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New Council Subcommittee Begins Work On Affordable Housing Crisis

Cincinnati City Council members started investigating affordable housing Wednesday in the first meeting of a new subcommittee. Local experts say the city needs at least 28,000 additional affordable units.

Committee Chair and Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman says this new subcommittee is a baby step toward addressing the crisis.

"At the end of the day we have to put a price tag on how much money, capital dollars, does the city of Cincinnati want to put into affordable housing, outside of federal dollars or any kind of other financial mechanism that we have," Smitherman said. "And then who do we trust to give those dollars to for them to leverage affordable housing?"

Council members heard from city administrators and The Port on current efforts. Both say affordable housing is expensive to develop and they have limited funding to incentivize projects.

The Port CEO Laura Brunner said they've been developing 10 to 20 single-family homes a year and selling them to low- and middle-income families. She says it costs at least $200,000 to develop each home, and The Port loses an average $50,000 on each sale.

"Now, if we had the money to do a hundred a year, or two hundred a year we'd be looking at driving the cost down because we'd have enough scale," Brunner said.

Interim Council Member Steve Goodin says solutions will need more money than the city is able to put in.

"I don't think we have any choice but to do what other cities have done in similar situations," Goodin said. "Look to national foundations and corporate partnerships to try to beef up our affordable housing trust fund or whatever other fund is ultimately appropriate."

The subcommittee is made up of existing members of the Economic Growth and Zoning Committee: Chair Vice Mayor Smitherman, Vice Chair Goodin, and Council Members Betsy Sundermann and Liz Keating. Council Member Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney is not a member of Economic Growth and Zoning, but asked to be part of the subcommittee. Smitherman said anyone on council is welcome to join.

The city manager's office is working on a comprehensive housing report that will guide council on potential policy changes.

An earlier version of this article misidentified the cost of developing a home at The Port. It is $200,000 or more per home, not $50,000.

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