The controversial proposed supportive housing facility
for Alaska Avenue in Avondale was the main subject of a heated session
of City Council's Budget and Finance Committee today, which resulted in the committee's decision to put the project on hold for two weeks. The committee also announced its intent to allocate $5,000 for an independent mediator, which the city administration will be responsible for finding.
A slew of Avondale community members spoke out in opposition of
the project, while representatives from National Church Residences (NCR), Josh Spring of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition and Kevin Finn of Strategies to End Homelessness were some of those who publicly expressed support for the project. Many in opposition articulated concern that predominantly poor black neighborhoods such as Avondale are "targeted" for low-income housing projects like these, while supporters insist a spread of misinformation is largely responsible for the tension and that the complex is a necessary step in moving forward with the city's 2008 Homeless to Homes Plan, which explicitly cited NCR as the well-regarded nonprofit developer and manager of supportive housing facilities commissioned to bring a permanent supportive housing facility to the city.
The proposed project, coined Commons at Alaska, would be a 99-unit facility providing residency and supportive services to the area homeless population, particularly those with with severe mental health issues, physical disabilities and histories of alcohol and substance abuse. The project, which gained City Council's official support in February, has recently come under scrutiny from community group Avondale 29, Alaska Avenue residents and other community stakeholders who are fervently expressing public distaste for the facility, which they worry will threaten the safety and revitalization efforts in the neighborhood. CityBeat covered the controversy here.
Councilman Smitherman, who originally voted against Council's support for the project in February, vocally expressed his opposition, and later, Councilman Winburn rescinded his support for the project.
"It appears that maximum citizen participation did not happen... you are having hundreds of people who are not ready yet for this project. So something went wrong somewhere," he said.
Winburn was also the one to announce the motion that asked council to suspend the project for two weeks.
Both sides are expected to once again go in front of the Budget & Finance Committee on a Sept. 30 meeting.
More demand for housing aid and less money from the feds have combined to create a simple but brutal equation swelling the number of homeless individuals and families in the Cincinnati area and across the country. As more low-income people need affordable places to live, they have fewer housing options to choose from and less federal aid available to them, data shows. That’s left an increasing number of families and individuals on the streets.
In 2011, $2,225,000 was available to Hamilton County residents for rental assistance through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This year, it’s just $750,000. These federal funds provide much-needed aid to families struggling to make rent payments.
The cuts come at a time when affordable housing is getting harder to find. The amount of available affordable housing has decreased by 6.8 million units since 2007, while the number of very low-income renters who need it has grown by more than 2.5 million, according to data from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies.
The money spent on rental aid in the past made a dent–a study by the National Alliance to End Homelessness found the number of people experiencing homelessness in the United States dropped by 17 percent from 2005 to 2012, despite the economic recession and national housing crisis. Especially effective was the 2009 Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Act, which spent $1.5 billion to aid families experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
Locally, federal programs have been crucial. Nearly all families in Hamilton County who received rental assistance through such programs avoided becoming homeless, according to a report by Strategies to End Homelessness, a Cincinnati non-profit.
Despite the success of the program and increasing need, the number of people in Hamilton County served by federal anti-homelessness efforts has dropped by more than 56 percent since 2011.
That year, 2,810 people received rental or utility assistance in Hamilton County from programs provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. That number dropped to 1,870 in 2012, and dropped again to 942 in 2013. This year is on pace to see a similar number–about 966– receive the services.
Meanwhile, the number of homeless in the county is rising. 8,271 people in Hamilton County experienced homelessness last year, according to the Strategies report. That’s up from 7,838 people in 2011 and 7,983 in 2012.
Families are hit especially hard hit by federal spending cuts.
"I have never seen this many families come to us from sleeping in a car," Darlene Guess, director of client programs at Bethany House Services, told the Cincinnati Enquirer July 9. The Cincinnati area's five shelters that serve homeless families in the city help about 1,000 families a year, service providers estimate.
The reductions come as a result of the 2011 sequester, continuing across-the-board cuts to federal programs that happened as a result of Congress not being able to reach budget agreements. Some of the funds were first allocated during the federal government’s 2009 stimulus efforts.
Shortfalls at HUD caused by the cuts could eventually mean as many as 140,000 fewer families nationally will receive rental assistance, and that 100,000 homeless or formerly homeless people will be cut off from other assistance programs offered through HUD.
