problem, right, if it did not directly impact you, you know, it's just that's Oh, that's for folks that are, you know, that are extremely poor, or it's somebody else's challenge. And I think we're starting to come to a place where there's a recognition that, that that housing challenge is something that impacts all of us, because the business community understands that, you know, if they're the workers that are starting out in their careers, or in some of the hard to fill, low, lower wage jobs, they can't, and even jobs that are paying 40 or $50,000 a year, those folks are not able to find housing necessarily in the community that they want to live in right now. And that creates challenge for, for employers. And I think that's really important. I think local governments have really recognized and acknowledged the challenge and opportunity that exists right now around housing, I will specifically call out Hamilton County, Hamilton County government for really leading the way in terms of brokering conversations, in terms of setting aside, you know, significant pool of resources through the American rescue x plan funding, which is a really big step for our community. So long, we have not necessarily made those investments a priority. And so it's really time I think the time is now and I think there's a lot of energy and excitement around that. And I will say I do believe that is due in part to the conversations that we at Liske and live at CBI and our other key partners in the housing space have been calling forward. And we're really you're hearing about this at a much different volume than we used to. And I think that's really caused for, for us to acknowledge and say, you know, hey, we're starting to understand the challenge and the issue and and the everyday citizen is starting to understand and feeling that impact. So what do we do about it next, and that's where the solutions are really critical to this effort. Right. And some of those solutions, there's a broad range of them. And Liz started the conversation out here today talking about some of the solutions on the production side of things. So building new units of affordable housing and doing it in a way that not only meets the demand, but also meets the need for the community to feel like this is a product that we want in our in our community, and that we want to be a part of them. We're starting to see more and more integration of that affordable housing into the plans of a lot of different communities. In the county, as Liz mentioned, North College Hill and Silverton in terms of the production side, we talked last time about the gap 40,000 units. When you think about the production that's occurring in the community, at a, at a high level, how much more that needs to happen, or are we on? Are we on a good pace to closing that gap? Or how much more needs to actually occur to start to make a noticeable dent in that 40,000 unit gap? Well, the target Well, I'll go ahead, Kristen. No, sorry. That's right, the target as Liz was saying, the target that we set in housing our future, which is the countywide housing strategy that was created by over 200 housing experts, partners, and most importantly, people with lived experience with housing challenge. So folks who have not maybe been able to find the kind of housing that meets their needs and what that's like. So in housing our future, we identify three key areas around production, preserving existing affordable housing, and producing new and so in the production space, we say, you know, we need to actually bring on about 2000 new units affordable to households earning 60% of that area median income, which again is around that would be around $35,000, for earners making about $35,000 or less than that over the next 10 years. So that would give us 20,000 units by 2030. So that's really the pace that we need to be moving at just in that one income, you know, target. We're not even talking about In that 2000 unit number, the market rate or things in that in that area for people earning, you know, 35, to $50,000. So just to give you an example there, so that really requires quite a big, big jump in production. And also, you know, the other thing that would require is more, more folks engaging in and working in the housing trades. And that's another solution that we identify in housing our future. So this is not just again, not just about producing more housing, but this is also workforce development, opportunity and demand and need, we need more people working in all of the trades that support housing production and Housing Preservation, because these are really in demand services right now. And that's part of the reason that we're not producing enough units is that we just don't really seem to have enough folks into the workforce doing things like plumbing, and electrician, and, and carpenter and all of those really important trades that pay a really good way they pay more than many of them pay more than that. $50,000. Mark, we've been talking so much about how do we really bolster that also through the implementation of creating new housing units. So I want to follow up on something that Kristen said, producing at a much higher rate than we are right now new housing is an economic development opportunity. It means and the great thing that happens when you produce more housing, particularly in existing communities is where we're making better use of obsolete real estate, you know, obsolete, retail use, that's not coming back, all kinds of vacant schools, they can churches, these are the sites that we need to be redeveloping. And what happens is you get more housing, you get, as Kristen says, trades jobs, and you support business districts that need more folks eating in the restaurants shopping in their stores. And so it has all kinds of positive benefits to the communities that are considering these kind of projects, higher density projects along their business corridors. And on that note, so we have a lot of first ring suburban communities in the county that have, say stagnant or tired business districts. So similar to the way we started the conversation by talking about some production projects that are going on. Are there any communities that jump out in terms of green these doing a good job fostering preservation of affordable housing, or renovation of housing stock for affordable housing, in these areas around these fostering suburban business districts to help revitalize them, the old economic development phrase that retail follows rooftops, right, so you can't have a sustainable healthy business core if you don't have