City proposing $1.5B bond package on Nov. 8 ballot, including $200M toward housing

A woman navigates the mud May 16 at the Touchstone Field Place apartments, 2565 Lockbourne Rd., after a news conference about affordable housing featuring U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge, Columbus Mayor Andrew  J. Ginther and U.S.  Joyce Beatty, D-Columbus.

The city of Columbus will ask voters to approve a $1.5 billion bond issue on the Nov. 8 ballot, including $200 million toward affordable housing, targeted to benefit households making less than $50,000 a year.

Mayor Andrew J. Ginther has advanced resolutions of necessity to the Columbus City Council. Ginther said in a release that the issues will not increase taxes for Columbus residents.

If approved by voters, the $1.5 billion bond issue would be spent as follows:

·       Health, Safety & Infrastructure                           $300 million

·       Recreation & Parks                                            $200 million

·       Neighborhood Development (Housing)             $200 million

·       Public Service                                                    $250 million

·       Public Utilities                                                    $550 million

The $200 million for housing includes a proposal that would require developers to build more affordable housing if they want tax abatements.

Ginther discussed the housing portion of the bond issue at a news conference Monday at the new Kenlawn Place apartments, 2959 Cleveland Ave., in North Linden. Nonprofit developer Homeport built the 45-unit project.

Ginther said any strategy to deal with the housing crisis in Greater Columbus has to be regional in scope.

"It is truly a pivotal moment," he said. "We simply do not have enough places for people to live."

In a recent interview, Erin Prosser, the city's assistant director of housing strategies, said; "We’ve got a plan in place that’s going to guide all of the city work across department and funding sources, aligning housing needs, accomplishing what we need on housing fronts."

In March, Ginther said the bond package would be at least $150 million.

The city's plan is aimed at supporting renters and low-income homeowners so they can stay in their homes, preventing evictions, while preserving affordable units and reducing the number of people displaced by gentrification.

Prosser said the plan's aim is to try to limit the amount of money residents spend on housing.

"No family pays more than 30% of their income on housing is the goal," she said.

"We have historically enjoyed being an affordable place to live," Prosser said of the Columbus area. But that is quickly changing, as lack of supply and higher mortgage rates have pushed monthly cost to buy a typical Franklin County house by more than 50% in the past year.

Meanwhile, apartment construction in Greater Columbus fell 29% from 6,620 units in 2020 to 4,699 in 2021.

The goal is to double the number of units in the market in the next 15 years.

Housing starts have long lagged population gains in the region. Ginther said that from 2009 to 2019, the regionhas created 2.5 jobs for every housing unit built.

"We're creating jobs. But we're not creating enough housing," Ginther said.

In some Columbus suburbs, that gap is even higher, including 3.25 jobs per housing unit in Dublin and 10 jobs per unit in New Albany.

Prosser said some cities, such as Charlotte and Raleigh, N.C., are doing a better job in keeping up with job and housing growth as they continue to sprawl.

"We need to be strategic as to where housing is built," Prosser said.

Meanwhile, the city of Columbus' population grew by more than 100,000 between 2010 and 2020, with the city's population now at an estimated 906,528, while suburban communities and counties adjacent to Franklin County continue to grow.

"The housing shortage exacerbates racial and economic disparities," Prosser said, and is disproportionately affecting people of color.

Prosser said those shortages particularly hurt households earning $50,000 or less. About 48% of those households in the area spend at least 30% of their income on housing expenses, and 24% spend at least 50% of their income on housing.

In Greater Columbus, the overall rate of homeownership is 53.6%, but the rate of Black home ownership is 33.4%, according to the city.

"We will build equity by encouraging mixed-income neighborhoods," said Columbus City Council member Shayla Favor, who chairs council's housing committee and was at Monday's event.

"The housing crisis is not going away any time soon," Favor said.

In May 2019, Columbus voters approved a $50 million bond package for affordable housing that Ginther said leveraged another $350 million in public and private money to create 1,300 housing units.

"Think what $200 million can do," he said Monday.

Five pieces of legislation connected with the bond package were headed toward City Council on Monday, said Jennifer Fening, spokeswoman for the city's development department.

Prosser said the suburbs need to be part of the affordable housing equation, too, since that will be key to keeping the region competitive.

Ginther will also be recommending changes in the city's tax abatement policies for housing.

In 2018, the city changed its policy to require developers to set aside 10% of the units it developed for residents earning 80% of the area median income and 10% for residents earning 100% of the area median income in order to get an abatement.

Under the proposal, developers could choose two options: setting aside 10% of units for residents making 60% of the area median income and 10% for residents earning 80% of the area median income, or setting aside 30% of the units for residents earning 80% of the area median income.

In 2022, 60% of the area median income is $39,360  for a one-person household and $50,640 for a three-person household, and 80% is $52,500 for a one-person household and $67,500 for a three-person household.

Developers can pay a fee to get out of building affordable units if they want abatements. In many cases, that is now $5,000 a unit, but would be increased to $16,000 a unit, Prosser said.

The city is in the midst of changing its zoning code to encourage housing diversity and density  that would at first target some of the city's poorest neighborhoods. Developers have complained that spot zoning variances or rezonings take time and cost  money. Often, residents push back against projects they don't want in their neighborhoods.

Carol Perkins, who chairs the North Linden Area Commission, said she believes the bond package will pass.

"I think people understand the need," she said. "People need a place to live."


This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Ginther pushes $200 million affordable housing bond package for vote