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against Council's support for the project in February, vocally expressed his opposition, and later, Councilman Winburn rescinded his support for the project.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.
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.
With the war on drugs widely considered a failure after more than four decades, experts are suggesting legalization and decriminalization as viable alternatives. One concern: Despite recent attempts at sentencing reform, Ohio’s prison population is set to grow further and breach a capacity barrier previously set by the U.S. Supreme Court in a ruling against California. With costs rising and drug use rates seemingly unaffected by harsher enforcement, groups of academics, former law enforcement officials and civil libertarians say it’s time to look at states and countries that have abandoned criminalization and harsh enforcement with great success. To read the full story, click here.
A planned supportive housing facility in Avondale is raising concerns for residents who claim the complex could hurt a neighborhood already plagued by poverty, crime, obesity, unemployment and homelessness. Particularly worrying for Avondale 29, the group opposing the plans, is that the facility is near a daycare and elementary school, which the group says could have a negative impact on neighborhood children. Supporters of the facility say the opposition is based on widespread misinformation. They point to a similar similar supportive housing facility in Columbus, which, according to the Columbus Police Department’s Gary Scott, had a positive impact on the community surrounding it.
Opponents of Cincinnati’s parking lease were dealt two major blows in court yesterday: The Ohio Supreme Court declined to hear their first legal challenge and effectively upheld the city’s referendum-immune emergency powers, and the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court refused to place a temporary restraining order on the lease despite claims that the city manager made “significant and material” changes to the deal without City Council approval. Both the challenges come from the conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), which claims parking rates and enforcement hours will rise because the city is ceding too much power over its services by leasing its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. Supporters of the parking lease argue the plan is necessary to leverage the city’s parking assets to finance development projects that will grow the city’s tax base.
Commentary: “Secrecy Plagues Potentially Good Programs.”
The city is fighting to have a document removed from its legal battle over the streetcar with Duke Energy. City officials says the document is “nothing scandalous” and the city just made a mistake by accidentally disclosing it, but a Duke attorney says the document is a source of “embarrassment” for the city and important to the case. As part of an agreement, Cincinnati and Duke are arguing in court to settle who has to pay an estimated $15 million to move utility lines to accommodate for the streetcar route.
Advocates of the federally funded Medicaid expansion yesterday filed petitions to the state attorney general’s office to get the issue on the 2014 ballot. As part of Obamacare, states are asked to expand their Medicaid programs to include anyone up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. If they accept, the federal government would pay for 100 percent of the expansion’s cost for three years then indefinitely phase down to 90 percent. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio found the expansion would save Ohio $1.8 billion and insure half a million Ohioans. Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, and state Democrats support the expansion, but Republican legislators are resisting it.
More than two-thirds of Ohioans support laws that protect gays and lesbians against job discrimination, but more than four in five mistakenly think such laws are already in place at the state and federal levels, according to the 2013 Ohio Values Survey from the Public Religion Research Institute. The survey also found a slim majority of Ohioans oppose amending the state constitution to allow same-sex marriage, which somewhat contradicts earlier polls from The Washington Post and Quinnipiac University that found a plurality of Ohioans now support same-sex marriage.
State agencies are probing the second high-profile suicide in an Ohio prison in the past month. Ariel Castro, a Cleveland man who was sentenced to life for kidnapping three women and beating and raping them as he held them for a decade, was found hanging on Tuesday after an apparent suicide. His death was the seventh suicide in an Ohio prison this year and the 35th since 2008. “As horrifying as Mr. Castro’s crimes may be, the state has a responsibility to ensure his safety from himself and others,” said Christine Link, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, in a statement. “Questions remain whether Mr. Castro was properly screened for suicide risk and mental illness.”
The Ohio Development Services Agency is offering $30 million in loans and grants to employers who train their workforce. “Building a strong economy is about ensuring Ohio’s workforce has the tools it needs for success,” said David Goodman, director of the Ohio Development Services Agency, in a statement. “We want our workforce to be ready for the competitive jobs of tomorrow.”
Ohio legislators are asking the federal government to pursue a balanced-budget amendment. Although the amendment might sound like a good idea in campaign platitudes, many economists agree it’s a bad idea because it limits the federal government’s flexibility in reacting to economic downturns that typically cause deficits by lowering tax revenues and increasing the amount of people on government services.
A Fairfield, Ohio, woman is being forced by the Fairfield Board of Zoning Appeals to get rid of five of her seven dogs. The woman, who says she suffers from depression, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis, says she needs the dogs to cope. The zoning board said it had heard anonymous complaints from neighbors, which apparently convinced the board to not provide an exemption for Fairfield’s two-pet limit.
Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble is considering dropping some products and offering low-price alternatives for others in response to growing concerns about lacking performance.
