Dillingham is unique among council members and candidates in that she has personal experiences with homelessness — her dad was homeless when she was young — and she actually used Section 8 housing in her twenties, shortly after her son was born.
So for Dillingham, it’s not about helping low-income people in ways that often appear detached from the concerns of City Council. It’s a close and real concern to her.
“I have a personal experience of relying on housing with a subsidy, but I also recognize and understand that if it were not for that safety net, I would not be where I am today,” Dillingham says.
In a local election that’s focused largely on the streetcar project and parking plan, homelessness and affordable housing are, to Dillingham, neglected issues.
But Dillingham acknowledges that the neglect in part stems from poor engagement between the city and public. She points to the planned permanent supportive housing facility in Avondale, which has been stalled by neighborhood critics perpetuating the “not in my backyard” attitude that plagues so many affordable housing programs.
“A lot of it at the end of the day is about addressing people’s fears,” she says, explaining that the city should relieve concerns by “putting a face” on the Avondale project and showing specific examples of people who could benefit from the development.
That’s why Dillingham says she wants to do everything in her power to bring together all of Cincinnati’s neighborhoods and their advocates to engage in a public, open discussion over the city’s needs.
Along with outreach efforts, her 10-point inclusion plan, dubbed “A Seat at the Table,” establishes priorities that seek to demographically re-orient city government to actually represent its citizens.
That’s all too important, Dillingham says, especially after the city’s failure with the Priority-Driven Budgeting Process. That process, which the city administration and council previously used to justify cuts to human services for low-income Cincinnatians, over-represented the city’s wealthiest by nearly double and under-represented the city’s lowest-income group by roughly half, according to the process’s demographic reports.
Dillingham says the process’s demographics prove it “was a waste.”
Although her priority is to tackle affordable housing issues, Dillingham notes her inclusion and accessibility plans would also translate to other policy areas.
One area is the streetcar project, which Dillingham backs as an economic development vehicle and supports eventually expanding from Over-the-Rhine and downtown, where the first loop will be built, to all of the city’s neighborhoods. Although she’s supportive of the streetcar, Dillingham says the city administration has done a terrible job getting ahead of the project’s problems, which included a budget gap earlier in 2013.
Another area in dire need of better transparency, according to Dillingham, is the city’s plan to lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. Dillingham opposes the plan, which she calls privatization, but she’s also concerned about how it was announced and quickly pushed through City Council.
In particular, Dillingham claims that how the public and City Council first learned of the plan — a memo from the city manager to council members — represents a lack of transparency and terrible working relationship between the city administration and City Council. That could be alleviated with better inclusion, transparency and engagement from council members, she says.
Until those issues are addressed, Dillingham says council will continue struggling with every major issue facing the city, whether homelessness or the streetcar. That’s why, if Dillingham is elected on Nov. 5, she says her primary focus will be on giving every Cincinnatian a seat at the table and doing her best to keep them all engaged.
CityBeat endorses Michelle Dillingham for Cincinnati City Council. Find the official endorsement here.