Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls is asking the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to stop the sale of 748 housing units to a New York company — potentially preventing a repeat of a similar sale back to 2007 that led to dropping property values in the area.
In a press release Tuesday, Qualls argued that locals should be given the opportunity to purchase the project-based Section 8 housing in Walnut Hills, Avondale and Millvale. Currently, HUD is bypassing local communities with plans to sell the housing to a corporation controlled by the Puretz family of Brooklyn, N.Y.
“Cincinnati’s residents are still recovering from the massive disinvestment that was allowed to occur with an eerily similar situation in 2010,” Qualls said in the release, referring to a similar sale that culminated in a huge drop in property values between 2007 and 2010.
In 2007, HUD sold 618 subsidized housing units to NY Group
OH 1 LLC, a company with no previous housing experience in Cincinnati,
according to Qualls’ release. As the 2008 financial crisis and Great
Recession pulled down the global economy, property values dropped all
around the nation, but things went particularly south in NY Group’s
Cincinnati buildings. The owner eventually defaulted on the housing
units, and Fannie Mae foreclosed in 2010.
Property values went from $21.5 million to $7 million between 2007 and 2010, when the units were sold in a sheriff’s sale. In that time period, the buildings blighted, with residents complaining about deteriorating structures, broken lighting, bed bugs, cockroaches and mold. In one case, an apartment’s restroom ceiling reportedly collapsed.
Qualls is focused on preventing more blighted buildings: “Preservation of the housing in good condition is vital to the improvement of our neighborhoods. Our neighborhoods cannot afford to have more blight brought on by an absentee owner. Because these properties are supported by government funding, it is vitally important that HUD get public input from the City of Cincinnati and Avondale, Walnut Hills and Millvale residents and stakeholders about this proposed new transfer of HUD funded properties before making any further decisions.”
Qualls has invited the local HUD field office director to the Feb. 26 Livable Communities Committee meeting to discuss the sale. She has also written to other HUD officials, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman and Rep. Steve Chabot to prevent the sale.
Former Ohio governor Ted Strickland, who rose to the governorship with the help of the National Rifle Association, says gun rights and gun control can co-exist. The claim is in light of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which killed 20 children and six adults. Many have called for stricter gun control in light of the past year’s bouts of gun violence, but Republicans are typically opposed to such proposals. A recent poll from The Washington Post and ABC News found 59 percent of Americans support banning high-capacity ammunition clips, much like the ones used in the Newtown shooting. Another 52 percent back the ban of semi-automatic handguns.
Still, Gov. John Kasich isn’t changing his mind on the Second Amendment. He says he will sign a bill that allows guns in the Ohio Statehouse parking garage. The bill will also change the definition of an unloaded gun, allowing gun owners to carry loaded clips in their vehicles as long as they are in a separate compartment from the gun, and make concealed carry permits from other states easier to validate in Ohio.
Despite denials from city officials, mayoral candidate John Cranley and Councilman Chris Smitherman insist city government is trying to use the transit fund to fund the streetcar. But Mayor Mark Mallory in an op-ed for The Cincinnati Enquirer said it will not happen. Mallory said the dispute dates back to a lawsuit filed by Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA), which runs the Metro bus system. The lawsuit demands transit funds be solely dedicated to SORTA.
Cincinnati’s U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot has vowed to continue trying to kill the streetcar. Even though voters have approved of the streetcar twice, Chabot, who also represents Warren County in district boundaries that were redrawn by Republicans, says he would rather focus federal funding on other projects, like the Brent Spence Bridge.
A conservative northern Kentucky lawmaker is supporting a bill that expands prisoners’ rights to DNA testing. The bill would allow a Cincinnati man to push for DNA testing that he claims will exonerate him of a 1987 rape and murder in Newport. Ky. Sen. John Schickel argued, “If DNA testing is good enough to send you to prison it should be good enough to get you out of prison.”
Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bank bought another $100 million in stock from Credit Suisse International. The deal is part of a larger program to buy back 100 million shares.
Cincinnati State is in line to obtain $123,000 from the state government. The funding could create 51 new or expanded co-op jobs.
The United Way of Greater Cincinnati announced $50.7 million in investments for 2013, a slight increase from 2012. The increase will help boost funding to prepare children for kindergarten by 5 percent. It will also fund 288 programs at 146 agencies, with seven becoming new United Way agency partners.
