The controversial permanent supportive housing facility proposed for a residential area of Avondale that caused outrage amongst Avondale community members took a small blow today when Cincinnati City Council members Pam Thomas and Charlie Winburn introduced a motion at a City Council meeting to rescind council's original support for the facility.
The proposed facility, Commons at Alaska, would be a 99-unit housing facility providing residency and supportive services to the area homeless population, particularly those with severe mental health issues, physical disabilities and histories of alcohol and substance abuse. CityBeat covered extensively the Avondale community's concerns about the location of the facility and how the project's developers felt the facility was misunderstood ("Home Invasion," issue of Sept. 4).
On Feb. 13, City Council offered its official support for the Commons at Alaska project in a resolution, a decision members of Avondale 29, the group formed to oppose the project, say was made without proper community outreach and neglect for proper considerations of the facility's effects on the already-blighted surrounding neighborhood. At that time, Christopher Smitherman and Cecil Thomas (before he resigned his position) were the only two members of council who did not vote to pass the resolution.
The motion reads: "When the resolution was heard by City Council, a small minority of the 18,000 members of the Avondale Community expressed their support for the development. Further, the North Avondale Community Council has voiced their opposition to the development. With this resolution, the majority of the community who are opposed to the development are being heard."
The developer, National Church Residences, is a well-respected developer and manager of housing facilities for the homeless nationwide. In June, the project received more than $1 million in tax credit financing from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, which would allow NCR to move forward with building plans and eventually begin construction in summer 2014.
City Council's official support was originally cited in NCR's application to the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, which may have factored in to OHFA's decision to award the tax credits. The motion will be voted on in council's Budget and Finance Committee on Monday, Sept. 16 at 1 p.m.
City Council could partly or totally undo the latest budget cuts to human services, parks and other areas by using higher-than-expected revenues from the previous budget cycle, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls announced today.
When City Council passed the budget in May, it was unclear how much revenue would be left over from fiscal year 2013, which ended June 30. Now, revenues are expected to come in higher than originally projected.
The full revenue numbers should be released next week, allowing City Council to evaluate its options for what and how much can be restored.
Human services was cut by about $500,000 in the last budget, putting the program at $1.1 million. Funding to parks was also reduced by $1 million down to $7 million.
But the funding could be restored, at least in part, within a month, Qualls said.
Qualls and other city officials previously told CityBeat they intended to restore human services funding and other cut programs with higher-than-expected revenues and perhaps the parking lease, but Qualls' announcement today was the clearest indication that it's actually happening.
The vice mayor made the announcement at a mayoral forum hosted by the Human Services Chamber of Hamilton County, which consists of various local social service groups. Qualls, who's running for mayor this year, was speaking at the event with John Cranley, who's also running for mayor.
Human services funding flows through several local agencies that focus on providing aid to the homeless and poor. Programs include sheltering, job training and drug rehabilitation.
Cincinnati has historically set a goal of dedicating 1.5 percent of its operating budget to human services, but only 0.3 percent of the latest budget went to the program.
This year, the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition's annual Hunger and Homeless Unity March will focus on an abundance of issues regarding the poor and homeless in our city.
Marching a route that highlights the path of homelessness, the walk will move through the southern portion of Over-the-Rhine, through the Central Business District and end in Lytle Park beside the Anna Louise Inn.
The Anna Louise Inn has been involved with a series of legal disputes with Western & Southern Financial Group as the corporation is on a mission to buy the Inn's property to expand their business. (CityBeat covered the issue in-depth in a Aug. 17 cover story, "Surrounded by Skyscrapers.")
For more than 100 years, the Anna Louise Inn has been serving local women in need. Located in Lytle Park, it is the only single-room occupancy residence for women in the city and acts as a safe harbor for women who have nowhere else to go. Former Anna Louise Inn resident Pam Franklin will speak about the importance of affordable housing at the event.
Not only will the march show support for social service agencies such as the Anna Louise Inn, it will be educational. Participants will learn about local residents being affected by gentrification, businesses suffering from displacement and the affects of foreclosure. Attendees will learn that in order for "new life" to enter, "existing life" does not have to leave.
