By Bruce Luecke
Our community’s much-touted, roll-up-the-sleeves model of the public and private sectors working together has an endearing nickname: “The Columbus Way.” And, fortunately, it is gaining traction in an arena critical to our future: housing.
Twelve Central Ohio organizations, including Homeport, three years ago formed the Affordable Housing Alliance of Central Ohio (AHACO) to advocate solutions for quantified needs. Research conducted by the Alliance highlighted community warning signs: 54,000 households living in poverty pay at least half their income on housing, rents are growing at twice the pace of incomes and the poverty population in Franklin County has grown at more than three times the rate of population growth. Adding to those issue is that only one of the top ten occupations in the region pay workers enough to afford housing.
Today, AHACO and its members are working closely with community leaders – both public and private organizations -- on a set of recommendations to mitigate these issues. And, since Columbus is expected to continue its population growth, now – rather than later – is the time to find solutions.
Not that our friends did not support us previously, but there has become a more robust belief in what Boston physician and researcher Dr. Megan Sandel said in a speech in Columbus in 2015: “Affordable housing serves as the first vaccine in a series to ensuring healthy people and communities.”
Recently, I was encouraged to see this solution solving approach extending to Congress, where hyper-partisanship can be exasperating.
In the run-up to the vote on a $1.3 trillion, Fiscal Year 2018 omnibus spending bill, I had the opportunity to travel to Washington to support the continued funding of the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation, better known as NeighborWorks America -- a critical funder of Homeport. NeighborWorks helps bridge the gap in the funding we need for housing development, and also provides quality training, education and oversight for its affiliated organizations, like ours, on the frontline of the affordable housing crisis. NeighborWorks organizations like Homeport generate $59 in impact for each $1 in funding received.
The President’s budget called for cutting the NeighborWorks funding to $27 million, down from $140 million, with the idea of eliminating funding altogether in FY 2019.
Before the spending bill vote, I had the opportunity to meet with our U.S. Representatives from Central Ohio, Steve Stivers, Republican, and Joyce Beatty, Democrat. Here is the best part. We met together, at their suggestion. We had a bipartisan meeting. It turned out both opposed cutting the funding and they were interested in hearing what more can be done in Central Ohio.
Not that Representatives Stivers and Beatty don’t have different opinions and thoughts, but they are working together for Central Ohio. (In fact, they have started a Civility Caucus in Congress, with the idea if you can’t agree, be civil in disagreeing.)
On March 22, the Republican controlled House voted 256-167 for the bill that funds NeighborWorks at its current $140 million level. Senate passage followed as did the President’s signature.
Meanwhile, back in Columbus, the Mayor and Columbus City Council have crafted a new tax incentive policy proposal to support affordable, mixed-use housing development and create a new wage standard for business developments.
“Based on research and input from the community, we have put together new policies that will benefit neighborhoods and residents by spurring development of affordable housing and living wages -- real and long-lasting changes for the people of Columbus,” Mayor Andrew J. Ginther said in a news release.
If it happens, perhaps this summer, it will be another example of how “The Columbus Way” works – in this instance bringing needed stability to our neighborhoods and the residents who make them strong and vibrant.
Bruce Luecke is President & CEO of Homeport.