The Prince Hall Shriners, which describes itself as “the world’s oldest African-American fraternal organization,” is returning to Cincinnati in 2015. The convention was in Cincinnati in 2011.
Duke Energy’s local management is being shaken up. Jim Henning will take over as president for Duke Energy Ohio and Kentucky.
Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor Jim Petro is retiring.
Did you know our solar system is sort of like a phoenix? It apparently rose from the cumulative ashes of countless stars, not one supernova.
The company that would operate Cincinnati’s parking meters
if the city passes its controversial parking plan this week was mired with audited problems and
complaints in the past. The issues surfaced years before Affiliated
Computer Services (ACS) was bought by Xerox in 2010, and Xerox now denies any wrongdoing.
A 2007 audit found ACS had failed to take care and keep track of parking meters it operated in Washington, D.C. The audit claimed 35 percent of parking meters listed in ACS’s inventory were missing, about 16 percent of the remaining meters were completely inoperative and 65 percent had problems that ranged from defacing to improper height and stability. ACS also failed to fix meters within the 72-hour period mandated by its contract, according to the audit.
For some residents, the broken meters led to unfair
tickets, with 6,888 tickets, or nearly 1 percent of parking meter
tickets, being improperly issued at unfixed meters, according to the audit. The audit also found a 903-percent increase in overall parking meter complaints under the privatization contract with ACS.
The audit also questioned the financial gains for Washington, D.C., which had to pay $8.8 million, or 33.4
percent, more under privatization than projected trends under public
The bad audit wasn’t enough for Washington,
D.C., to cut its contract with ACS, which still manages the city’s
parking meters today.
The audit was among a few other problems tipped to multiple media outlets by Tabitha Woodruff, an advocate at Ohio Public Interest Research Group. In 2007, ACS was accused of bribing police officers in Edmonton, Canada, but a judge ruled in favor of ACS, stating there wasn’t sufficient evidence. In 2010, the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) charged ACS with backdating and falsely disclosing stock options between 1996 and 2005, and ACS consented to a permanent injunction without admitting or denying the charges.
All the discovered problems occurred before 2010, when Xerox bought ACS.
Kevin Lightfoot, a spokesperson at Xerox, says the audit’s findings were based on “faulty information.” He says Xerox and the District of Columbia Department of Transportation found ACS had saved Washington, D.C., money. He also claims the auditor had misunderstood the parking meters’ screen displays, which he says led to the improper identification of inoperative or malfunctioning meters.
CityBeat previously covered the parking proposal, which would lease the city’s parking assets to fund deficit reduction and economic development, in detail. Mayor Mark Mallory and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls have endorsed the plan, and it’s currently expected to have the five votes necessary to pass a possible City Council vote today.
On Friday, Councilman Chris Seelbach revealed Plan S, an alternative proposal that would not lease the city’s parking assets and would instead use $7.5 million in casino revenue, cut $5 million based on the results of the city's priority-driven budgeting and allow voters to choose between a $10-per-month trash fee or a 2-percent increase in the city's admissions tax.
City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. also put forward
his “Plan B,” which would lay off 344 employees, eliminate Human
Services Funding and close pools and recreation centers, among other
changes. In response, mayoral candidate John Cranley proposed his own
plan, which would use casino revenue, parking meter revenue and cuts to
“non-essential programs” to tame the deficit.
Plan B, Plan S and Cranley’s plan all fix the structural deficit in the city’s budget, while the parking plan only fixes the deficit for two years.
A new report from left-leaning Policy Matters Ohio shows the impact of state budget cuts on individual counties. Statewide, more than $1 billion in tax reimbursements and the Local Government Fund was cut between the 2010-2011 budget, which was passed by Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, and the 2012-2013 budget, which was passed by Republican Gov. John Kasich. Additionally, Ohio’s estate tax — a tax that affected only 8 percent of Ohioans, largely those at top income levels — was eliminated, killing off a crucial source of funding. Hamilton County, its jurisdiction, schools, services and levies lost $222.1 million. Health and human services lost $23.2 million. Children’s services lost $4.6 million, and the county children’s agency services “was sent into financial crisis.” In total, more than 5,000 local government jobs were lost in the area.
The Center for Closing the Health Gap is launching a campaign to raise awareness about food deserts in Cincinnati. Food deserts are areas, particularly neighborhoods, where full-service grocery stores aren’t readily available to residents. The campaign hopes to raise awareness and funding to combat the food deserts in the Cincinnati area. With a funding target of $15 million, the organization plans to help build smaller stores with close ties to the local communities.