"This will be a time to protest and to become more informed about the current injustices," says Josh Spring, the Executive Director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition.
Everyone is invited to participate in the march and learn about the affects of gentrification and displacement this Saturday.
"This really is an event for everyone — people that already are against gentrification, people that might be against gentrification, people that are for it, and people who don't know what gentrification is," Spring says. "Everyone will gain some truth from this experience."
Beginning at Buddy's Place at 1300 Vine Street, the march is from 12:45-3 p.m.
With a push from Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls and City Council approval, the Homeless to Homes plan is moving forward. The shelter-moving plan, which was originally put together by Strategies to End Homelessness, will use $37 million in loans to build new shelters for the Drop Inn Center, City Gospel Mission and the YWCA. But some homeless advocates have criticized the plan because it forces them to move homeless shelters they don’t want to move. Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, says the money could be spent better developing affordable housing and creating jobs to help eliminate homelessness.
Just one day after President Barack Obama’s re-election, one left-leaning Ohio group was already making demands. They want federal unemployment benefits renewed. The group’s research director, supported by economic data, says the expiration of those benefits could have bad repercussions for the unemployed and the federal and state economies.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati investment professionals are beginning to renew worries about the federal fiscal cliff. The fiscal cliff, which includes emergency unemployment benefits, is a mix of tax hikes and budget cuts set to automatically occur at the end of the year. The Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan agency that measures the impact of federal budgets and policy, has warned about the fiscal cliff’s potential economic damage. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has also warned lawmakers about the fiscal cliff.
A state appeals court ruled today that the city of Cincinnati is allowed to reduce retirees’ health benefits. The cuts in benefits are meant to shore up the city’s pension plan, but retirees, including former City Clerk Sandy Sherman, filed a lawsuit arguing the benefits can only be increased, not decreased. The case could still move to the Ohio Supreme Court.
Hamilton County’s new Democratic sheriff, Jim Neil, is already making plans. He says he favors alternative sentencing to deal with jail overcrowding, and he wants to audit and restructure the sheriff department’s budget to cut waste.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine will be in Cincinnati Thursday to unveil Cincinnati’s first prescription drug drop box. The drop boxes are meant to reduce prescription drug abuse and improper ingestion.
A sign of what could come to Cincinnati next spring: Columbus’s casino reported $18.3 million in revenue for its first month. Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino is currently being constructed and is expected to open in spring 2013.
Blue Ash-based Empire Marketing Strategies is buying a plant site in Mason for about $820,000, and it could create 200 jobs.
In case you missed it, CityBeat posted comprehensive election results for Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Ohio and the U.S.
State Democrats and Republicans have an explanation for two incumbents losing in the Ohio Supreme Court: names. On Democrat William O’Neill defeating Republican incumbent Robert Cupp, Ohio Republican Party Chairman Robert Bennett said O’Neill won because he has an Irish-American name. Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern said, “Sharon Kennedy is a great ballot name. That’s why she won.” Redfern says he will introduce legislation that will require party affiliation to appear on the Ohio Supreme Court ballots.
The election didn’t change much in the Ohio Board of Education. It remains five Democrats and six Republicans.
Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan said the approval of Issue 4, which extends City Council terms to four years, will be good for local business. She argues “there’s a great business case to be made for having a more stable and reliable local government.”
While marijuana was legalized in some states, Butler County led what it believes is its biggest marijuana bust in history. More than 900 lbs of marijuana were seized.
Bill Cunningham, local conservative radio talk show host, may retire due to Obama’s re-election. Oh well.
In the story of another conservative meltdown, CityBeat has a special letter for the Lebanon tea party: We’re sorry.
Perhaps the national media’s most under-reported story of election night was that Puerto Ricans favored statehood in the polls for the first time. If Congress and Obama act, the island could become the 51st state.
Popular Science has an open letter to President Barack Obama. While they like how Obama generally supports science funding more than a President Mitt Romney would, they want Obama to do more.