residents in a walk relatively walkable community or neighborhood able to to patronize those those businesses, so any communities or any projects here locally, you can think of on the preservation side, helping to to move the needle in that regard. You know, there's lots of existing housing in doubles, and triples in for family units that really are getting some needed and reinvestment. And that's great housing, it exists already in communities. It doesn't have to require new zoning. And it's great for single folks, there are lots of single single person households in the county now much more than we had in the past, it's a good place for seniors to be. And those are great kinds of opportunities for reinvestment all over the county. You meant you mentioned the the buzz word zoning. So and I know this is Kristen, in your in your housing or future report, as well as in subsequent conversations that we've had the the issue of zoning has come up time and again, is something that really impacts everything, right? I mean, you may not be a zoning expert, but I guarantee you zoning affects you where you are and if you say well, no, it doesn't because I don't have zoning in my community. Well, that affects you maybe even more, right. So how are we doing generally in Hamilton County, as it relates to our zoning codes and our zoning practices? And is there opportunity to improve those to help with this situation of affordable housing? Absolutely, you know, this is not the most you know, sort of scintillating topic around housing but it is absolutely one of the most important components that makes the ability for us to do what Liz and I have been talking to you about. Even more possible. So you know, outside of the center city of Cincinnati, the vast majority of Hamilton County have our first ring suburban jurisdictions and beyond are zoned for single family housing. So only right so that really limits the kind of the creative options that and the density and the opportunity to to really help support folks to age in place in the community that they live. In their whole lives are all the other, you know, sort of priorities that we know exist around housing, it makes it a lot harder to do that if your zoning code does not, is not modernized, and is not really you know, allowing for different kinds of types of developments. So, in a business district, most business district likes to see, you know, retail, or commercial space on the first floor, because that's the easiest way to access and then it's, it's nice to have, you know, one or two stories above with maybe a few units of housing or condominium or whatever the model might be. And if your community is zoned to allow for that, it makes that kind of development much more difficult. And also, communities that are almost exclusively single family often get very nervous when you when a developer or, you know, jurisdiction might say, Hey, we want to create some new housing types in our community, because there's a stigma attached to density that, I think is unfortunate, because density brings vibrancy, density brings people out onto the street, it brings foot traffic, it brings a sense of community. And I think sometimes people equate density with, with some of the negative stereotypes around affordable housing. And so we have seen unfortunately, in some suburban jurisdictions, in particular, this real hesitant to, to to consider changing the zoning code because people feel it's a Pandora's box, I would argue it's a, it's a treasure chest and changing your zoning to allow for more kinds and types of housing is only going to benefit your community. So we have to get some positive messaging out there about you know, why modernizing zoning codes is so important. This really is Liz's cup of tea more than mine, but I've heard her speak about it enough to know how important this is. And I do want to just mention also that the county is looking at some some opportunities to help jurisdictions with with modernizing their zoning code through a model zoning code. And that's a way to really help help ease the challenge that exists around creating in particularly new kinds of housing in places that are historically single families. That's exactly right. I mean, the model zoning code is going to be a great support for communities who are looking to include new planned unit development regulations, new streetscape regulations, all that. I also want to say to folks, changing zoning and creating options in your zoning code that allow for different kinds of housing does not mean does not mean that single family residential blocks all over communities are going to change. There are places that you can certainly protect the character of single family communities, and still in those same communities provide new kinds of housing, along your business corridors, in close schools, closed churches, there's all kinds of obsolete, land use all over the county, that could be creatively used to create more housing. That doesn't mean we have to put a six storey building and a block of single family homes. So I want to make sure because I think people are concerned about that. And that's really not what we're talking about here. We're talking about making stronger business districts that include more housing and different kinds of housing, that are on bus lines that we now have passed a transportation levy so that we talk about walkable communities, what we're talking about is living close enough to the grocery store, the restaurant, the coffee shop, the brewery, so that you can get there from your front door, or that you could get on the bus from your front door. That's really what we're talking about creating more of that kind of housing, and supporting blocks of single family housing along the way. So it does all of those things absolutely in and I want to, I'm going to refrain from calling her a zoning administrator down here to take issue with Kristen's characterization of zoning as a not a scintillating subject. But we'll we'll address that with our zoning department later, Kristen. But as we're talking about, as we talk about our different factors that play into affordable housing, I think Liz Last time, we were together, you talked about the issue of code enforcement. And can you help us with that concept as it relates to affordable housing, because I would imagine there's people out there that might see it as a bit of a double edged sword. In terms of code enforcement applied correctly, or code enforcement applied in a way that may actually hurt the problem. And make it so that people can't stay in their home. So talk