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Voters to decide on $1.5 billion bond issue that includes money to expand affordable housing

The City of Columbus is proposing a $1.5 billion bond issue on the November ballot that includes $200 million to expand affordable housing. It is four times more than what the city proposed in 2019.

Supporters and developers said it’s a crucial step to address the demand for affordable housing. But more work needs to get done to make it happen.

Two years ago, the city borrowed a lot of money to build more than 1,300 affordable housing units. At the time, before the COVI-19 pandemic, more than 50,000 people were using half their income to pay rent or make mortgage payments.

Officials have said the $50 million is not enough. But they say it was a good test run.

The city needs to build 14,000 new units per year to meet demand.

Carlie Boos directs the Affordable Housing Alliance of Central Ohio, said the city is falling 3,000 units short of its goal.

“The first bond package we saw an impact, we saw those numbers begin to come down, we have great momentum," Boos said. "Right now it’s about scaling. It’s about taking what was a test pilot and bringing it to scale.”

President and CEO Leah Evans, Homeport
Courtesy of Homeport
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Leah Evans is president and CEO of Homport, a non-profit affordable housing developer in Columbus.

Affordable housing developers at Homeport used some of that initial 2019 money to fund Mulby Place in Linden. The building will have up to 100 affordable senior living apartments and 3,000 square feet of retail space. Homeport is also building 10 single-family housing units nearby. Developers broke ground in March.

The next buidling phase is projected to be bigger, said Homeport president and CEO Leah Evans.

“The next round is going to be larger, four times as large," Evans said. "And so, are we going to see four times as many houses? Maybe. Maybe we’ll see a multiplier of that because I think it’s unlocking how we think about housing and where housing could be.”

Homeport hopes to build housing in Easton. It remains to be seen if it will receive funding if the bond passes.

Easton Place Homeport.jpg
Courtesy of Homeport
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Easton Place Homes will be a 50-unit apartment development for families located at 3474 Easton Square Place in Columbus. The nearly five-acre parcel will be splitt to create for 200 units of affordable housing. It will be developed in three phases in partnership with the Georgetown Company.

Erin Prosser is the assistant director of Columbus’ housing strategy division and said no resident should pay more than 30% of their monthly income on rent or mortgages.

“It really allows us to bring different pieces and parts together to bring as many units as possible in that affordable realm for folks and families earning below $50,000,” Prosser said.

Officials promise The city will spend the rest of $1.5 billion bond package on transportation, utilities, plus parks and recreation.

Homeport's Evans said to maintain affordable housing, those other improvements are also needed.

“The intersection of all these infrastructure pieces is what builds communities. You don’t want a community that goes the other way right? You don’t want to have blight and vacancy. But that takes investment, intentional investment in certain strategic projects that will continue that momentum."

But more needs to be done to address Columbus’ housing shortage. The city’s current zoning code is considered inequitable and contradicts the city’s current development goals. Boos with the Affordable Housing Alliance, said it’s an archaic process that drives up costs for both developers and the city.

“So if a builder wants to give a consumer the kind of housing that they’re demanding, they have to walk through a maze of regulation to do it," Boos said. "The bottom line is that we cannot let archaic regulation stand in the way of what people want.”

It will be the first the code has been changed in over 70 years. Otto Beatty III, a former lawyer and now small-scale housing developer, said that the current zoning code often derails what projects set out to be.

“Projects can go from a plan of 100 units to 70 units and then it doesn’t work," he said. "Or a use that your looking for – hey we’ve got this lot we want to put four units on it not just a single – it’s dead," he said. "So I don’t want to underestimate the importance of that, you know overhaul.”

City officials promise if voters approve the bond package, there won’t be an increase in taxes or cuts in city services.

The $1.5 billion bond will appear on the November ballot.

Tyler Thompson is a reporter and on-air host for 89.7 NPR News. Thompson, originally from northeast Ohio, has spent the last three years working as a Morning Edition host and reporter at NPR member station KDLG Public Radio and reporter at the Bristol Bay Times Newspaper in Dillingham, Alaska.