Other dynamics associated with gridlock in Congress have exacerbated the problems facing low-income people on the brink of homelessness–Democrats and the GOP in Congress have fought a pitched battle over extending unemployment benefits for millions of Americans, for instance, as unemployment levels recede at a stubbornly slow pace. Many have reached the end of their benefits, and now struggle to pay rent or mortgages.
When the stimulus package passed in 2009, the federal government sent out funds that worked to prevent homelessness. The funds, which seek to prevent homelessness instead of just treating the problem after it arises, made their way to local organization Strategies to End Homelessness. With the boost, the group, which coordinates efforts to combat homelessness in Cincinnati, has been helping thousands of at-risk people and those who are already homeless.
But that funding is soon coming to an end. The stimulus package was only meant to be a temporary jolt to deal with the Great Recession. It was not meant as a long-term funding package. For Strategies to End Homelessness, that prevents a new challenge.
The organization used the stimulus funding to partner with United Way and seven other local agencies to coordinate homeless aid. The organization is continuing its partnership with United Way and five of the agencies, but it will have to draw down some of its services.
“When the stimulus funding was in place, we were able to work with 250 households at a time to try to prevent them from becoming homeless,” says Kevin Finn, executive director of Strategies to End Homelessness. “Now, with the level of funding that is available, it’s more like 50 or 60 households at a time that we are able to work with.”
What this means is programs, such as the Homeless Prevention / Rapid Rehousing Program (HPRP), will continue to service people who are at risk of becoming homeless, but the program will have a stricter limit on who to help.
One bright spot for Finn is that even though the organization is losing most of the funding, it’s not losing it all. Due to the success of organizations like Strategies to End Homelessness, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has decided to make some of the funding permanent. This will let the organization continue focusing on some preventive measures instead of just focusing on what Finn calls the “meat and potatoes” of anti-homelessness efforts — or services for people that are already homeless — that have always existed.
“Sometimes when you work with the homeless you struggle to find a silver lining,” he says. “That is one right there.”
Finn says preventive measures are very important in fighting homelessness because once someone becomes homeless and the longer someone becomes homeless, the harder it becomes to get them back into new homes. Finn gave one example for why this is the case: “If they would get mugged in the street and lose their ID, an ID is something that you need in order to get an apartment and in order to get a job.”
At the end of the day, Strategies to End Homelessness will
continue working in Cincinnati, just with less funding. Finn says he
wants his organization’s continuous work to break some misconceptions
about anti-homelessness efforts in the city.
“I think sometimes the perception in the community is that services for the homeless and also prevention measures are sort of a number of little agencies out doing their own thing,” he says. “It’s very much a coordinated effort between us, the United Way and these five agencies.”
A City Council committee on Tuesday voted to rescind council’s support for state tax credits going to a 99-unit supportive housing facility in Avondale that would aid chronically homeless, disabled and low-income individuals.
But since National Church Residences already obtained tax credits for the project from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency in June, it’s possible the project could continue even if council stands in opposition, according to Kevin Finn, executive director of Strategies to End Homelessness.
Still, the decision from the Economic Growth and Infrastructure Committee comes in the middle of a months-long controversy that has placed neighborhood activists and homeless advocates in a heated dispute. (CityBeat first covered the issue in greater detail here.)
Independent Christopher Smitherman and Republican Amy Murray, the two present members of the committee, both voted to pull support from the project. The issue will now go to a nine-member City Council, which consists of five Democrats, and Democratic Mayor John Cranley.
Smitherman, chair of the committee, claimed the project’s issues spawned from a lack of community engagement.
“I want everybody to take a pause,” Smitherman said. “Respecting our city, in my opinion, means that you do the community engagement at the level that reflects the magnitude of what you want to do.”
Smitherman’s comments followed testimony from neighborhood activists who oppose the facility and homeless advocates who support it.
Opponents insist they support policies addressing homelessness. But they argue the “massive” facility would alter the neighborhood, worsen Avondale’s problems with poverty and damage revitalization efforts.
Supporters claim the dispute stems from a not-in-my-backyard attitude that predominates so many supportive housing facilities.
“In our society, we have a tendency to say we don't want ‘those people’ in our neighborhoods. And history dictates to us that conversations that start with ‘we don't want those people here’ don't typically end well,” said Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition.
Finn of Strategies to End Homelessness
said the facility is part of his organization’s Homeless to Homes plan, which council
previously approved to address Cincinnati’s struggles with homelessness.