About 48 percent of Cincinnati’s youth are in poverty — a statistic that has haunted Cincinnati and landed the city in third place for the nation’s highest poverty rates. Now, Councilwoman Yvette Simpson is trying to figure out the underlying causes to better prioritize city programs.
At City Council’s Livable Communities Committee today, Simpson and her staff gave a presentation supporting a citywide study that would give an in-depth look at the city’s youth and their issues, including crime, poverty, homelessness and educational opportunities. It would be the first comprehensive study of the city’s youth.
The $175,000 study, which Simpson says would be mostly funded through private donations, will work through three phases: Look at existing data to set goals and expectations, conduct surveys with 500 parents and 1,500 youth and gather 40 in-depth youth profiles.
Simpson told CityBeat the study would help the city establish better budget priorities for youth programs: “If resources were abundant, how much would it take for us to really be able to make a significant impact? But also understanding that resources aren’t abundant, where should we put the resources in order to make maximum impact?”
With better priorities, Simpson says the city would also be able to create better collaboration between the city’s many individuals, agencies and organizations that currently work to address youth issues. “When you work together, you’re going to be better,” she says.
That’s particularly important in Cincinnati, which Simpson says is “very disparate” in terms of wealth and resources. Simpson says she would like to leverage the city’s centers of wealth in a way that would better benefit some of the poorer, needier areas.
Simpson says the study is necessary because there is a lack of local data for the city’s youth, with Cincinnati Children’s Child Well-Being Survey being the only comprehensive local study in recent years.
To Simpson, the importance of understanding the city’s youth and how their situation can be improved has been validated by her personal experience.
“I was supposed to have a student shadowing me yesterday, who’s a very, very capable young man, but he’s homeless,” she says. “He didn’t show up yesterday because he slept outside the night before.”
Carrying out the study and recalibrating the city’s programs to provide more consistency, whether it’s through education or simply providing more permanent shelter, will have huge effects on the city’s youth, Simpson says.
The Youth Commission of Cincinnati was formed in the spring of 2012 to help local government establish better priorities and policies for youth programs. The study, which has been under planning and development since July, is meant to help accomplish those goals.
Federal officials this week awarded more than $2.6 million to a local nonprofit agency that oversees various programs aimed at reducing homelessness.
The money, allocated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), was given to Strategies to End Homelessness, which was formerly known as the Cincinnati/Hamilton County Continuum of Care.
In total, HUD awarded nearly $201 million to 731 programs focused on addressing homelessness. The funding will help provide critically needed rapid re-housing, transitional housing, and permanent supportive housing for homeless individuals and families.
Locally, Strategies to End Homelessness coordinates such federal funding. It will divide the money as follows:
** Center for Independent Living Options (permanent housing) — $854,432
** Salvation Army (rapid re-housing for homeless families) — $526,797
** Prospect House (homeless housing and treatment) — $126,000
** Freestore Foodbank (rapid re-housing for homeless individuals) — $739,858
** Lighthouse Youth Services (permanent supportive housing) — $409,122
HUD awards such funding based on outcomes achieved by the local homeless services system.
“Our community received this funding because we have been successful at doing two things: helping homeless people move into housing, and also increase their income, specifically through employment,” said Kevin Finn, Strategies’ executive director, in a prepared statement.
According to the latest data reported by more than 3,000 cities and counties throughout the United States, homelessness declined 2.1 percent between 2010 and 2011 and dropped 12 percent among military veterans.
Founded in 2007, Strategies to End Homelessness coordinates services and funding toward the goal of ending homelessness. The organization works to prevent at-risk households from becoming homeless, assist people who are homeless back into housing, and to reduce the recurrence of homelessness.
The organization has created a single, coordinated system that includes the use of homelessness prevention services, street outreach, emergency shelter, rapid re-housing, transitional and permanent supportive housing, and services-only programs.
The agenda defined City Council’s first meeting of the new year — the first full session since council decided to continue work on Cincinnati’s $132.8 million streetcar project.
