At least eight residents of an apartment building in Mount Auburn next to a coming city tax-abated hotel developed by former Cincinnati Bengal Chinedum Ndukwe were served three-day eviction notices Feb. 25 and could face homelessness, they told Cincinnati City Council Feb 26.
Council subsequently passed a motion by Cincinnati City Councilmember David Mann that directs the city's administration to work with the development company owned by Ndukwe, Kingsley + Co., in an attempt to help the residents at 2341 Burnet Ave. find new homes.
Some councilmembers expressed concerns about the quick ouster of the residents, especially given the fact that Kingsley's hotel project next door received city tax abatements worth more than $2 million in 2018. Those abatements were put forward by councilmembers Greg Landsman and Tamaya Dennard in October that year.
Mann voted against that abatement on procedural grounds because it did not come from the city's Department of Community and Economic Development.
"When city council granted a tax incentive for this project, it was unknown to council that low income tenants would be displaced as a result," Mann said in a statement on his motion. "It contradicts the values of this council to allow our tax incentives to contribute to displacement in this way, particularly when we are in the middle of an affordable housing crisis."
Mann's motion also seeks to extend relocation benefits available to those displaced by city projects or those receiving direct city assistance to those displaced by projects receiving property tax abatements.
Other council members also sought input from city administration about possible help for residents.
"Let us know what we can do to resolve this issue," Landsman said. "If in fact there isn't an agreement where these people are taken care of, it's going to be hard for me to support additional projects that they're involved in."
Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman said members of the Law and Public Safety Committee would discuss the issue further at that committee's regular meeting March 2. In the meantime, Mann says the city administration is reaching out to the developers.
City Manager Patrick Duhaney sent a letter to Kingsley + Co. Feb. 27 with the motion and an invitation to the March 2 committee meeting.
“The motion (attached) requests that you engage the residents of the property to ensure a responsible transition to alternate housing and avoid leaving any of the impacted residents homeless,” the letter reads. “The city has a general hope and expectation that persons and entities receiving public subsidies or benefits will conduct operations in a manner that mitigates potential adverse impacts on city residents, and work in good faith with city council, city administration and the community impacted by their work.”
CityBeat first reported on the situation the residents have found themselves in last month after they were served notices that they needed to be out of their apartments. Among those living the building are James Crawford, who has been in his apartment for 30 years, and other residents who have resided there for more than a decade. Others say they've escaped homelessness by grace of the building's low rents.
Crawford and several other residents addressed council members during the public comment session today before council's regular meeting.
"Apartments nowadays are expensive," resident Aliah Englemon said. "I would ask Kingsley and Company with some help moving. I've been there 12 years and I've never experienced anything like this. Trying to negotiate with these people is crazy. They don't want to talk to us at all. It's cold outside. They're putting us out on the streets and some of us don't have anywhere to go."
An LLC owned by Ndukwe, Columbus developer Michael Schiff and others purchased the building in December. Another LLC owned by the same group purchased two other buildings over the summer and gave residents in those the legally-required 30 days to vacate.
“We acquired the building in an ongoing effort to improve the available housing in Mt. Auburn,” Ndukwe wrote in a response to initial emailed questions last month. “My personal goal is to help provide safe and secure workforce housing in the building and other properties to combat the severe dearth of adequate, affordable housing in the area. Not one person was displaced in the building, and former tenants were provided the appropriate notice required by law that leases were not being renewed. For those facing challenges, there are non-profits that have capacity to help and are structured with resources for assistance.”
Kingsley reportedly offered a nonprofit undisclosed funds to help residents find places to live. That nonprofit declined, however.
Workforce housing is generally priced for those making 80 to 120 percent of the area median income — about $40,000-$60,000 a year. That's significantly higher than the median income of the Census tract where the Burnet building is located and the current rents charged for apartments in that building, which range between $350 and $500 a month.
Both Ndukwe and Schiff have other projects in various stages in the city, some of which will likely require approvals and abatements from city council. Schiff and Kingsley + Co. have air rights to a property owned by The Port at 435 Elm St. and say they're eying a $100 million tower at the site just south of the Duke Energy Convention Center called Convention Place. Schiff and Kingsley also own several other Cincinnati properties, including the former Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority building at 22 West Central Pky. where they say they're mulling a $22 million mixed-use development.
This story was updated with information about a letter sent by the city manager to Kingsley + Co. Feb. 27.