Finn’s organization aims to reduce homelessness in Hamilton County from more than 7,000 in 2012 to roughly 3,500 in 2017.
The Avondale facility could also help reduce Cincinnati’s high levels of poverty. More than half of Cincinnati’s children and more than one-third of the city’s general population live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey.
The full body of City Council could take up the issue as early as Wednesday. Smitherman advised both sides to attend the council meeting and state their cases.
Updated with additional information from Kevin Finn, executive director of Strategies to End Homelessness.
Cincinnati’s winter shelter for the homeless might not be able to open until mid-January if it doesn’t get more contributions, says Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition.
That means hundreds of homeless people could be left out in the cold — literally — for at least a month longer than usual if the shelter doesn’t get more donations.
Spring says the winter shelter is currently looking at roughly $32,000 in donations if the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office gives $5,000 as previously promised. The city also plans to give a contribution, but it’s looking like they’ll give less this year than they have in the past, according to Spring.
The $32,000 is far short of the $75,000 necessary to keep the shelter open for roughly two months — from late December through the end of February.
“It’s a bit of a precarious place to be at in November,” Spring says. “For regular folks out there and companies that want to invest in people not freezing to death or losing their appendages to frostbite, it’s definitely time to give.”
According to Spring, the goal each night is to shelter 91
people, although the number fluctuates depending on the circumstances of any
given night. But the shelter ultimately services hundreds of homeless while
it’s open as some people improve their situation and additional numbers fall into homelessness.
For its run between late 2012 and early 2013, the winter shelter housed roughly 600 people.
“It’s a relatively cheap program to run,” Spring claims. “To serve about 600 people with $75,000 is pretty good.”
The shelter is put together by the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, Drop Inn Center, Strategies to End Homelessness, Society of St. Vincent De Paul and Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati. It’s supported largely by private contributions.
“When we started doing this three years ago, it was sort of a new thing,” Spring explains. “It’s not so new anymore, which makes bringing in dollars more difficult. But the need hasn’t changed.”
Anyone can donate to the winter shelter — and Drop Inn Center — at tinyurl.com/WinterShelterCincinnati. To contribute specifically to the winter shelter, type in “winter shelter” in the text box below “Designation (Optional).”
UPDATE: The Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless has canceled its Wednesday mock rally for Western & Southern Financial Group. The Coalition Tuesday evening released the following statement: "Due to a change in plans the mock 'Rally to Support Western and Southern' has been canceled. Stay tuned for upcoming gatherings and events to support the Women of the Anna Louise Inn as we fight for the right of self determination."
The following is CityBeat's Tuesday afternoon blog post in response to the event announcement:
The Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless is helping to organize a mock rally to support what it believes is the bullying of the Anna Louise Inn women’s shelter by Western & Southern Financial Group. The mock group will be called “Citizens for Corporate Bullies” and will hold signs that say “Greed is Good,” “We Support Corporate Bullies,” “Poor Women Not Welcome” and “W&S Take Whatever You Want.” The event begins a noon May 2 at 4th and Sycamore streets.
The Coalition has created a fake persona who supports W&S’s desire to build condos to attract a more desirable class of residents and rhetorically asks, “Besides, what gives the Anna Louis Inn the right to stay in that building just because they own it and it’s been there for a hundred years?”
The protest is in response to ongoing legal issues surrounding the Inn’s proposed expansion and W&S’s development efforts in the neighborhood. CityBeat last October reported on the situation in a story titled, “Putting on the Pressure: Western & Southern won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.” The following is an excerpt summarizing the situation then:
Last summer the facility’s owners rebuffed an offer from the powerful Western & Southern Financial Group to buy their property, triggering a heated legal battle. The company, located near the Anna Louise Inn in the affluent Lytle Park district on downtown’s eastern edge, wanted the site so it could demolish or redevelop the Inn and build upscale condominiums.
After the offer was rejected, the Anna Louise Inn continued with a long-planned renovation and was awarded a $2.7 million loan by Cincinnati City Council. That’s when Western & Southern filed a lawsuit against the Inn and the city, alleging zoning violations.
The showdown pits the Inn, opened in 1909 with the help of prominent attorney Charles P. Taft, against a company that ranks in the Fortune 500 and is headed by CEO John Barrett, an ex-chairman of the Cincinnati Business Committee who is widely considered one of the most powerful men in the city.