The meeting also showed that the Democratic majority — once fractured over the streetcar project and parking privatization plan — now appears to have formed a coalition on most issues facing the city. Perhaps more than anything, that could indicate the direction of Cincinnati for the next four years.
Most contentiously, the Democratic majority on City Council rejected a repeal of the city’s contracting rules for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) and Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW) projects.
The rules dictate how the city and county will award contracts for the federally mandated $3.2 billion revamp of the local sewer system.
The city’s rules impose stricter job training requirements on city contractors and require them to fund pre-apprenticeship programs that would help train new workers in different crafts.
Councilman Chris Seelbach, a Democrat who spearheaded the rules, argues the requirements will help foster local jobs and job training.
But the Republican-controlled county government, which also manages MSD and GCWW, says the requirements unfairly burden contractors and favor unions. Last year, county commissioners halted MSD’s work on the sewer overhaul in protest of the city’s rules.
The county’s halt has put 649 jobs and $152 million worth of sewer projects on hold, according to data released by Councilman Charlie Winburn, a Republican who opposes the city’s rules.
With the federal mandate looming, county commissioners on Wednesday unanimously proposed a compromise that would create some job training and inclusion initiatives.
“We are approaching a crisis here in this dispute with the city,” said Commissioner Greg Hartmann, a Republican who opposes the city’s rules.
Vice Mayor David Mann, a Democrat, said he will look at the county’s proposal. But he cautioned, “I’m not going to repeal it until we have a substitute. To have a substitute we have to have conversations. This could be the beginning of a framework.”
The issue could end up in court. The city’s lawyers previously claimed they could defend the local contracting rules, but the county insists the city would lose.
“Portions of what the city wants will not stand in court. Our lawyers should meet,” Hartman told Seelbach on Twitter.
If the city and county don’t act before February, Winburn said the
federal government could impose a daily $1,500 fine until MSD work fully
Supportive housing project in Avondale
A supermajority of council — the five Democrats plus Charterite Kevin Flynn — agreed to continue supporting state tax credits for Commons at Alaska, a 99-unit permanent supportive housing facility in Avondale.
Although several opponents of the Avondale facility claim
their opposition is not rooted in a not-in-my-backyard attitude, many
public speakers argued the housing facility will attract a dangerous
crowd that would worsen public safety in the neighborhood.
Supporters point to a study conducted for similar facilities in Columbus that found areas with permanent housing facilities saw the same or lower crime increases as demographically comparable areas.
Other opponents decried the lack of outreach for the project. They claim the project was kept hidden from residents for years.
National Church Residences (NCR), which is developing the facility, says it will engage in more outreach as the project moves forward.
Councilman Christopher Smitherman, an Independent, said council’s decision ignores what most Avondale residents told him.
“The supermajority of residents that I have talked to that are directly impacted by this project are against it,” asserted Smitherman, who is leading efforts against the facility in council.
Even if council decided to rescind its support for the Avondale project , it’s unclear if it would have any effect. NCR already received state tax credits for the facility back in June.
City Council unanimously approved a study that will look into potential race- and gender-based disparities in how the city awards business contracts.
The $690,000 study is required by the courts before the city can pursue initiatives that favorably target minority- and women-owned businesses with city contracts, which Mayor John Cranley and most council members support.
But Flynn and Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, a Democrat, voiced
doubts that the study’s findings will fulfill the legal requirements necessary to legally enact initiatives favoring minority- and women-owned businesses.
Given the doubts, Simpson cautioned that the city should begin moving forward with possible inclusion initiatives before the disparity study is complete.
“I do think we need to rally around a mantra that we can’t wait,” agreed Democratic Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld.
Once the study is complete, several council members said it will, at the very least, provide valuable data to the city.
Other notable actions
• Council approved a tax budget that lowered the property tax millage rate from 5.7 mills to 5.6 mills, which will cost $500,000 in annual revenue, according to city officials.
• Council approved an application for a $70,000 grant that would fund local intervention efforts meant to help struggling youth.