about affordable or talk about code enforcement as applied in a way that makes it a critical component and helpful to the conversation of affordable housing. So I'm going to take everybody to those blocks of single family housing all over the community. Communities are strong when those blocks look lovely, and when people are taking care of their homes, that you're right. It can be a double edged sword, and I absolutely understand why people are concerned, I think, to have an aggressive code enforcement campaign. You've also got to couple that with homeowner supports and loan and grant programs to homeowners so that they can stay in their homes and take care of them appropriately and not lose their house not lose the wealth that they've generated in their house. So it's got to be code enforcement along with supports for homeowners who can't afford to maintain their homes. There is not a community in Hamilton County that doesn't want to support their senior homeowners and make sure that people can age in place in ways that make them happy and keep their housing up. Actually, Silverton is getting ready to pilot a really interesting program where they're going to make repairs to homes that need to have repairs made to them, and then put a lien on taxes so that so that existing owners can take care of their property can live in their house can maintain wealth, and then when the home is sold, then the the funds come back to the community, which means they will revolve and support more homeowners. So I think that's going to be a really interesting pilot that came out of the sort of first housing plans. So code enforcement has to be paired with the loan and grant program so that people can maintain their housing. We also want to make sure that commercial owners of reeds and other large owners are following the same standards that everybody else on the block is following. There are it there are way more rentals single family homes now than there ever have been before. And it's really important to make sure that often those are out of town buyers that are not here that don't have property maintenance people here in town, we need to make sure that those folks are holding are being held accountable to the same standard that everybody else is, unless you use the use the acronym read. Let's let's clear that up. So we can probably do a whole entire show on it. But if you could, for today, what I'll say is it's a real estate investment trust, that's what a read is they are big companies that own single family homes and maintain them as rental property. And these folks have spent a lot of money in Hamilton County, a lot of the stuff that was foreclosed on in the 2008. And nine recession has now been bought by Reid's real estate investment trusts who are maintaining hundreds of single family homes in the county as rentals. And so as we start to wrap up our time together today, and before I turn it over to Emily, because I really want to hear about some of the specific things that Hamilton County is doing to promote affordable housing. One last topic, I know the housing, our future study was broken down into several recommendations, and one of those recommendations dealt specifically with the issue of money and financing. Now, again, we could do multiple shows on just the issue of affordable housing finance. So without going into excruciating detail, what would be important for the average listener to take away in terms of the importance of money and financing, to affordable housing to the affordable housing conversation in the county. So, you know, I'm not going to sugarcoat this this is housing is an expensive endeavor, there's just no way around it right? It's it's typically a homeowner, it's your it's your largest asset, it's your tool for wealth creation, it's where most of your investment is is place. So of course it makes sense then that we cannot solve this really significant challenge and gap that we have in our community without putting significant resources towards that. Now, that is also not to say that all of those resources have to come from public sources. You know, I think that that government and public sector has an obligation to be sort of the first investors in to show that this is important right to show that we care, we want to we know this is going to benefit our economy by making this investment in housing. But there are lots of private and other you know, types of resources that could come in alongside. It does require you know, if just to give a quick simple example, if you can charge if you're if your tenant is paying $300 a month cash and rent and then you're receiving you know, perhaps they're they're getting an income based section eight voucher, they have to, you have to pay your mortgage, you have to pay for the upkeep of the property, if you're the property are used to pay the taxes, all these things, typically the rent you're taking in is not enough to cover the cost of maintaining owning the facility. So that's where we need some support some tools and patient money that's often comes in the form of permanent subsidies, we would talk about it but money that just sits in the project alongside financing tools that can be more reasonably priced. So they're not paying a huge amount of interest and that are flexible to allow for developers and nonprofits and other partners who want to create particularly their you know, low to moderate income housing. These are tools that we need in our toolkit, so the idea of a trust fund isn't one is one concept the city of Cincinnati has an Affordable Housing Trust Fund with some funds in it that has yet to be mechanized. I know Hamilton County is also looking at this kind of tool as a way to, to be that sort of patient money that sits in housing. Over time, we also really need to look at some other kind of wonky financing tools, but basically just money that can again, be flexible and a little more patient. We also want to help, you know, one of the things that so 2.2 final points for me one, we've talked a lot about, as Liz just touched on sort of the role of investors and companies in our housing market right now and institutional buyers that are purchasing, particularly single family properties and renting them out because it's profitable for them to do that. And it's a way to, you know, to support their operation. And we would like to figure out some interesting tools where, you know, if we see a portfolio of houses going up for sale, that there's a way for us to get those under positive local ownership and control very quickly versus those going out to the market and having