Morning News: Affordable housing takes center stage at mayoral forum; system glitches sideline streetcars; Canada mulls marijuana legalization

Mayor John Cranley, Councilwoman Yvette Simpson and former University of Cincinnati Board Chair Rob Richardson all had varying proposals for boosting affordable housing in Cincinnati if they were to get the city’s top job.

click to enlarge Cincinnati streetcar - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Cincinnati streetcar

Good morning all. I hope you’re coming to our party tonight. Until then, let’s get some news out of the way, shall we?

Last night, all three mayoral candidates — yes, Mayor John Cranley came after all squared off at a forum hosted by the NAACP and the Prince Hall Masons in Bond Hill. One of the main topics of the debate was the city’s growing affordable housing gap and how each candidate would solve the problem. Cranley, Councilwoman Yvette Simpson and former University of Cincinnati Board Chair Rob Richardson all had varying proposals for that conundrum if they were to get the city’s top job.

Cranley wants to tie tax abatements developers receive to requirements that they build a certain amount of affordable housing. Simpson wants to leverage the city’s capital budget to push private developers toward mixed-income housing across the city in the hopes of desegregating low-income housing. Richardson touts a plan for mandatory inclusionary zoning in which developers would be required to make 20 percent of the housing they build affordable.

Federal guidelines suggest households should pay no more than 30 percent of their income for housing. Cincinnati, like a lot of major cities, has a big gap between the number of housing units available that residents can afford using that guideline and demand for those units — something like 40,000, according to a recent study by the Community Building Institute. What’s more, one in four Greater Cincinnati residents is what is known as “cost burdened,” paying half or more of their income in housing costs. As our news feature this week explores, city leaders shouldn’t expect increased help from the feds when it comes to affordable housing financing, however.

The candidates also squared off on food deserts and the city’s yawning $25 million budget deficit during the debate, which lasted more than two hours. Oh yeah, the streetcar also came up. Bet you didn't see that coming. The next forum featuring Cranley is May 10 on WCPO. Another event, which Cranley will not attend, takes place May 6 at Woodward High School.

• Will a popular Clifton arts center and the city’s school system bury the hatchet and work together? Don’t count on it. Cincinnati Public Schools voted last week to terminate a lease with the Clifton Cultural Art Center at the old Clifton School so it can make the building into a new neighborhood school. But they also scooped up a mansion next door, apparently so they could offer it to the CCAC as a new home. A couple snags — the district seems not to have consulted the CCAC to see if it was interested in moving there, and the mansion is about five times smaller than the school building was occupying. Citing the size issues and renovations the mansion would need, CCAC leadership told CPS "no, thanks” yesterday, saying they’ll find another venue for the center. Does this mean CPS now has a $700,000 mansion on its hands with no one in sight to fill it? Oops.

• Cincinnati streetcars have experienced operating problems causing cars to be out of service and delays in routes for at least 17 days in 2017, according to reports in the Cincinnati Business Courier. Many of those problems stem from systemic flaws in streetcar operating systems, which streetcar operator Transdev recently detailed in a letter to city officials. Transdev says some of those flaws affecting the streetcar’s power supply, heating units and air compressors are “catastrophic” and cause the cars to malfunction, though they aren’t safety concerns. The letter encourages the city and the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority to seek repairs for the problems from Spanish streetcar manufacturer CAF before the cars’ warranties expire in June next year.

• Local public radio stations could see staff and program reductions under a budget proposal from President Donald Trump that would zero out federal funds for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Local station WVXU received about $500,000 of its $6.4 million budget from the CPB last year, and would need to significantly trim its budget if it lost that money. Cincinnati Public Radio’s news department employs a staff of nine, who cover local politics and other issues as well as producing "Cincinnati Edition,” an hour-long talk show covering local issues five days a week.

• Um, well, so this is an embarrassing admission to make, but I’ve always fantasized about living in Carew Tower. Don’t act like you don’t know what I mean. That’d be pretty rad. Anyway, that daydream could be coming ever so slightly closer to reality. The building’s owners earlier this week filed with the Hamilton County Recorder’s office to divide the iconic tower — built in 1931 and resplendent in Art Deco greatness — into smaller units that could be converted into residential space. Right now, the city’s second-tallest building (behind Great American tower, which doesn’t count because of the tiara on top) is all retail and office space. There’s no guarantee the owners will go the condo route — owners of other big downtown buildings with office space have filed similar paperwork but never followed through on residential conversions. But hey, it’s a start. Now all I need is like, however many millions of dollars one of those theoretical condos would cost. Easy.

• Finally, let’s skip to a bit of international news. While we’re lighting up sparklers next Fourth of July, Canadians might be lighting up something else. Canada is on track to make it legal to smoke weed by July of next year as long as you’re older than 21. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau campaigned on a promise to legalize marijuana, and his administration is expected to introduce legislation toward that end this spring. The bill would need to be passed by Canada’s parliament but looks likely to do so.

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