• Council approved an application for a nearly $6 million grant to provide tenant-based rental assistance to homeless, low-income clients with disabilities.
• Council disbanded the Streetcar Committee, which the
mayor and council originally established to look into halting the
project. Streetcar items will now be taken up by the Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee.
Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days will be extended.
Cincinnati yesterday laid down the first two streetcar tracks, putting the project on a clear path to completion after years of financial and political hurdles. The $133 million project is now expected to continue its construction phase over the next three years, with a goal of opening to the public on Sept. 15, 2016. City officials, including Mayor Mark Mallory and City Manager Milton Dohoney, celebrated the milestone and thanked supporters for remaining committed to the project. Meanwhile, former Councilman John Cranley, a streetcar opponent who’s running for mayor against streetcar supporter Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, criticized the city for laying down the tracks instead of delaying the project until a new mayor takes office in December. Cranley insists that he’ll cancel the project if he takes office, even though roughly half a mile of track will be laid out by then and, because of contractual obligations and federal money tied to the project, canceling the project at this point could cost millions more than completing it.
The Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition yesterday announced it’s suing the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department over a new policy that attempts to remove homeless people from courthouse steps with the threat of arrest. The sheriff’s office says it still intends to redirect homeless people to housing and other services, but it told WVXU that clearing out the courthouse is necessary to invoke a “type of immediacy” to encourage homeless residents “to seek housing and a better situation.” Advocates call the policy dangerous and unfair. A press conference will be held later today to discuss the lawsuit.
State Senate President Keith Faber says he expects Gov. John Kasich’s proposal for a two-year, federally funded Medicaid expansion to gain approval from a seven-member legislative oversight panel known as the Controlling Board. Faber, a Republican who opposes the expansion, says it’s now time for the legislature to consider broader reforms for Medicaid, which provides health insurance to low-income and disabled Ohioans. After months of wrangling with legislators in his own political party to approve the expansion, Kasich, a Republican, on Friday announced he would bypass the legislature and instead ask the Controlling Board to approve federal funds to expand Medicaid eligibility to more low-income Ohioans for two years. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio previously found the expansion would generate $1.8 billion for Ohio and insure nearly half a million Ohioans over the next decade.
Mayor Mallory says the Millenium Hotel’s owners agreed to conduct a feasibility study to see what kind of renovations the market will support for the hotel. Mallory told The Cincinnati Enquirer that the agreement is the first sign of progress since discussions about overhauling the shabby hotel began.
To tackle concerns about second-hand smoking, one state senator proposed a bill that would ban smoking in a car when a young child is present. It’s the second time in two years State Sen. Charleta Tavares (D-Columbus) introduced the bill.
Allegiant Air will offer low fares to fly to Florida from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG), ending months of speculation over whether the airline would pick CVG or Lunken Airport.
A state audit released on Tuesday found a local water worker was paid $437 in 2001 for work that wasn’t done.
Cincinnati’s 21c Museum Hotel was named the No. 1 hotel in the country and tied for No. 11 in the world in Conde Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards.
Scientists found a way to block the dopamine rush associated with THC and make marijuana un-fun to help people with a psychological dependence on the drug.
Homeless advocates gathered in front of the Hamilton County Courthouse on Wednesday to speak out against the county sheriff’s attempts to evict homeless people sleeping at the courthouse and Hamilton County Justice Center with the threat of jail time.
The press conference came on the same day that four local homeless filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil’s new policy is cruel and unusual because it punishes people for being homeless.
Charmaine McGuffey, head of the Hamilton County Justice Department, says the policy is necessary to address a public health issue. She explains that every morning county officials are forced to clean up urine and feces left by the homeless the night before, and often the county doesn’t have the resources to completely disinfect the areas.
Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, says county officials should stop using taxpayer money to address public defecation and focus on the state of the economy. He’s asking locals to tell county officials, “I want my government to invest in jobs and housing, not in pushing people to the margins.”
If the policy remains, Spring says the county could at least compromise and hold enforcement until the winter shelter opens, which would provide another housing opportunity for many of the homeless people who currently rely on county buildings for a safe spot to sleep.
