Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Mt Lookout Public Housing Controversy: My Take on this.

One of the advantages about not being born and raised in Cincinnati is that I look at things maybe a little more objectively. After 20 yrs as a Historic Restoration Consultant I have worked on countless zoning issue and have dealt with issues of low income housing in the past in other major cities. So here is my unsolicited "take' on this issue.

First of all I "understand" the utter frustration, and panic of the residents of Mt Lookout, clearly one of the nicest places in the city. People have worked hard all their life to attain a level of success to be able to afford to live there, they love their neighborhood and they maintain it and they feel "blindsided" by Public Housing coming to their neighborhood. They have legitimate concerns about their property values, their quality of life and the public safety of their neighborhood, and frankly there is nothing they can do to stop this.

I also "understand" the sense of "glee" being felt by residents of Price Hill, Fairmount and Westwood who feel they have been a dumping ground for years. The "its their turn, see how you like it" sentiment runs high and if one looks at the message boards on the Enquirer you can see it. Maybe it is the "East vs West" thing, I don't know and frankly I don't care.

What we need to be talking about it the entire issue of the CMHA. Public Housing should not be a birth to death entitlement program, it should be a 'hand up' in a time of need and it should be temporary, except for those who have a mental disability or a physical disability or are elderly and on fixed income.

The great experiment by Lyndon Johnson was never meant to be a multi generational welfare system and it is time that we, as a community, look at how we "fix' the issue of a broken system. Far too many 'play' this system, they teach their children who to "play the game" how to get on disability. We reward irresponsible behavior of having too many kids you can not afford with a bigger Section 8 voucher, or a larger deduction on taxes for dependents. A large number of people in this country pay nothing to the Federal Government in Federal Taxes but receive billions in benefits. Our schools are broken and our neighborhoods are deteriorating. In fact, we no longer have neighborhoods just houses where that we come home too and lock our doors and turn on our security systems, and sit down to evening news of this bailout or that bailout or how the Federal Government is wasting our tax dollars on some pork barrel project.

Take the CMHA, it has 300 employees and services 5200 units. Even if every one of those employees were a case worker ( and they are not) that is an impossible case load. Also the CMHA appears to operate in a vacuum with little or no oversight.

Questions that all of us regardless of what side of town you are in need to be asking:

1. Just how does CMHA acquire property and why is there no public comment BEFORE acquisition? The State of Ohio has a Sunshine Law and the Federal Government also has laws regarding transparency. Are these guideline being followed?

2. Conflicts of Interest: Are their "Conflict of Interest" issues with the board of CMHA and whom are they accountable to?

3. Direction? Is the purpose of CMHA to provide needed services to those who truly need them or is CMHA simply in an expansion mode looking to grab more federal dollars. Cincinnati is 52 in terms of size yet CMHA is 17th largest in the country.

4. Cost per unit: What is the cost per unit of acquisition and repairs and is CMHA being fiscally responsible?

The number of 38K for a single person and 55K for a family of 4 as being the low income threshold for "low income assisted housing' in Mt Lookout. Lets put that in perspective if you are a single person making 38,000 a year with lets say 1000.00 a month in car payment and credit card debt you can, according to the HUD/FHA website, afford to buy a 120,000.00 home with an annual 2000 a year property tax bill. Note the average median home price in Cincinnati is 127,805.00 and is in decline due to economy. Now you may not be able to afford a dream house in MT Lookout but you certainly can buy a nice home.

So why are we providing subsidies to people who do not need it? Why are we not concentrating on the truly needy? Our biggest concern as a community should be lobbying to change the federal guidelines as they are too generous and we as taxpayer are subsidizing people who do not need help! We need to eliminate the massive fraud in this system.

However the whole Mt Lookout, public housing controversy pales by comparison to what may happen with the Section 8 program. The Obama administration is looking at tightening the guidelines for Section 8 certification as relates to lead based paint. If the restrictions under discussion become law, it will render most Section 8 property ineligible to be certified for Section 8 in the City of Cincinnati. Most landlords will not spend the 20-40,000 estimated cost to bring a property into compliance for the new tougher guidelines.

What does that mean? Look out Townships and Suburbs! Foreclosures are already being bought by investors looking to rent them out with Section 8 Vouchers. These new guideline will also affect CMHA properties as well. Few properties built prior to 1978 will meet the guidelines. Housing agencies in California and a few other states are looking at making changes to their State laws to allow them to buy foreclosed, post lead based paint ban, "McMansions" and convert them into multi family units and over-ride local zoning ordinance.

Basically one can expect round two of "Middle Class Flight" and it will be either to the "far burbs" which means the City of Cincinnati property and income tax base gets decimated, and local business cant attract quality workers OR an exodus back to the Urban Neighborhoods originally abandoned because of low income housing. In that case the city is ill prepared to offer quality schools and the expected level of services one gets in the suburbs, meaning taxes will have to go up. The city will also have to come up with some sort of subsidy or grants to get a massive amount of housing stock restored. Far more incentives than the current 10 yr tax abatement.

There is far more to this than Public Housing comes to Mt Lookout, and it is time for we the taxpayers to ask hard questions.

1 comment:

Bob said...

Couldn't have said it better. Right on the money, Paul!