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New Report Lays Out Affordable Housing Strategy for Region

Brent Warren Brent Warren New Report Lays Out Affordable Housing Strategy for RegionPhoto by Brent Warren.
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There have been plenty of reports and studies in the last several years on the shortage of affordable housing in Central Ohio. And last year, a $100 million housing fund was established and Columbus voters approved a $50 million bond package to address that shortage.

A new effort was unveiled this week which aims to lay out a clear strategy both for the allocation of those types of resources and for making sure that the burden of tackling the challenge doesn’t fall solely on the shoulders of Columbus – that the many suburbs, towns and smaller cities throughout the region also take part.

The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission’s new Regional Housing Strategy identifies five core regional housing issues:

  • Increased competition for homes, driven by increased population growth, a low rate of housing production, and lasting impacts from the Great Recession.
  • Barriers limiting access to homes, including disparities in lending practices, creditworthiness, housing instability, and housing discrimination.
  • Limited supply of homes priced for low-income households, as more homes are built at higher price points, the region loses some of its existing affordable options (including single-family rentals and expiring subsidized housing), and demand for rental assistance continues to outweigh supply.
  • Demand for more homes that serve a wider range of ages, abilities, and household sizes, which is growing as a result of the region’s changing demographics. This includes trends like the increasing racial and ethnic diversity in Central Ohio and the growing number of both older and younger adults in the region.
  • Housing instability among Central Ohioans, as reflected in the region’s rates of cost-burden, evictions, homelessness, and homes in need of repair.

The report also features an “implementers toolkit,” which can be filtered to look specifically at certain housing submarkets, such as late-market suburbs, aging multifamily and emerging demand neighborhoods.

Five action items are singled out as key priorities, including a “green tape” development review process that is meant to streamline the approval process for certain types of housing:

The five priority action items identified in the report.

In the report’s executive summary, several factors are identified as “holding the region back” from addressing its housing shortage, including one that has not traditionally received much attention in Columbus: “Not-In-My-Backyard (NIMBY) attitudes and negative perceptions about housing density and affordability.”

That topic also came up during a virtual event hosted by MORPC to highlight the release of the Regional Housing Strategy.

Michael Wilkos, Senior VP of Community Impact for the United Way of Central Ohio, talked about his neighborhood, Weinland Park, where two separate developments were recently given the green light by the civic association – the projects will add 480 residential units to the area on about four acres of land.

Projects like that are helping to close the gap in the housing supply – and are doing it without contributing to the region’s outward sprawl into farm country – but much more will be needed in order to meet the growing demand.

A focus on building new, high-quality affordable housing (and on preserving existing housing for low-income residents), is also needed, Wilkos stressed.

He cited as examples projects in Weinland Park developed by Community Properties of Ohio, Habitat for Humanity and other organizations that have helped to maintain some affordability in the neighborhood at a time when the price of housing has risen dramatically.

Wilkos suggested that the Weinland Park approach – building and preserving a wide variety of new housing geared toward all different income levels – is a model for the larger region, and that the new housing strategy strengthens that argument.

“For many of us who have come to Columbus from Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown…we see construction and we believe that everyone’s doing well,” Wilkos said. “The Regional Housing Strategy is going to dispel that myth.”

William Murdock, MORPC’s Executive Director, said that the new report represents “the first time such a broad-based, collaborative approach has been taken to address housing affordability.” He added that the onset of the coronavirus pandemic has only added “new urgency” to the project; “housing can be a big part of the platform for expanding equity and inclusion.”

Despite all the new, highly visible apartment buildings under construction, the number of available rental units has been decreasing relative to demand.
The housing shortage extends to owner-occupied housing as well. Both tables are taken from the Regional Housing Strategy’s Existing Conditions Report.

For more information, visit www.morpc.org/rhs/.

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