By Bruce Luecke
Recently, I walked the application line of individuals seeking to lease a one- or two-bedroom apartment at our Blacklick Crossing community being built in Reynoldsburg. The doors for screening applicants opened at 9:30 a.m. Some people had stood overnight hoping for a shot at a quality, affordable home.
As I spoke with the applicants – including social services and health care workers, customer service reps, individuals on fixed incomes, and more - a common theme emerged. Their incomes were simply not keeping up with the greater and more rapid increases in their housing costs. Unfortunately, it just broke down to numbers. Thirty apartments. One-hundred-and-twenty-six applicants.
Quality, affordable homes to rent in our community – homes that are not only close to work and schools, but also energy efficient – are becoming harder to find, which explains why there were four times the number of applicants as available apartments at Blacklick Crossing. The ratio does not even include three-hundred other calls of interest.
The story of Blacklick Crossing reinforces the experience we see every day when it comes to affordable housing. We simply cannot build fast enough. And yet, roughly three weeks after Blacklick Crossing’s lease-up, there was a glimmer of hope. CASTO, a long-time developer of both commercial and residential projects, announced a joint venture with Homeport.
Of the 180 apartments that CASTO will build at the back of the Graceland shopping center in historic and vibrant Clintonville, half will be designated for working families. A family of two could earn up to $62,400 a year and qualify for residence.
As we enter the last quarter of 2019, a year in which much was accomplished, we must keep the momentum going. Construction is completing at Blacklick Crossing. Soon-to-be-constructed, mixed income apartments will be built at Graceland.
And, for the first time in over a decade, Homeport received two Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) awards to develop affordable housing. On May 15, the Ohio Housing Finance Agency (OHFA) awarded $565,000 for a 32-apartment senior community in Whitehall, the second phase of our highly popular Hamilton Crossing. OHFA also awarded $899,000 toward financing of 50 affordable apartments and single-family homes in North Linden, a development we are calling Kenlawn Place. Construction on both could begin the middle of 2020.
The federal LIHTC program has been the standard mechanism by which to finance affordable housing development for over 30 years. But, we need many more financing opportunities, considering more than 54,000 local families are spending over 50 percent of their incomes for rent. This year, I am proud to say the community is taking action:
In May, Columbus voters approved a $1 billion bond issue that, for the first time in the City’s history, committed $50 million in funds for affordable housing. The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, the City of Columbus, Franklin County and additional regional partners have started work on a Regional Housing Strategy.
In June, government and civic leaders, foundations, and a cavalcade of financial institutions came together to announce a $100 million fund for affordable housing that will be managed by the Affordable Housing Trust for Columbus and Franklin County.
In August, the Franklin County Board of County Commissioners has approved a $1 per $1,000 conveyance fee increase that applies to sales of property, which could raise an additional $6.5 million annually for affordable housing.
For 32 years, Homeport has been a leader in building affordable housing in Central Ohio. We take great pride in the communities we develop and maintain and have a laser focus on the residents who call Homeport home. It is a similar winning philosophy of our 2019 Voice & Vision honoree, M/I Homes.
Homeport knows success comes from working effectively with its partners, the public sector, and most importantly, the neighborhoods and residents we serve. But, continually doing business the same way is not enough. Innovation and creative partnerships are critical to meeting the housing needs of the people we serve. The “housing gap” must be closed, and we look forward to working together with our partners to do it.
(Bruce Luecke is President & CEO of Homeport)