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Program Takes New Approach to Providing Affordable Housing

Brent Warren Brent Warren Program Takes New Approach to Providing Affordable HousingAffordable housing in Weinland Park, renovated by Homeport in 2016. Photo by Brent Warren.
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A group of local academics and affordable housing advocates are working on a unique response to the issue of economic segregation in the region. The plan is to help 100 low-income families move to “high opportunity” neighborhoods, providing rental assistance, coaching, access to educational resources, and other types of support to the families for three years.

The group is currently working to secure additional funding for the effort, which they are calling Move to Prosper. If it’s a success, they hope to eventually expand the idea and develop a model for affordable housing policy that can be replicated nationally.

Amy Klaben, the former Executive Director of Homeport, has signed on as Project Facilitator.

“As a community, we need to make sure that opportunity is available,” said Klaben, citing a 2015 study, first covered in the Washington Post, that found the Columbus region to be the second-most economically segregated in the country.

“It is not so much the size of the gap between the rich and poor that drives segregation,” the authors of the study wrote, “as the ability of the super-wealthy to isolate and wall themselves off from the less well-to-do.”

The Move to Prosper program hopes to change that.

“This would provide choice,” said Klaben. “Research shows that health and school performance improve when families have the stability of living in high opportunity neighborhoods, and we’ll measure that and use it to inform policy.”

The instability of life in low-income neighborhoods is one of the biggest issues facing families, she said, and that instability has only increased as the price of rental housing has gone up. Among low-income renters in Franklin County, about 64 percent pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. That translates to nearly 90,000 households in Franklin County. Another 47,000 households pay over 50 percent of their income on housing.

“We put all the pressure on the teachers,” said Klaben, “but kids are moving all the time, and all those moves aren’t helpful in building a stable asset base.”

Participation in Move to Prosper will be limited to single-parent households with young children. They will have to meet income requirements to qualify for the program initially, but future income gains wouldn’t mean a loss of either the subsidy or the support network.

Klaben stressed that the program is meant to complement, not replace, other efforts to address issues of concentrated poverty in the area, such as those of the Affordable Housing Alliance of Central Ohio, or the ongoing work of city and neighborhood leaders to attract investment in and make improvements to struggling urban neighborhoods.

“It’s important we continue to do place-based initiatives so that our central city neighborhoods have good schools, grocery stores, and jobs,” she said, “but until that happens, families want choice.”

As for finding landlords interested in participating in the program, so far that has been the easy part.

“They want to provide a hand up to people, and they see this model of rental support plus coaching as a means to help families,” said Klaben, adding that Casto Communities and Kelley Companies are two apartment owners that have signed on to program so far.

Although well-off suburbs in the region have traditionally put up roadblocks to affordable housing within their borders – either through zoning that limits the amount of multi-family housing, or through citizen opposition to new, denser development – Klaben thinks that these communities have much to gain from the addition of a more diverse residential population.

“Our future is one where we need an inclusive community,” she said. “If children are not brought up surrounded by diversity…if you only go home to people just like you, you will not learn how to be a part of a workplace – and a world – that is made up of all kinds of people.”

For more information on the Move to Prosper program, see www.movetoprosper.org.

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