McGuffey says the current timeline for the winter shelter opening — two months — is too much time to wait for what she describes as a public health issue. She says it’s also unclear whether local organizations, which are still gathering funds for the shelter, will have enough money to open it.
At the press conference, Spring was joined by several homeless people who shared their experiences. All the speakers echoed a similar theme: They’re not homeless by choice, and they only sleep on county property because it’s much safer than the alternatives, such as alleys and abandoned buildings.
McGuffey insists no one is trying to demonize homeless people. She says officers try to link homeless people with local human services when possible. Some of that outreach is already underway through trained officers and neighborhood liaisons, and starting next week the county will bring in a trained mental health professional to act as an advocate and outreach coordinator.
But if help can’t be found, McGuffey says officers have to threaten arrest to invoke a “sense of immediacy” or homeless people might never leave the properties and the public health issue would go unaddressed.
So far, the sheriff’s office sees the program as successful. Over the past four weeks, it’s brought down the amount of homeless people camping out at the Hamilton County Courthouse and Justice Center each night from 40 to 12, according to McGuffey. She says the reductions exemplify people who were redirected to human services, but there’s no hard evidence showing those people actually got help or whether the reduction is temporary.
Spring says there aren’t enough human services to get all of the city’s homeless help. That, he claims, is the real problem that needs local officials’ attention.
Over the past decade, City Council fell far short of its funding goal for human services,
which aid homeless and low-income Cincinnatians.
candidates, including Chris Seelbach, Greg Landsman and Mike Moroski,
say increasing human services funding to 1 percent of the operating budget will be a
priority for them over the next few years. The increase would represent an
improvement, but it would still fall short of the city’s 1.5 percent goal.
Meanwhile, Strategies to End Homelessness aims to reduce homelessness in Hamilton County from more than 7,000 to roughly 3,500 over the next five years through an initiative backed by the city and county.
As part of Homelessness Awareness Month, Spring and other
advocates will march in support of homeless causes later this month. The
march will begin at 3 p.m. on Oct. 26 at 1300 Vine St. in Over-the-Rhine.
Despite problems with staff and records, a report is calling changes to Ohio’s youth prisons system a model for the nation. The report from a court-appointed monitor praised the Ohio Department of Youth Services for reducing the number of offenders in secure confinement and spreading services for youthful offenders around the state. However, the report also points out staff shortages, inadequate teachers and inconsistent medical records. Advocates for youthful offenders claim the bad findings show a need for continued court supervision.
There’s a new sheriff in town, and the old one is becoming a visiting judge. Simon Leis, who served as sheriff for 25 years, is best known for going after an allegedly obscene Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit and prosecuting pornographer Larry Flynt. As visiting judge, he will take on cases other judges are assigned but can’t get to due to full dockets.
An appeals court is allowing City Gospel Mission to move to Queensgate. The special assistance shelter wants to move from its current Over-the-Rhine property to Dalton Avenue, but businesses and property owners at Queensgate oppose the relocation. In its opinion, the Ohio First District Court of Appeals said opponents to the relocation “have not raised any genuine issues of material fact in support of their constitutional attack upon the notwithstanding ordinance in their capacity as neighboring businesses and property owners.”
Butler County nonprofit services are worried that a greater need for their services in 2013 will force more budget tightening.
U.S. retailers did not have a good Christmas. Holiday sales were at the lowest they’ve been since 2008. The disappointing sales have forced retailers to offer big discounts in hopes of selling excess inventory.
Former president George H.W. Bush is in intensive care “following a series of setbacks including a persistent fever,” according to his spokesperson.
The Food and Drug Administration says FrankenFish, a giant, genetically modified salmon, is environmentally safe.
Fun fact: More Iranians worry about global warming than Americans.
Colleges are now helping students scrub their online footprints.
Antifreeze now tastes bitter to deter animals and children from eating it.
Scientists have developed a highly advanced robot boy capable of doing chores. Keep its face in mind, for you could be looking at the first of our future robot overlords.