What, if anything, should local government do to increase the availability of affordable housing? CityBeat posed the question to three young political leaders.
Charles Tassell, President of Blue Chip Young Republicans
The term "affordable housing" is a marketing slogan. It's a mantra for those who believe housing is a "right" for everyone, regardless of his work ethic.
While the Chamber of Commerce might trumpet "affordable" housing, the term really has three meanings: (1) A short-term decent place to live while getting back on your feet (subsidized); (2) Long-term housing for the truly "dependent," who cannot take care of themselves (subsidized). (3) Everyone else, who will need a good realtor (non-subsidized). Those who can work but refuse — good luck finding a nice box.
Inexpensive housing for the poor historically meant dwellings that were lower quality, substandard or demographically distraught (i.e., outside the city, cramped quarters, an ethnic neighborhood, etc.). When the federal government got into the business of housing the poor as a function of an ever-expanding welfare state, however, they forgot that anything subsidized grows out of control.
The over-saturation of subsidized housing is a cancer eating away at the core of our communities.
Harsh, yes, but the truth is subsidized housing for the poor has become a multi-trillion dollar game of high-stakes dependency.
Low-income housing advocates and the Clinton administration resisted incentive-based approaches the Republican Congress passed years ago to improve welfare programs. Federal housing subsidies continue to grow as an addictive and destructive opiate for the working poor. Why worry about getting off a welfare program that provides a roof over your head, evicts only drug abusers and provides vouchers for moving around the country, while tearing up property with only limited liability?
The real harm to the poor is that current programs rob them of their dreams and delude them into believing the American Dream is somehow not for them. Those who don't believe they'll succeed or ever own property lose respect for property rights and eventually people's rights. The effects of the loss are being felt throughout our subsidized cities coast to coast.
David N. Schaff, President of Hamilton County Young Democrats
When addressing housing, I believe we must first look at all of the attributes that contribute to a sustainable and healthy community. First, we must build a regional transportation system. We must also manage growth, emphasizing the reinvestment in our bedrock urban communities, which includes neighborhood business districts, green space and quality education. These community amenities must be addressed in the context of housing, because they're quality of life issues that often influence where people choose to live.
Housing subsidies must be designed to meet the needs of individuals from all economic backgrounds. More programs must be developed to assist lower income families, but also middle-class families. For example, many property owners in the urban areas of Hamilton County are faced with a decision: Do I renovate my older home and stay where I am, or take the easier route and move to Warren County where there are "ready-made" new homes and communities with these amenities ?
As we've seen, many have chosen the latter, which leads me to the "doughnut theory" that pertains to Hamilton County.
I like to refer to the county as the "hole in the doughnut" because, as the population in the surrounding counties swells, the urban core disappears. This is a direct result of the lack of community amenities that support better housing. Individuals and communities must be empowered with the tools to strengthen investments and increase the appeal of urban living.
When we lose population, our tax base shrinks and the community amenities that attract housing decline or fail to become more than just a plan. If we don't try to continue developing and implementing measures to improve community amenities, our quality of life will deteriorate and the hole in the doughnut will get bigger.
Wes Flinn, Green Party Candidate for City Council
As Cincinnati goes, so goes the region. If we're to keep the region from becoming a doughnut with the hole being Cincinnati, the city must become more livable. To do this, the city needs to build on its unique qualities within the region as well as find a way to provide affordable housing for all.
Recent proposals to "spread the poverty around" don't address the underlying need for low-income housing; they instead take the issue off the table. If we wanted to create economic diversity by trying to move the wealthy out of a neighborhood to make room for people of lower economic status, the outcry would be deafening. How could the opposite be considered acceptable?
Historically, when market-rate housing appears, low-income housing disappears. I'm not opposed to private citizens rehabbing older housing for their own use or to sell or rent — after all, a person should be able to live in the place of his/her choosing. But the city shouldn't give economic incentives to encourage gentrification. Market-rate housing will pay for itself without help.
Instead, the city should grant economic incentives toward those who will build and maintain low-income housing for residents who would be encouraged to form cooperatives and purchase/lease the building. The goals would be to develop a sense of ownership and to guarantee the continuation of low-income housing. Lower floors of the co-op properties could be rented as storefronts, providing goods, services and jobs for neighborhood residents. Vacant lots, instead of becoming parking, could be converted into small parks to provide places for families and children to relax and play and foster a sense of belonging.
When people feel a sense of pride and ownership in their neighborhood, they take a more active part in civic life. Healthy neighborhoods are good for the city, for community and for business.
Each month, CityBeat poses a question to young leaders in the local Democrat and Republican parties as well as a selected third party or independent activist.