Cincinnati Announces New Equitable Housing Policy Reforms

The city will make it easier for smaller, more diverse developers to gain access to local and state incentives.

click to enlarge Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval in November 2021. - PHOTO: ALLISON BABKA
Photo: Allison Babka
Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval in November 2021.

The City of Cincinnati is looking to implement something that was at the heart of Mayor Aftab Pureval's campaign promises — equity in housing.

During a briefing on Tuesday, Pureval announced that the city is putting together a package of reforms this week that aim to increase housing options and affordability, particularly for residents in Cincinnati neighborhoods that traditionally have been left out of the city's development and progress.

Pureval said that he will introduce a motion to Cincinnati City Council to conduct a comprehensive housing incentive and zoning review. The motion also would engage residents and remove housing barriers, Pureval said. The review and legislation that follows will guide Cincinnati's future growth and boost mixed-income affordable housing instead of concentrating incentives in neighborhoods that already are wealthy, he added.

Pureval said the council will vote next week on the motion.

The mayor also said that the city will do more to hold out-of-town landlords accountable. New staff will be added to the city's legal department to prosecute landlords who "refuse to improve the safety and quality of properties," Pureval said on Jan. 18. The hiring process already is under way, he said.

Pureval said that Reggie Harris, council member and chair of the equitable growth and housing committee, is working to update zoning laws that currently deem certain multi-family units illegal. Harris also is looking to fund homeless prevention programs.

"We've had sort of a piecemeal approach because working in affordable housing development in a city that's growing at the rate that Cincinnati is growing is difficult, but we are going to get there," Harris said.

"And we cannot lose sight of equity. It's very closely tied to thinking about our abatement policies," he continued. "We are here to cut the red tape and to make sure that incentives are available and accessible to affordable housing developers to do business in Cincinnati."

Harris said that his team is working with the mayor's administration to streamline the process for developers who apply for low-income housing tax credits. Right now, developers must have a letter of support from the city to submit with an application to the state. If approved, they then return to the city to ask for a tax abatement to make the project affordable and confer with the state again.

Through Harris's revised process, those steps are combined and sped up. Harris says that now when the city provides the letter of support, it will also have vetted a project and granted a provisional abatement, which strengthens a developer's application. When Ohio approves a project and grants tax credits, Harris said, the project can immediately begin.

The new process increases the likelihood of state support, Harris said.

"That might sound like a tedious policy decision, but it's one of the most critical steps we can take to expedite creating affordable housing development in Cincinnati and incentivizing developers to do that because of the city's support," Harris said. "Low-income housing tax credits are the lifeline for creating new affordable units in the city."

Harris said that a process with fewer barriers will "create the conditions" for affordable housing and allow a more diverse array of developers to apply for and receive incentives.

"When you think about this ecosystem of people who can bring housing, when you have the conditions, when you have streamlined, efficient processes, that allows a lot of people to participate," Harris said. "So when we talk about equity, when we talk about minority business inclusion, we are creating the conditions (in the) city for people to say hey, 'I want to be a part of my neighborhood revitalization,' and they're not bogged down in bureaucracy."

"We can amass all the money that we want in the pot, but if it's hard (for developers) to use that money, then folks say, 'Listen, I don't want to come to Cincinnati because yeah, they have the money in the pot but it takes forever to access it,' and it doesn't really do us any favors'," he added

Pureval said that the newly announced reforms are the first of a number of ways Cincinnati will try to boost equitable housing.

"There is no one answer to our housing challenges, and specifically our affordable housing challenges, which is why what we're announcing today is multi-faceted and a first step toward a comprehensive approach," Pureval said. "What are the barriers artificially keeping our housing supply low? And when you artificially keep your housing supply low, you are artificially increasing property tax amounts and increasing rents."

Watch the press briefing on Facebook or CitiCable.

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