A new study from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital resurfaced Greater Cincinnati’s nuclear weapons legacy. Between the 1950s and 1980s, residents of nearby farm communities were unaware they were being exposed to radioactive materials in the air, water and soil from a Cold War era nuclear weapons plant, located 18 miles northwest of Cincinnati. Apparently, the exposure has led to higher rates of systemic lupus in the area.
Greater Cincinnati’s economic recovery could be slowed or boosted by policy, but it will outpace the nation’s economic recovery, according to local economists. Still, the economists caution that there is a lot of uncertainty due to oil prices, the fiscal cliff — a series of tax hikes and budget cuts scheduled to be made at the start of 2013 if U.S. Congress doesn’t act — and the fiscal crisis in Europe.
Cincinnati’s small businesses are more upbeat about the economy. Eleven percent of local family firms expect the economy to improve, but whether that translates to business expansions remains to be seen.
CityLink Center is scheduled to open today. The initial plans for the facility sought to help the homeless with health services, overnight shelter, food, temporary housing and child care. At one point, the center’s opening was threatened due to legal challenges regarding zoning.
Hostess, maker of Twinkies, says it will close down three bakeries, including one in Cincinnati, due to a national strike. According to reports, union workers walked off the job after a new contract cut their wages and benefits. Hostess insists the factory shutdowns will not affect customers.
Top Cincinnati mortgage lenders saw double-digit increases between Sept. 1, 2011 and Aug. 30, 2012. The rise is yet another positive sign for the housing market, which collapsed during the latest financial crisis and recession.
The state agency in charge of higher education released a report highlighting 20 recommendations to improve degree completion in Ohio. Some of the recommendations from the Board of Regents: Adopt more uniform statewide rules regarding college completion and career readiness, push stronger collaboration and alignment in education from preschool through senior year in college, establish a new system of high school assessment to improve readiness for college, and improve flexibility. The board will attempt to turn the report into reality in cooperation with university and state officials.
Too much school choice may be a bad thing. A new study found Ohio’s varied education system, which offers vouchers for private schools and charter schools as alternatives to a traditional public school, may have passed “a point where choice actually becomes detrimental to overall academic performance.”
The Ohio Farm Bureau (OFB) issued an action alert on Saturday telling members to oppose privatizing the Ohio Turnpike. The Ohio state government, led by Kasich, is currently studying possible plans to privatize the turnpike. In a video, an OFB member argues the current turnpike management is fine.
There are still some undecided seats in the Ohio legislature from the Nov. 6 election.
Once again, a reminder not to drive on a sidewalk to avoid a school bus.
Former George W. Bush adviser Karen Hughes says she will “cut out” the tongue of Republican men making “Neanderthal comments” about rape.
A new way to fight bacteria: coat it with a thin layer of mucus.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics today released a disappointing job report. Unemployment fell to 8.1 percent in August, and 96,000 jobs were added nationwide. But economists were expecting about 150,000 jobs, and the unemployment rate fell largely due to people giving up on the job hunt, which means they are no longer counted in the labor pool.
One of the reasons for disappointment is the drop in public jobs. People are quick to look at the private sector when these kind of numbers come up, but the public sector employs people, too. And the public sector lost 10,000 jobs at state and local levels, according to today’s jobs report.
That follows the trend of the past few years. The public sector has been doing poorly since the Great Recession started, according to this chart from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:
The chart shows state and local payrolls since the beginning of the recession. It proves quite clearly that governments have been making cuts to public jobs.
Ohio has not avoided government job cuts. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services reported July’s unemployment rate at 7.2 percent, which was unchanged from June’s unemployment rate. The biggest loss in jobs for the month came from government, which lost 5,300 jobs statewide. In comparison to July 2011, July 2012 had 4,400 fewer government jobs.
Instinctively, it makes some sense. As the recession kicks in and families and businesses are forced to budget for lower expectations, it might seem natural to expect the government to do the same.
However, many economists argue it should be the opposite. They say the government should be used to balance out the private sector. In other words, when the private sector is performing poorly — recession — the government should step in to make up for the drop. When the private sector is performing well — boom — the government can relax and run budget surpluses.
