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‘We are a movement:’ Issue 3 backers pledge to continue despite resounding defeat

Where do Cincinnati’s affordable-housing advocates go from here? It’s a question they appear to be asking themselves.
Updated: May. 5, 2021 at 8:11 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (FOX19) - Cincinnati voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected an affordable housing charter amendment, sending the issue’s supporters back to the drawing board on one the city’s most pressing needs.

Issue 3 would have required that city council appropriate $50 million to affordable housing every year.

Supporters say it took five years to get the amendment on the ballot. It garnered just 27 percent of the vote.

The autopsy of that defeat is in its early stages, but problems with the amendment were clear early on when members from both parties denounced it.

Problematically, the amendment did not provide a dedicated funding source. The funding sources it suggested, including a tax on developers and the use of funds from the Cincinnati Southern Railway, were declared nonstarters by the city, leaving general fund dollars likely the lone avenue.

The threat of budget cuts to essential services like police and fire was a central theme of Republican opposition. Mailers showcasing those cuts were decried by Issue 3 supporters as deceitful fearmongering.

But the amendment’s language left open the door for Republican leaders to make process arguments against it without dealing in the underlying issue of affordable housing.

Said City Council Member Chris Smitherman following Issue 3′s defeat, “Residents of Cincinnati are not rejecting affordable housing by saying ‘no’ on Issue 3. They are voting against this specific plan. Issue 3 would have been catastrophic to basic services.”

Many prominent Democrats came out against the measure as well, including Mayor John Cranley and City Council Member (and mayoral hopeful) David Mann. The Charter Committee also recommended against its passage.

Still, Josh Spring with the Greater Cincinnati Housing Coalition says he’s not giving up on the notion of bridging the city’s affordable housing gap, which a report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development recently placed at around 19,000 units.

“We’re used to seeing campaigns that are run by PR firms with nice, glossy mailers,” Spring said. “That’s not what this is. We are a movement. We are a movement of people and organizations, and a movement doesn’t stop until it arrives at its destination.”

Janiah Miller, a tenant organizer with the Homeless Coalition, echoes Spring’s sentiments.

“Right now, we’re strategizing on what the next steps look like for us, and really, this is a movement, and the movement doesn’t end until we reach our goal,” she said, adding the movement’s door is open for anyone to join.

Miller says she knows first-hand what it’s like to face housing insecurity.

“I have direct, lived experience [of] living in housing projects growing up, and I know the people, and I see the need,” she said. “Regardless of what income status you have, you’re still an individual. You’re still a person. There should be humanity.”

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