Study: West End residents at risk of displacement. Here’s how Port, FC Cincinnati plan to help

Port Authority releases West End housing report

CINCINNATI (Cincinnati Enquirer) - More than 4 in 10 West End residents risk losing their homes as a result of rising rents and real estate prices as the neighborhood, adjacent to gentrified Over-the-Rhine, risk displacement.

This is the result of a study released Thursday on housing in the Cincinnati neighborhood.

After years of little to no investment in the historically black neighborhood, it has been thrust into the spotlight as the site of the new FC Cincinnati stadium.

The study, paid for by the team as part of its written agreement to invest in the neighborhood, didn't directly address how the stadium would impact people living there now. Instead, it's a snapshot of current issues. And they're numerous.

The study found;

  • There is a need for 550 rental units that a family of four earning $65,000 or less could afford.
  • There is a need for 148 homes for a family of four earning $100,000 or more.

To help, the Port is investing $727,000 this year to stabilize six properties, four of them market rate, two for Habitat for Humanity families. It's revitalizing the Regal Theater and using a $5 million loan fund to help small business thrive in the neighborhood.

The study was initiated as part of a Community Benefits Agreement between The Port and FC Cincinnati - which split the cost of the $200,000 study - and the West End Neighborhood Association.

What the study found:

  • The study found that of all 3,579 total occupied housing units in the West End, about 27% of those households were "extremely threatened'' by displacement.
  • The households were comprised of low-income renters earning less than $31,350 a year who simply could not withstand a major rent increase, according to the study.
  • Another 17 percent of West End households potentially facing displacement were middle-income renters earning $31,350 to $50,150 a year, and homeowners with incomes ranging from $18,000 to just over $50,000 a year.
  • Those households were labeled "very threatened'' or "threatened'' because they could better withstand an increase in rents or property taxes than the extremely threatened group.
  • All told, 1,592 West End households were at some risk of displacement, according the study.

The numbers in the final report are slightly lower than preliminary figures reported in April by The Enquirer that showed 1,491 renters and 352 homeowners in the neighborhood were at risk.

The majority of West End residents (56%) live in protected, subsidized housing units or have the incomes to withstand major increases in their housing costs, according to the study.

If no new policies or programs are implemented to maintain affordable housing, the risk of displacement could "increase exponentially" as government affordability restrictions on subsidized housing expire, the study noted.

"If we just sit back and let things happen, we all know what that's going to look like,'' said Laura Brunner, president and CEO of The Port, alluding to the rapid pace of displacement that could occur if speculators were allowed to buy up most of the available housing.

Brunner acknowledged a need for more affordable housing in the West End. But according to her, the best way to stabilize the neighborhood and stem the tide of gentrification in the West End is to build more market-rate homes and apartments.

A lack of housing supply to meet demand at the high end pushes up prices for lower-end units making them less affordable for the poor, according to Brunner,

The West End study "does point out that there's a need for higher-priced apartments and homes than what exists for people who live there now,'' she said. "The irony is that by creating more market-rate (housing), we're actually protecting affordable housing.''

Brunner said about 20 percent of the buildings in the West End are vacant and offer opportunities for market-rate developments, but she acknowledged that more market-rate construction will not address the housing needs of all households in the West End.

That will take the collective efforts of city and county leaders and others to protect residents from displacement using the housing study as a guide, she said: "This (study) is not for us, it’s not just for FC (Cincinnati)...it’s for the whole community and stakeholders who are going to participate in the long-term revitalization of the neighborhood.''

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