For the second time in a year, an Ohio judge is publicly shaming a convicted idiot.
A new implant allows doctors look into people’s brains.
Despite unanimous opposition, City Council yesterday fulfilled duties dictated by the City Charter and reluctantly voted to allow the controversial pension amendment on the November ballot. The amendment would privatize Cincinnati’s pension system so future city employees — excluding police and fire personnel, who are under a separate system — contribute to and manage individual 401k-style accounts. Currently, the city pools pension contributions and manages the investments through an independent board. City officials, including all council members, oppose the amendment because they say it will cost the city more and hurt benefits for city employees. Supporters of the amendment, who are backed by out-of-state tea party groups, claim it’s necessary to address Cincinnati’s rising pension costs. CityBeat covered the issue in greater detail here.
The conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) is once again taking the parking lease to court. The legal pursuit comes after City Solicitor John Curp denied COAST’s challenge. COAST claims that the city manager made “significant and material” changes to the parking lease, but Curp said the changes were ministerial and only made as a result of delays caused by COAST’s first legal challenge against the parking lease. If the latest legal tactic is successful, City Council could be forced to vote on the changes made to the parking lease, which could endanger the entire lease because a majority of council members now say they oppose the plan. A hearing is scheduled for the challenge today at 11:30 a.m.
Hamilton County is evicting homeless squatters from its courthouse, but it plans to carry out the evictions by connecting the homeless with existing services. “We don’t want to get mired down in too much political debate,” Hamilton County Sheriff’s Major Charmaine McGuffey told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “It’s a public health hazard.” About 750 people in Hamilton County are homeless throughout any typical night; of those, 700 spend the night in shelters and the rest, who are mostly downtown, sleep outside.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who’s running for mayor against ex-Councilman John Cranley, yesterday unveiled two TV advertisements: “Neighborhoods” and “Wheelbarrow.” The first ad touts Qualls’ supports for neighborhood investments. The second ad is particularly aggressive and claims Cranley was forced to resign from City Council because of ethics issues regarding his personal investments.
The number of Ohioans on welfare dropped over the past few years as Gov. John Kasich’s administration enforced federal work requirements. Ben Johnson, spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, says the efforts have brought the state’s welfare program into federal compliance.
Ariel Castro, the man convicted for the decade-long kidnapping, beating and raping of three Cleveland women he held captive, was found hanging in his prison cell on Tuesday after an apparent suicide.
Attorney General Mike DeWine yesterday released an update on the state’s sexual assault kit testing initiative: So far, the attorney general’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation has received 3,530 previously untested rape kits from 105 law enforcement agencies in Ohio. The agency has tested 1,488 kits, leading to to 460 hits in the Combined DNA Index System.
Internet cafe owners submitted petitions yesterday to put a law that effectively banned their businesses on the ballot. State officials claim the cafes were hubs for criminal and illegal gambling activity, but cafe owners say the ban is unfair.
This frog listens with its mouth.
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.
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.
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.
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.
UPDATE 11-8-12: An aide to Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls tells CityBeat that the $7 million loan will only go toward moving two of the shelters: the Drop Inn Center and a new women's shelter to be operated by the YWCA. Because the City Gospel Mission requires a religious component to is outreach to the homeless, it cannot receive federal funding. The original story follows below.
City Council on Wednesday signed off on a plan to apply for federal loans to help move three Cincinnati homeless shelters to new locations.
Council members voted with all but one approving the application for $37 million in loans, $7 million of which would move the Washington Park-area shelters.
If the loan is approved, the City Gospel Mission would move to the West End, a new women’s shelter would be build in Mount Auburn and the Drop Inn Center would move to a yet-undetermined location.
Cincinnati had pledged $10 million toward relocating the shelters. The loan would be paid back at $532,000 a year for the next 20 years.
Councilman Chris Smitherman was the sole dissenting voice. He said he supports the homeless, but he is wary of the risks of the loan and the city’s ability to pay it back.
Councilman Chris Seelbach, who said he moved to Over-the-Rhine shortly after the 2001 riots, voted to approve applying for the loan, but also voiced some concern.
“The reason I moved is because I loved it; I fell in love with the diversity of the neighborhood,” he said, noting income diversity as well as racial and ethnic.
“I would hope that we could find a location for the Drop that is in Over-the-Rhine and there isn’t a continued effort to push low income people out of Over-the-Rhine.”
Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, said the shelters the city has now are perfectly adequate and the money could be spent better developing affordable housing and creating jobs to help eliminate homelessness.
“Historically a majority of shelters started between 1982 and 1990 because in that era we cut dollars to housing and employment,” Spring said.
“Shelters were never created to end homelessness. Shelters were created for people to have a safe place once everything else had failed them. We shouldn’t let everything else fail them.”
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.