The facility’s owners and some city officials say Western & Southern is trying to use its sizable financial resources publicly, along with its political clout behind the scenes, to strong-arm opponents and get what it wants.
Representatives for W&S have stated that the company's $3 million offer to purchase the building is fair and have also offered to aid the Inn in finding a new location.
WVXU reported that supporters of the Inn held a rally April 4 calling for a quick judgment in a court case that could delay funding for the renovation.
The group heading a supportive housing project in Avondale on Friday announced it will initiate monthly "good neighbor" meetings to address local concerns, with the first meeting scheduled at the Church of the Living God, located at 434 Forest Ave., on Feb. 25 at 6 p.m.
National Church Residences (NCR) says the meetings will help "set the highest property, safety, and conduct standards" for the 90-unit Commons at Alaska facility, which will aid chronically homeless, disabled and low-income individuals.
"National Church Residences is excited to become part of the revitalization of the Avondale neighborhood," said Amy Rosenthal, senior project leader for NCR, in a statement. "Through this series of meetings, we look forward to sitting down with our neighbors and answering their questions about our organization and in particular the planned apartment community."
The meetings should help address some Avondale residents' concerns about the project. Although several opponents of the facility say their opposition is not rooted in a not-in-my-backyard attitude that follows so many supportive housing projects, critics consistently argue the housing facility will attract a dangerous crowd that would worsen public safety in the neighborhood.
Critics' claims actually contradict some of the research done on supportive housing. A study conducted for similar facilities in Columbus found areas with permanent supportive housing facilities saw the same or lower crime increases as demographically comparable areas.
Still, the controversy eventually reached City Council after Councilman Christopher Smitherman proposed pulling the city's support for state tax credits funding the project. In January, council rejected Smitherman's proposal and voted to continue supporting the project. (It's questionable whether a different council decision would have made any difference, since the group already received state tax credits last June.)
By several economic indicators, Cincinnati's worst-off certainly need more support. About 34 percent of the overall population and more than half of the city's children live in poverty, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
Correction: This story originally claimed the facility would house 99 apartments, based on a previous estimate. The amount of apartments was actually reduced to 90 through negotiations. We apologize for the error.
Three homeless aid groups in Cincinnati are getting a bit of help from the federal government. On Sept. 19, the Secretary of Veteran Affairs announced it awarded nearly $600 million to homeless aid groups around the United States, and three local organizations managed to secure $600,000 of that funding.
The money will be awarded primarily to Ohio Valley Goodwill Industries, but Goodwill has partnered up with Strategies to End Homelessness and the Healing Center at Vineyard Community Church to make full use of the money.
Kevin Finn, executive director of Strategies to End Homelessness, says the money will help make up for stimulus funding that was recently lost — at least in the case of military veterans.“It’s going to go to helping veterans and their families that are either at risk of becoming homeless or already homeless,” Finn says.
That makes the grant funding different in two major ways:
First, the money can now be used to help veterans’ families, not just
veterans. Typically, aid to veterans is allocated in a way that can only
benefit veterans, but this money will help their husbands, wives and children.
Also, the money will also be used to help vets at risk for homelessness instead of just vets who are already homeless. With the traditional, limited funding, homeless aid groups can only reach out to people who are already out in the streets; with this new funding, groups like Strategies to End Homeless will be capable of taking preventative measures that keep vets in a home.
The new funding, which Finn estimates will help about 200 families, will be divided between the local organizations so they can each take on different roles. For Strategies to End Homelessness, that mostly means working on short-term solutions for homeless or at-risk vets.
“The biggest (services) will be rentals and financial assistance to either get them to be stable in housing or keep them in their housing and prevent them from becoming homeless,” Finn says.
After that, care will shift to Goodwill, which will work on job training, job searching, tutoring, computer training and other important tools to help keep vets employed and housed.
“If the financial support can keep them from being homeless in the short term, then the services that the Goodwill case manager will put in place will hopefully keep them from being homeless in the long term,” Finn says.
To reach out to vets in need, the organizations will use current connections, street outreach programs and phone hotlines to make sure the program reaches as many people as possible while staying efficient. To Finn, one of the most important tasks of Strategies to End Homelessness is to make sure no funding is wasted and the organizations coordinated by Strategies to End Homelessness do not have redundant programs.
