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Rep. Stinziano Talks Homelessness, Transportation and Transformation in Campaign for City Council

Jesse Bethea Jesse Bethea Rep. Stinziano Talks Homelessness, Transportation and Transformation in Campaign for City Council
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Since 2011, Michael Stinziano has served the 18th District in the Ohio House of Representatives. Now he is running for Columbus City Council, hoping to replace Council President Andrew Ginther, who will vacate his seat as he campaigns for mayor. In an interview with Columbus Underground, Stinziano said one reason he wants to transition from state to local government is the opportunity to be part of the city’s future, and that he finds the challenges of Columbus public service “appealing.”

“I think the city, for as well positioned as we are, we know … we’re going to have to figure out how to continue to provide the services, how to target our neighborhoods the way we want to with a dwindling resources from the state,” said Stinziano. “But it’s a city that’s growing, it’s a city full of opportunity, it’s a city that’s a little bit beyond a renaissance, it’s a city that is going to move forward.”

Stinziano said he plans to listen for community feedback to determine which issues will be a priority during his campaign and during his time in office should he be elected, but said one issue he is particularly passionate about is homelessness. Stinziano said Central Ohio’s homelessness problem came to his attention while he worked alongside Rep. Cheryl Grossman to get more state funding for OSU’s Star House shelter for homeless youth.

“I found myself going out and meeting with the Coalition for the Homeless and talking about what a great job I did, and to their credit, they challenged me and said ‘well that’s great, but we need to do more,’” said Stinziano. “And my response was ‘You know, no one’s ever asked me to do more.’”

Stinziano said that since then he’s been looking at successful models for combatting homelessness in other states and cities and has found that “the solution to end homelessness is more affordable housing.” Columbus has affordable housing, he said, but not enough.

Stinziano also acknowledged the misgivings that many neighborhoods and communities have with the notion of affordable housing being constructed in their area, and said the city and developers must take those concerns into account as they attempt to solve the problem.

“You need to have those discussions, you can’t just take for granted and not listen to the frustrations that are out there,” said Stinziano. “We need to be responsible, we need to be strategic, and I think there’s an opportunity to do that with some good affordable housing. We’ve got some great programming going on and some amazing housing options that are being developed, and so making sure that people see that is part of our challenge as well.”

Stinziano also offered some insight on his goals with regard to the city’s public transportation systems.

“The dream is that I could get to work and not have to drive my car and then go up to the Hilltop without my car, go to a meeting and then go out to the East Side and then end my day on the South Side for dinner, all without having to take a car,” said Stinziano. “That’s a lot of biking right now, and COTA can accomplish that but it sometimes is tough to get to all those places.”

Columbus is an outlier compared with similar cities in terms of transportation, said Stinziano, and developing public transportation will help Columbus move forward as a 21st century city. He also stressed that any major public transportation development would have to happen with citizens in mind.

“The growth of just the Downtown area isn’t what the focus on transportation should be, it should be back to the neighborhoods, having people be able to take advantage of that access,” said Stinziano, adding that residents need to feel comfortable with how the project is funded and how quickly it will be finished. He also said residents need to know their concerns aren’t being ignored in favor of a transportation project.

“I know right now to talk about light rail when you have a vacant property next door, that’s a tough discussion,” said Stinziano.

On February 12, Stinziano participated in a community forum at Corinthian Missionary Baptist Church along with nine other City Council candidates. All ten candidates were asked to describe their campaign in one word and Stinziano chose “transformative.”

“We’re a city that’s accomplished a lot, but we want to continue moving forward, and to do that we’re going to have to transform some of our identity,” said Stinziano, elaborating on his choice of descriptor. Stinziano said part of that transformation must involve attracting and retaining young talent.

“With a district that has over 95,000 students in it, I know a lot of them get educated here and then leave and we have to transform the message and the opportunities,” said Stinziano, adding that, “with the passing of [Dana] Buck Rinehart, the work of Mayor [Greg] Lashutka, and now the legacy of Mayor [Michael] Coleman, you’ve seen strong leadership to do that, and I view Council’s role as to support that and continue to push for what that transformation, of what city we want for the future.”

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