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Columbus Prepares To Change How It Gives Out Tax Abatements

Construction at River & Rich in Franklinton.
Nick Evans
Construction at River & Rich in Franklinton.

Columbus leaders baked in the Tuesday morning sun at River And Rich to promote a new tax abatement strategy aimed at increasing Columbus’ stock of affordable housing.

The Franklinton housing development is nearing completion and the builders insist they wouldn’t have been able to break ground without tax incentives.

The Columbus metropolitan area is booming as new residents flood into Central Ohio. City Council member Jaiza Page says at more than 1.2 million people, Franklin County is the most populous in the state.

"However, we have an estimated gap of 54,000 units of affordable housing for low income residents in our county alone," Page says.

To help grow affordable housing stock, city leaders are revamping their tax abatement strategy. Under the plan, Columbus’ 12 community reinvestment areas, or CRAs, will be split into three tiers. Developers' tax breaks in neighborhoods from the highest tier will carry greater requirements for affordable housing.

But for neighborhoods like Franklinton and Linden in the lowest tier, Mayor Andrew Ginther explains any development will be eligible for a 15-year, 100-percent tax abatement.

“We will also require that developers who want to build in market-ready or booming neighborhoods also build a certain amount of affordable housing in order to utilize a tax abatement,” Ginther says.

Those market-ready districts are the top tier and include areas such as the Short North. Builders will have to set aside 20 percent of their units for below-market rate housing to receive a tax incentive. But they can reduce or even eliminate those requirements by investing in office space, environmental remediation or the affordable housing trust fund.

Still, Ginther believes the measure's restrictions will insure abatements support new affordable housing.

"These are public resources,” he says. "So if we're going to leverage them help encourage public and private investment to lift up families in neighborhoods it has to be done for the public good."

City officials will revisit the CRAs designations every three years.