Strangely enough, aid to vets has become a political issue recently. Forty Republicans in the U.S. Senate recently blocked the Veteran Jobs Corps Act, which would have funded job programs for military veterans. Ohio Rep. Connie Pillich recently introduced a resolution in the Ohio General Assembly to encourage U.S. Senate Republicans to pass the bill.
Although some members of City Council appear ready to rescind support for a supportive housing project in Avondale, a previous study commissioned by the group in charge of the Avondale project found supportive housing facilities cause no negative impact to neighborhoods in which they’re located.
The study, conducted by Arch City Development and the Urban Decision Group, was commissioned by National Church Residences (NCR) to gauge the neighborhood impact of five permanent supportive housing complexes in Columbus for the chronically homeless, disabled and poor.
The study found crime increases in most of the areas surrounding the facilities, but the increases were roughly the same as or less than demographically similar areas in Columbus.
After interviewing Columbus residents
located around the facilities, researchers also reported general
agreement that the facilities had a positive effect or no impact on the
Although three of the facilities are located near four Columbus City Schools, researchers wrote Anne Lenzotti, director of facilities for Columbus City Schools, "has received no complaints about any Central Ohio permanent supportive housing project at the district or individual school level."
The study, with its generally positive findings, calls into question many of the complaints voiced by opponents of the Avondale project.
Two members of a City Council committee on Tuesday agreed to advance a resolution that would rescind support for state tax credits going to the 99-unit supportive housing facility in Avondale.
But since the project already received state tax credits in June, it’s unclear whether council’s vote would have any effect on the project’s fate.
Opponents of the facility argue it will worsen Avondale’s problems with poverty, alter the look of the area and damage revitalization efforts. They also complain that NCR failed to conduct thorough community engagement prior to proceeding with the project.
Proponents claim the dispute stems from a not-in-my-backyard attitude that follows so many supportive housing projects prior to their completion. They say more community engagement, beyond what’s already occurred with Avondale Community Council, will begin deeper into the planning process and shape the project’s parameters.
The full body of City Council could take up the resolution rescinding support for the Avondale project on Dec. 18.
Read the full study below:
This article went through some technical difficulties and temporarily disappeared as a result.
That's the number of Cincinnatians cited in a 2012 report from Strategies to End Homelessness that are either staying in shelters or in places not meant for human habitation.
The Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition will coalesce to recognize the plight of those 7,000 when it
holds its annual Homeless Awareness March on Saturday, Oct. 26 starting
at 3 p.m. at Buddy’s Place, a permanent housing facility
for the homeless located at 1300 Vine St. in Over-the-Rhine.
Josh Spring, executive director at GRHC, says the march will explore areas in Over-the-Rhine and the Central Business District particularly plagued by homelessness. There will be about 10 stops, each of which will be marked by a speech from representatives of several advocacy groups, including the Interfaith Workers' Center, OTR Community Housing, Streetvibes, People's Coalition for Equality and Justice and the Drop Inn Center.
The march comes at a particularly auspicious time for GRHC, which recently helped four homeless plaintiffs file a lawsuit against the Hamilton County Sheriff’s office for depriving homeless people of their constitutional rights by threatening to arrest people who sleep or inhabit the common areas around the Hamilton County Courthouse and Hamilton County Justice Center downtown.
Those areas have recently become the center of a public
health debate between groups like GRHC and county officials, who have been forced to clean up urine
and feces left behind the homeless and argue they
just don’t have the resources to keep up.
The GHRC held a protest on Oct. 16 in front of the courthouse asking Sheriff Neil to rescind the policy, the same day the lawsuit was filed.
In an effort to compromise, Spring and other supporters have asked the county to at least wait to stick to the policy until the winter shelter opens in December, but county officials are hesitant to ignore the cleanliness problem for that long.
Advocates such as Spring, however, argue the city should take a “prevention first” approach instead by figuring out what will keep Cincinnatians from becoming homeless in the first place.
Spring says he hopes the march will draw both people who have come specifically to protest displacement and others who come to learn about the nature of homelessness in Cincinnati. "We really hope people walk away with some passion to go and do something about this," he says.
Last year's march was centered around protesting Western & Southern's manipulative legal disputes with the Anna Louise Inn, which provides safe and affordable housing to low-income women. The battle came to an end in May when Cincinnati Union Bethel, which owns the Inn, signed an agreement with Western & Southern to move from Lytle Park to Mount Auburn.