GOPC Shares Expertise on Housing Policy Panel in Cleveland

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Last week, GOPC’s Manager of Government Affairs Jason Warner had the opportunity to join a distinguished panel of experts at the Cleveland State University College of Urban Affairs as part of their series Ohio Fair Lending/Vital Communities Brown Bag: What Happened in Housing at the Statehouse This Year?. Joining Warner on the panel were Bill Faith, the Executive Director of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio (COHHIO), Nate Coffman, Executive Director of the Ohio CDC Association, and Holly Swisher of the Ohio Housing Finance Agency (OHFA). The panel was moderated by Byron Soloman of NOBLE. Ms. Swisher provided the attendees with an update on the work OHFA has been involved with assisting homeowners in housing counseling to stave off foreclosure and assisting communities with the demolition of decaying properties.

Warner spoke to the panel about the various initiatives in the budget process related to lead mitigation and inspection programs. The budget made important progress in lead abatement by allocating $4.8 million annually for abatement activities and associated testing, as well as establishing a new residential rental unit registry and will provide a list of certified lead-safe rental units across the state. There was also a move to attempt to override local government home rule authority by granting the sole and exclusive authority of the regulation of lead abatement, including the licensing of lead abatement professionals, to the Ohio Department of Health. This change, had it been accepted, would have usurped local ordinances which had been enacted in cities like Toledo and Cleveland, as well as setting back progress that had been made in state regulations concerning lead mitigation. The changes were opposed by a broad coalition of organizations, and ultimately were removed from the budget. However, a standalone bill that seeks to enact the exact same changes, House Bill 299, was introduced in late June and was recently assigned to the House Health Committee, meaning discussions on this issue will likely continue in the near term.

Warner also had an opportunity to provide attendees with a brief update on the continued negotiations at the Statehouse regarding the MCO sales tax and the proposed increase in the state HIC fee to replace that lost funding. While discussions are ongoing among legislative leaders and the administration, no agreement has been reached and if no agreement is in place by the end of the year, counties and transit agencies across the state will see a dramatic decrease in revenues, resulting in the need for either cuts at the local level, or alternative revenue enhancements to replace the lost funding.

Finally, Faith and Coffman explained their recent efforts to include an amendment to the budget which would have provided a substantial increase in funding for the Ohio Housing Trust Fund. The amendment, which was crafted with the input and support of the leadership of the Ohio House of Representatives, would have provided long-term, sustainable funding to the trust fund through the use of non-GRF funding. In addition, the amendment provided $6 million per year to fight the states growing opiate crisis to expand housing options for low-income people exiting addiction treatment programs. Unfortunately, the amendment was removed by the Ohio Senate and was not resurrected during the budget conference committee negotiations. However, organizations such COHHIO and the Ohio CDC Association continue to advocate for this change, and Faith and Coffman encouraged attendees to continue to reach out to their legislators to educate them on the importance of providing long-term, sustainable funding to the trust fund.

GOPC thanks CSU for a great discussion about the importance of educating lawmakers on issues around housing and advocacy efforts year-round. To learn more about GOPC’s work in this policy area, be sure to check out the Advocacy page on our new website. 

Urban Institute President Calls on Ohio to Take the Lead in Broadening Access to Opportunity

By Torey Hollingsworth, GOPC Manager of Research and Policy Sarah Rosen Wartell, President of the Urban Institute, spoke about the connections between place and opportunity at the Starting from Home Conference in Columbus last week. Rosen Wartell discussed research illuminating the “geography of opportunity” – or the connection between where a child grows up and his or her long-term economic prospects – which was an animating theme for much of the conference. Neighborhoods can either serve as a “springboard” or “trap” for people living in poverty, and research has consistently found disparities within and between regions in providing access to opportunity.

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Because some neighborhoods serve as better springboards than others, Rosen Wartell argued that moving to a different community needed to be a realistic choice for low-income people. She noted that there is some bipartisan consensus around this idea, with free market advocates championing the removal of regulatory barriers like exclusionary zoning. Because of that common ground, mobility programs could be an area of opportunity for federal policy moving forward. Rosen Wartell cautioned that long-term solutions to poverty are not only as simple as moving low-income people to high opportunity places. Strategies that bring higher-income people to low-income neighborhoods are equally important, because amenities and other services will follow new residents. Protections need to be put in place to make sure that existing residents are able to benefit from these new opportunities and can remain in neighborhoods that are changing.

The benefits of creating mixed-income neighborhoods are not limited to giving people living in poverty greater access to opportunity. Regions experience real costs from economic and racial segregation, including lost wages, lost productivity, higher crime rates, and drained public resources. Ohio’s largest metropolitan regions – Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati – are among the most segregated nationwide in terms of income and race. Contending with this challenge could help make these regions both more equitable and more competitive.

Rosen Wartell noted that the 2016 Presidential election shone a spotlight on Ohio, particularly the significant economic change it is experiencing and the resulting growth in regional inequality. She suggested that Ohio has the opportunity to use this spotlight to demonstrate to the rest of the country that access to opportunity does not have to be “a zero sum game.” Given changing federal priorities, states can be “laboratories of creativity” in trying new approaches to creating economic opportunity. Ohio, she believes, is in a position to take the lead in developing pathways to broadly shared prosperity. Greater Ohio Policy Center is committed to advancing these important goals in our state through research and policy advocacy.