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Merging Forces in Housing Effort

By Kevin Osborne · June 7th, 2006 · All The News That Fits
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With Over-the-Rhine undergoing pressures caused not only by persistent problems with violent crime but also a push by corporate leaders to develop upscale housing near Music Hall, two longtime neighborhood groups are merging to better meet the area's changing needs.

ReSTOC and the Over-the-Rhine Housing Network combined last month to form a single, refocused organization called Over-the-Rhine Community Housing. The new organization will continue previous efforts to create affordable housing for the poor using various financing methods, including federal tax credits, throughout the historic neighborhood. Some market rate housing also likely will be involved in certain projects.

In the past, the Housing Network concentrated its efforts in Over-the-Rhine's north central section, generally north of Liberty Street, while ReSTOC did projects in the Washington Park area.

The new organization will manage the combined assets of the Housing Network and ReSTOC, totaling 95 buildings with a net worth of $5.5 million. The group also will continue to provide housing to tenants of the former organizations.

Mary Burke, the Housing Network's former director, is the new organization's executive director. Andy Hutzel, ReSTOC's former executive director, is the operations director.

"We'll be taking a more holistic approach to looking at the neighborhood," Hutzel says. "We'll have more resources when it comes to internal capacity and leverage that to get more external resources."

By pooling its efforts, the new group wants to ensure it will have a key role in how Over-the-Rhine is redeveloped and keep affordable housing as part of the mixture there, Burke says.

"Both groups had some of the same founders and same concerns," she says. "We were always sister organizations, so it makes sense that this would happen."

The new organization will combine the strengths of the two groups, she adds. Because the Housing Network often used tax credit financing, it had more rigorous compliance procedures and required annual recertification by federal agencies, Burke says. Meanwhile, ReSTOC has an extensive volunteer workforce program that typically has about 3,000 people participating each year.

The merger comes as city officials and business interests are working to develop more mixed-income housing in Over-the-Rhine, especially near Music Hall and the adjacent Washington Park. In 2003, the private Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC) was formed to assemble deals involving public and private financing to further that goal.

Due to the loss of government subsidies to landlords, Over-the-Rhine has lost more than 1,000 units of affordable housing during the past five years as new regulations allow tenants to use Section 8 vouchers and seek housing wherever they choose. Some of the buildings have since been vacated and sold to market rate developers.

In recent months, 3CDC has used a holding company to buy nearly 45 properties around the park in anticipation of redevelopment. Additionally, 3CDC is involved in a dispute with the Drop Inn Center homeless shelter, trying to stop its effort to move 18 units of transitional housing from 12th and Elm streets to the former site of a school for blind people in the 1500 block of Elm Street.

"While both of our organizations have wonderful histories, we realize the neighborhood is changing and we need to change," Burke says.

She hopes to work in conjunction with 3CDC.

"We've been working with them," she says. "We'll see as it unfolds. We're moving forward with this broader vision. We don't want to be stuck in old confrontational, win-lose relationships."

ReSTOC has had a rocky relationship with City Hall. Some city council members and others have accused ReSTOC of stockpiling and ignoring abandoned buildings in Over-the-Rhine to block mixed-income, private-sector development. ReSTOC denies the allegation, saying its reliance on volunteer labor and the difficulty of renovating century-old buildings caused the delay.

ReSTOC has said some city officials want to make Over-the-Rhine an upscale district and displace poor people. Its officials have described the debate as a "class struggle."



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