Paul Krugman, a Nobel-winning economist, has advocated for this approach time and time again. In his New York Times column and blog, Krugman has pushed for more stimulus efforts from the federal government, and he called for a much larger stimulus package than the $787 billion package President Barack Obama signed into law in 2009.
The data seems to support economists calling for more action. Last month, the Brookings Institute conducted a study that found June’s national unemployment rate would be at 7.1 percent if governments hadn’t made cuts.
What this means is if governments truly want to fix the economic crisis, they might want to kick the debt can down the road. But considering many cities and states have constitutional amendments requiring balanced budgets, that might be hard to pull off.
The Cincinnati Enquirer reports the Cincinnati streetcar is being delayed until 2016. The streetcar has been delayed time and time again, much to the cheer of opponents. Some opponents have taken the delay as yet another chance to take shots at the streetcar, but the city says a lot of the delays have been due to factors out of the city’s control, including ballot initiatives, the state pulling out a massive $52 million in funding and a dispute with Duke Energy.The U.S. unemployment rate remained at 7.8 percent in December, with November’s rate being revised upward to 7.8 percent as well. Employers reported adding about 155,000 jobs last month, but about 192,000 entered the labor force, meaning the amount of people joining the labor force outmatched the newly employed. The unemployment rate looks at the amount of unemployed people in the civilian labor force, which includes anyone working or looking for work.
U.S. Speaker John Boehner was re-elected U.S. House speaker. Just moments after securing the top House seat, Boehner said he will make the U.S. debt a top priority. But continuing to make the debt and deficit top issues could hurt the economy, as the fiscal cliff and recent developments in Europe have shown.
Uncle Sam is helping out Cincinnati firefighters. The Cincinnati Fire Department will be getting $6 million in federal grant money to hire 40 additional firefighters. The money will be enough to fund salaries for two years.
Cincinnati’s biggest cable provider dropped Current TV after it was sold to Qatar-based Al Jazeera. The Pan-Arab news network has had a difficult time establishing a foothold in American markets, largely because of the perception that it’s anti-American. But Al Jazeera has put out some great news stories, and some of the stories won awards in 2012.
If anyone is planning a trip through New York City’s LaGuardia Airport, Dayton International Airport now has that covered.
A small town in Ohio is being accused of covering up an alleged gang rape to protect a local football team. But KnightSec, a hacking group affiliated with the organization Anonymous, is fighting back by releasing evidence related to the case.
Despite a solved fiscal cliff deal extending emergency unemployment benefits, Ohio’s unemployed will soon be getting less aid. The decrease was automatically triggered by the state’s declining unemployment rate.
Ohio’s universities are adopting more uniform standards for remedial classes.
The newest Congress is a little more diverse.
In what might be the worst news of the century, the Blue Wisp Jazz Club could close down. The club, which has the greatest spinach-and-artichoke dip in the universe, is facing financial problems.
People who recently obtained gift cards for Rave Motion Pictures may want to get a move on. The theater is being sold to AMC Theatres.
A new theory suggest Earth should have been a snowball in its early days, but it wasn’t due to greenhouse gases.
Occupy Wall Street may have been onto something. A new report from left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) found Ohio’s income gap — the income difference between the rich and poor — is wide and growing.
Since the 1970s, the poorest 20 percent saw no change in real
income, the middle 20 percent gained 21.1 percent, the top 20 percent
gained 50.6 percent and the top 5 percent gained 85.1 percent.
In terms of real dollars, low-income and middle-income Ohioans have actually seen their income drop since the 1990s. The drop caused a “lost decade” for Ohio’s lower and middle classes, according to the report. The bottom 20 percent saw a 6.9 percent drop in real income from the late 1990s to the mid-2000s, while the middle 20 percent saw a 2.9 percent drop. Real incomes for the top 20 percent and top 5 percent remained the same.
The shifts have caused a startling difference in real income, which the report calculated by looking at real dollars after federal taxes and including the value of the Earned Income Tax Credit, housing subsidies and food stamps. The poorest 20 percent make on average about $20,500, and the middle 20 percent make on average about $58,100. Meanwhile, the top 5 percent make about $221,800 — 10.8 times as much as the bottom 20 percent and 3.8 times as much as the middle 20 percent.
Real dollars are a measurement used to gauge the value of money and income after inflation. If a family sees its income in real dollars drop, it means income increases, if they exist, are not keeping up with inflation.
