Construction is starting on a new 180-unit affordable housing development in Northern Columbus, Ohio which will list rent as low as $350 a month. The building is called The Sinclair, and it’s scheduled to open in 2023. The building is located on 5055 Sinclair Road, and it sits on the former Alrosa Villa site which had a historic music venue in the city where a shooting occurred in 2004. The building was listed for sale in 2019.
Leaders in the city and state gathered to discuss the new project which is owned and operated by NPR. The building will offer a fitness area, computer room, and apartments that range in size up to four bedrooms.
“We need to continue to build more houses. That’s not just affordable homes,” Director of Development for the City of Columbus, Mike Stevens said.
According to Stevens, the population of Columbus has grown by 100,000 people in the last decade. The city passed a $50 million bond package two years ago to help fund affordable housing. City leaders have discussed using $35 million of that package, and some of that money went to building The Sinclair.
Stevens has said that the rest of the bond package will help put 1,000 more affordable housing units on the market. The units would take up to two years to construct, but the current affordable housing gap in the market for Columbus is estimated to be around 54,000 units.
“There are other tools we’re using to encourage that private development to make the investment into new housing,” Stevens said.
Stevens also brought up trying to lure developers into converting old hotels and motels into affordable living spaces as well as revamping zoning codes to allow for more transitional housing.
Finding affordable housing is an issue that’s affecting many families across Columbus, and across the U.S in general. It’s estimated that 54,000 families in Franklin County spend more than half of their income on rent, according to a study that the Affordable Housing Alliance of Central Ohio published.
State Sen. Hearcel Craig said that the coronavirus pandemic and the impact that it had on the economy has made the need for affordable housing rise dramatically.
“As the city continues to grow, it will be vital to ensure that individuals who work in Columbus and families who live in Columbus will be able to afford to live in Columbus,” Craig said. “The combination of density and quality offered by the Sinclair Apartments uniquely helps to address this crisis.”
On November 11, Black community leaders talked about affordable housing during a press conference. They urged public and private officials to do more to create affordable housing in Greater Columbus, saying the need is direr now than ever. The leaders also pointed out how this issue largely impacts single Black mothers who can’t afford child care, which makes it difficult for them to work.
Stephanie Hightower, president of the Columbus Urban League, said that her organization has had 12,000 calls since July from people looking for help because they were worried that they were going to lose their homes.
“Most of these calls were from single Black moms,” Hightower said. “These moms are calling more than once.”
According to ApartmentList.com, rent in the Columbus area has jumped by 10% in just the past year, with the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment at $931 and a two-bedroom at $1,133. From 2010 to 2020, greater Columbus grew by 235,600 residents, but during that period there were only around 82,000 new homes and apartments.
Christie Angel, president, and CEO of YWCA in Columbus, said her organization now shelters 188 individuals, 76% of whom are black. The average shelter stay was only intended to be around 22-30 days, but it’s now increased to an average stay of 82 days.
“This is supposed to be an emergency program,” Angel said. She said that the YWCA has a $2 million-a-year fund to pay for emergency shelter expenses, but costs keep increasing while that amount hasn’t changed.
Sidney Childs, the new chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer for the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority, said the authority plans to build 500 units of affordable housing each year for the next five years.They’re also looking for more landlords to sign up to receive tenants using federal housing vouchers to subsidize their rent.
The city of Columbus is in the process of updating its zoning code. The code hasn’t seen a major overhaul since the 1950s, and a consultant that the city hired said the code is outdated, with the city relying too much on rezonings and variances that often prove controversial with residents.
On Oct. 28, city leaders discussed how the remaining money of the $50 million bond package is going to be spent. They said that $21.2 million is going to be spent on projects with a total of 580 housing units, and $14.6 million is going to be used for seven projects with 178 units.
In a separate action critical of the city’s tax abatement policies on Thursday, community activist and former Columbus City Council candidate Joe Motil said that the city and Franklin County should spend $60 million each in federal American Rescue Plan dollars, with the Columbus Partnership adding another $60 million to build 6,200 affordable housing units. He also said that the city needs to increase the percentage of the hotel-motel tax revenue going toward the Affordable Housing Trust fund from 8.43% to 20%.
As the Columbus population continues to accelerate, affordable housing is needed now more than ever. This is an issue that is primarily impacting Black communities, so the city needs to work on trying to allocate their funds to fix the issue while also trying to tackle the problems that make this issue more important for certain groups. By figuring out why affordable housing is harder to find for the Black community, they can try and resolve multiple problems along with creating more affordable housing.