Could Zoning Policy Increase Affordable Housing in the West End?

A proposal by Cincinnati City Council member David Mann asks the city to find ways to provide new incentives for those who include affordable units in their West End developments

click to enlarge Cincinnati's West End - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Cincinnati's West End

With big changes underway in Cincinnati's West End, conversation has grown around preserving and boosting affordable housing in the historically low-income neighborhood. 

A proposal from Cincinnati City Council member David Mann hopes to help with that aim by asking city administration to look into amending the city's zoning policies to incentivize the inclusion of affordable housing units in new construction and rehabs in the West End. 

"We have learned through preliminary data produced by the housing study in the West End that a large percentage of current West End residents are at risk of displacement as a result of rapid redevelopment that is already starting to occur in the neighborhood," Mann says. "New zoning rules to incentivize the preservation and development of affordable housing are a concrete, common sense step we can take to help mitigate displacement of residents who do not want to leave the West End and who have found a community there."

Mann's motion, which will likely go before council committee in the fall, would ask the city to find ways to creatively use zoning and other city development policies to encourage developers to build affordable units. That could mean allowing higher-density developments than usually permitted in the area if the development includes affordable units, tax abatements for developments with affordable units, waivers or reductions for city fees associated with zoning and construction and an easier permitting and approval process for affordable housing developers.

The proposal comes as a new major league soccer stadium takes shape in the neighborhood, driving demand for real estate there. A preliminary version of a housing study released this spring and funded by FC Cincinnati per a community benefits agreement the team signed suggests that roughly 1,200 households — about 34 percent of the neighborhood's population — are at high risk of displacement because they are on fixed incomes or have low incomes and already pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing. Another 300 households are at some risk.

More than 85 percent of the neighborhood's residents are renters, according to Census data, and all of them are at risk of displacement as rents rise, according to the study. In addition, more than 350 homeowners could also face problems as property taxes and code compliance issues stack up.

While the city is studying those possibilities, Mann's motion also asks for an Interim Development Control overlay in the West End. That would require an extra level of scrutiny to all permit applications for changes of use, renovations and new construction. 

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