get someone from out of town buying those homes, that takes a pretty coordinated effort and a lot of flexible capital to be able to do that. The other point is around how do we support existing homeowners, particularly legacy homeowners, folks that are on a limited income with those really much needed home repairs, you know, so much of our county housing stock has, you know, was built after post World War Two, and it wasn't built the same way as other housing in the center city is some of the stuff from the 1800s that you know, solid as a rock, he's a lot of work, but it's a different quality. So there are needs in our community for homeowners to be able to access low or 0% interest loan products to help be able to make those repairs and stay in their homes. You know, one of the other funding sources, I think that's new, and it's because people are talking about this issue, I'm going to give a shout out to some of our philanthropic partners, Greater Cincinnati foundation is all in on this topic. And they have made some really great investments and continue to do that CDF the same. There are local banks who are paying attention and realize that they need to both change their products and make philanthropic investments at the same time. So I think this conversation has brought lots of new partners to the table, many of whom are putting their money where their mouth is. And I think that's a great and good segue into Emily. Because not five years or so ago, the Hamilton County was a was not really visible in this conversation. It's really just been over the past five years, through our community development office that we have started becoming much more involved in the issue of affordable housing. So Emily, talk a little bit about some of the programs that Hamilton County is doing to help move the needle on this issue. Sure, thanks, Jeff. Um, so the, the biggest way that I'm community development, and Hamilton County is making an impact is through our home dollars. Our home investment partnership is a HUD grant. And since 2016, coupled with some some general fund dollars from last year, we funded over 600 units. And, you know, like you said before, 2016. I don't I don't know that we've funded any, as much less so. So we've really, we really dove right in, we've created a lot of development partners, we've fostered a lot of good relationships that we can keep moving forward to just continue developing new construction. And, you know, we also fund rehab of some housing, affordable housing. So as you mentioned, preservation is very important. So we've, we've been doing some of that as well. So we also have funded a couple of sort of pilot downpayment assistance programs for affordable housing for qualified homeowners. So those have gotten off the ground. And we have a couple of new partners who are interested in as Liz said, they've they've become a part of this conversation and they're and they're looking to partner with us in the future on that. We do a lot of other things housing adjacent. So especially like home improvement repair programs, as Liz mentioned, we do those on the small scale and could definitely do do more in that arena as well. But those, those home dollars in that affordable housing construction is really where we've where we've been making a big difference lately. And I think this past year, if I'm not mistaken, Emily, we saw a huge increase in the cost of construction, which, for a while was actually stagnating, some of these affordable housing projects that were going on in the county. And I think at the time community development and yourself stepped in with a recommendation to use a million dollars of general fund dollars that had been allocated for affordable housing purposes to help get those projects starting again Because absent a boost, they were going to likely lapse, how many? Can you refresh my memory and tell our listeners how many units we wound up funding through that project? Yeah. So this just a few months ago, it's about 110, roughly, units that we funded that were due to, you know, supply chain issues, due to the pandemic other issues, we're not going to be able to fill that gap so that that funding definitely helped all those projects, and those units move forward. So what are the other things that the county is partnering on? That's really important, that's housing adjacent is infrastructure support, Rose Water sewer infrastructure, though, that's what you need to build a house. And the county has been funding those kinds of projects in in ways that are very helpful to local jurisdictions. I'm thinking of Addison, and now they have a site, that's probably a great site for 40 or 50 new units that have great river view, that need a new road and some new water infrastructure before they can move forward. So there are those kind of sites and the county is playing a great role supporting communities in that area as well. I remember you mentioning that particular project and one of our past public meetings, Liz, and I think that now bodes for probably an offline conversation, because it seems like that's the exact type of project that could be done in an area of the county that needs this type of housing in a way that could also be more beneficial as well. So Excellent. Well, Liz, Emily, and Kristin, I just want to thank you so much for this conversation over the past couple of weeks. Again, I think if we've said anything, it's this is an issue that impacts every resident of Hamilton County no matter what. What if no matter what economic classification, you find yourself in no matter what segment of society you find yourself in affordable housing is something that means some might mean a little bit something different to everyone, but we all every every person needs a place that they can call home in a manner that they can afford it. And until you address that most underlying need. It's hard to move forward with other things in the community. So I want to thank the three of you for all of your efforts in this in this area. Thank you for your your work on on this on this issue. And I want to thank all of you listening for listening to what I believe is Episode 11. Right, Bridget, of what Episode 11 part two, part two of heart and hustle in Hamilton County, and just want to remind you to subscribe on Apple podcast, Spotify and other providers. You can also find this podcast on our website, Hamilton County ohio.gov and on the county administrator's page. So on behalf of our guests on behalf of my co host Bridget Doherty. I'm Jeff Alito, we'll see you next time on heart and hustle in Hamilton County.