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News: Can Region Be Regained?

'White flight,' lack of upscale housing and economic imbalance pose obstacles in effort to stabilize Hamilton County's declining population

By Kris Royer Henninger · March 18th, 1999 · News
  Karla Irvine, executive director of Housing Opportunities Made Equal, says �inclusive zoning� � in which developers must make 5 percent of new developments affordable housing � would create a balance in income levels, which experts say is needed to stabilize the region.
Jymi Bolden

Karla Irvine, executive director of Housing Opportunities Made Equal, says �inclusive zoning� � in which developers must make 5 percent of new developments affordable housing � would create a balance in income levels, which experts say is needed to stabilize the region.

Spurred by statements of an out-of-town consultant, there have been plenty of news reports about how Hamilton County is losing residents.

But the reasons for the decline are not being widely discussed.

Some of them -- such as flight from low-income neighborhoods -- are not unique to the city of Cincinnati or the county. But the problem here is compounded, experts say, by problems with infrastructure and housing.

The end result is flight that leaves economically imbalanced neighborhoods, which, in turn, create more problems.

Michael Gallis, the Charlotte, N.C., consultant hired by the Metropolitan Growth Alliance to offer solutions, says that when there is an increased concentration of low-income residents in the core of the city, people living around the edges of that core begin to perceive that their neighborhood is threatened, and they move farther away.

"That is at the root of this," he says.

In his presentations so far, Gallis has said that the population decline within the Interstate 275 loop is a major threat to the strength of the region.

A declining population within a city's beltway is a common problem in many cities, he says.

The perceived threat that Gallis refers to often is racially motivated, says Karla Irvine, executive director of Housing Opportunities Made Equal.

The public schools in Cincinnati and some of the suburbs just outside the city are "predominately black, and not attractive to whites," Irvine says.

Recently released census figures show population increases in every county in the Greater Cincinnati region except Hamilton. Hamilton County's 1998 population is estimated at 847,403 -- a decline of 78,541 people since 1970, and 18,825 since 1990.

Gallis says perceptions of higher crime rates in the city and of a more attractive lifestyle in the outlying suburbs also are reasons why people leave the city's core.

"It's a typical pattern," he says.

Ron Miller, executive director of the Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission, says the county's population decline could be partially attributed to demographics. For example, he says, household sizes have been decreasing for decades, while the elderly population has been increasing. Twenty years ago, the population of people over age 65 was small, but there has been a large increase recently, resulting in a higher death rate, Miller says.

Miller says that a lack of housing and developable land also might be part of the problem.

A study in the early 1990s of people selling their homes found that 70 percent of Cincinnati residents moved outside the city and 30 percent of Hamilton County residents moved to another county, he says.

When people sell a home, their next home usually is more expensive, and people often have to move out of the city or county to find better housing, he said.

"Their assumption was that there was not enough upper-end housing available," Miller says.

The county also is losing housing in other price ranges, too, he says.

"We are an aging community in terms of infrastructure and buildings resulting in an increase in demolitions," Miller says. While 100-200 residential units a year were demolished in the early 1990s, now 400-600 units are lost each year.

And, Miller says, "Hamilton County and Cincinnati is a mature metropolitan area and there's not a lot of ... land (left to be developed)."

The land that is available in the western part of the county does not have the public water and sewer lines it needs to support growth, Miller says. There is, however, a plan to extend water and sewer services to 50,000 people over the next 20 years, he says.

Still, he says, the population decline in Hamilton County is not as severe as it once was.

"The good news is that the rate of decline is decreasing," he says.

From 1970 to 1980 there was a 5.7 percent population loss, while in this decade it is about 2 percent, he says.

Gallis and Irvine say that population decline, as well as population growth that happens rapidly, creates problems because of a lack of balance in terms of income levels.

Gallis says the Kings Island area, for example, has trouble filling service jobs because there is primarily upper-income housing.

Irvine says most of the economic growth in the area is occurring outside Interstate 275.

"That accounts for the large jump in Warren County's population," Irvine said.

Gallis says there should be a balance of all incomes in communities to make them work.

Irvine says that balance could be achieved in both suburban and urban communities.

"We need to adopt inclusive zoning," she says.

Inclusive zoning means that developers can increase the density in subdivisions but must include at least 5 percent affordable housing, either rental or owned.

Irvine points to Montgomery County, Md., as a community that has successfully incorporated inclusive zoning for 20 years. A mixed-income community results in a decrease in the poverty and isolation that breeds crime, children and adults who learn to tolerate people of different incomes and maintenance of middle-class values, she said.

Irvine says middle-ring suburbs -- those suburbs just outside the city -- also are experiencing a decline in population for racial reasons, or what is sometimes called "white flight."

"Traditionally, African Americans have followed that kind of a path to the suburbs," she says.

Inclusive zoning would be a "way to protect the middle-ring suburbs from further decline," she said.

Mixed-income housing also would work in Over-the-Rhine, where redevelopment proponents have argued that the concentration there of low-income housing is creating an obstacle for all income levels, Irvine says.

"I don't think racially or economically isolated neighborhoods on either end is good," she said.

In addition to having economically balanced communities, Gallis had suggested in his public discussions that the entire metropolitan region be the focus of growth and development efforts, not individual communities or smaller segments of the region.

Gallis also has encouraged the region to take advantage of its airport and highway network as "a real opportunity to build a future on transportation."

Streamlining the fractured political environment in the region is another solution Gallis has proposed to deal with the lack of growth. He says that currently developers might have to get approval from 10 different public bodies to get a project approved.

"As we saw mergers in business, they were driven by a desire to simplify the competitive structures in order to reach world markets," Gallis says. ©



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