The widening income gap is part of a nationwide trend. In comparison to other states, Ohio mostly did better than the national average. Ohio was not included in any of the six top 10 ranks for inequality, which ranked states for rises in inequality during different time periods. During the late 2000s, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Georgia and New York had the greatest gaps between the wealthiest and poorest. In the same time period, New Mexico, California, Georgia, Mississippi and Arizona had the biggest gaps between the wealthiest and middle.
Part of the cause for the widening gap is the recent recession, but the CBPP report found that the wealthiest have seen their incomes rise again in the recession’s aftermath, while middle and lower incomes have not. The report also blamed government policies — deregulation, trade liberalization, the weakening safety net, the lack of effective laws regarding collective bargaining and the declining real value of the minimum wage — and the expansion of investment incomes, which the CBPP says “primarily accrue to those at the top of the income structure.”
The report finished with some suggestions for states: raise minimum wage and index it for inflation, improve unemployment insurance systems, make state tax systems more progressive and strengthen safety nets.
Policy Matters Ohio, which pointed to the findings in a statement, says the report warrants action. “Poor and middle-income families are seeing their income fall in real dollars and relative to higher earners,” said Amy Hanauer, executive director of Policy Matters Ohio, in the statement. “When households already subsisting on less than $23,000 a year see their incomes drop, that means hunger, instability, poor school performance and worse. Ohio needs to do more to improve the lives of families in this state.”
It’s official: Gov. John Kasich won’t privatize
the Ohio Turnpike. Instead, the Republican governor wants to increase
tolls at the rate of inflation and issue bonds backed by the turnpike’s
profits to raise an estimated $3 billion for infrastructure projects — more than 90 percent of which will be in northern Ohio, where the turnpike is located. To
ease the short-term burden of the plan, tolls for local passenger trips
using E-ZPasses will be frozen at current levels for 10 years. In a video
unveiling the announcement, Kasich says the projects could generate an
estimated 75,000 jobs. To most, the plan, which will require approval
from the legislature, probably seems like a fairly liberal proposal: use
a public asset to leverage revenue, then use the revenue on a large,
statewide stimulus program. But Democrats are criticizing the plan
because they say the toll hike will hurt individuals, families and businesses
that use the Ohio Turnpike. Let the eye-rolling at blatant politicking begin!
City Council is getting ready to approve the budget today. The final plan has made a few tweaks to City Manager Milton Dohoney’s proposal. Parking privatization will remain, but the budget will provide a one-year stopgap in funding for Media Bridges. Previously, all of Media Bridges’ funding was being cut, which CityBeat wrote about here. The plan will also keep the mounted patrol unit, maintain income tax reciprocity and restore funding for human services and arts grants.
Will Cincinnati-based Kroger soon own Twinkies? It’s possible. The grocery store giant is considering buying Hostess brands in the aftermath of Hostess’ bankruptcy. CityBeat previously wrote about the Hostess bankruptcy here.
A study found a gap in Hamilton County’s housing stock. The report suggests the county doesn’t need any more housing than it already has; instead, it should build on current properties. The report also found vacant housing that isn’t for sale and serves no purpose has increased by 107 percent.
The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport has unveiled a new master plan. It’s proposing $450 million in projects.
The Hamilton County recorder’s office will remain open on Fridays. The office was previously planning to close every Friday due to funding cuts, but restored funds have made staying open possible.
In its last session of the year, the Ohio Senate approved redistricting reform 32-1. The House could not take up the measure before the end of the lame-duck session, but the vast bipartisan support could be a good sign for next year’s legislative session. Redistricting is widely used by politicians to redraw district boundaries in politically beneficial ways. The First Congressional District, which includes Cincinnati, was redrawn during the Republican-controlled process to include Republican-leaning Warren County, effectively diluting Cincinnati’s Democratic-leaning urban vote in the district.
Ohio lost more residents than it gained last year, but the trend might be reversed by a growing economy. Economic improvements have already slowed down what Dayton Daily News calls an “exodus.”
A new Ohio law would increase the amount of auto insurance motorists are required to carry.
A drop in gas prices lowered U.S. consumer prices by 0.3 percent.
NASA discovered the largest river ever seen on another world. The river is on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, and it is made up of hydrocarbons. The river is still unnamed, so I encourage everyone to email NASA to name the river the German Lopez River here.
Climate change isn’t just bad for humans. It will also hurt cuddly land mammals.