Letter: Ginther’s State of the City lacks housing solutions

In this letter to the editor, local advocate and former city council candidate Joe Motil shares his thoughts on the mayor's plan to fund affordable housing.
Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther gave the annual State of the City address remotely on March 15, 2021.
Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther gave the annual State of the City address remotely on March 15, 2021. City of Columbus

Mayor Andrew Ginther’s state of the city address painted a rosy picture of Columbus but rather than “opportunity rising” for Columbus residents, too many continue to see their opportunities for success declining. Columbus has an overall poverty rate of 19.54%, with Black residents at 29.69 and our Hispanic neighbors at 28.67%, while white residents are at 12.67%. Good paying jobs continue to be unreachable for too many individuals and families who cannot afford the never-ending escalating housing costs, food on the table and other rising cost of living expenses.

As part of Mayor Ginther’s plan to address our affordable housing crisis, he announced that he will ask voters to approve a $150 million affordable housing bond package this November and he is working to revamp the city’s Tax Abatement Incentive Policy. The policy currently requires that developers who receive a 15-year 100% tax abatements must set aside 10% of new apartment units for 80% AMI ($47,000) and 100% AMI ($58,700). This policy discriminates against Black people whose average income in Columbus is $35,600. I have publicly questioned this discriminatory policy since May of 2020. And in July of 2021 as part of my testimony at the AC Humko CRA City Council Public Hearing I stated, “We cannot tax abate our way out of this housing problem.”

I initially presented the idea of placing a $250 million bond package on the ballot during my 2019 Columbus City Council Race along with more than a half a dozen other solutions since then. One of those solutions is for the city of Columbus to release $60 million of the taxpayers American Recue Plan (ARP) funds towards affordable housing earmarked for those with incomes of 60% AMI and less. The city is currently sitting on $50.3 million with $93.5 million to be released by the federal government this May. The county along with the Columbus Partnership should each match the city’s $60 million which would immediately infuse $180 million towards the construction of at least 6,000 units. The city of Columbus should also enact legislation to create a Rent Control policy and an Empty Homes Excise Tax.

As mayor, I would lobby Intel officials to follow the lead of Amazon who committed $300 million from its Housing Equity Fund to create more than 3,000 new affordable homes near 3 of its other U.S. facilities. The Columbus Partnership should establish its own Affordable Housing Trust fund. The city of Columbus should increase the 8.43% hotel-motel bed tax that is earmarked for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund to 20%. I would also encourage Nationwide Children’s Hospital to spend no less than $75 million, or 2.27% of its $3.3 billion dollar expansion on an affordable housing project earmarked for the hospital’s low wage employees who earn 60% AMI ($35,220) and less. Housing that will allow for their employees to be located within walking distance of work as well as other south-siders who are being pushed out or their homes due to higher rents and home prices. We need to be doing a lot more than just handing out tax abatements to city hall favored luxury real estate developers and placing bond packages on the ballot to tackle our affordable housing crisis.

Opportunities for our children and teens and “amplifying equity” can never be achieved as long as the Mayor continues to defund public education through his disposal of property tax revenue by way of tax abatements to campaign contributing corporate Columbus, luxury real estate developers and longtime established Columbus institutions. 61% of Columbus Public School students are black and or multi racial. Disinvestment of public education to benefit the rich and powerful negates the opportunity to rise.

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