Columbus voters approve affordable housing, other bonds

Voters approved Columbus' $200 million bond package for affordable housing that Mayor Andrew J. Ginther and other city officials say will provide funding for homes for lower-income residents in a market quickly becoming too-expensive for many.

With 100% of precincts reporting unofficial results Tuesday, they also approved by large margins bond issues for health, safety and infrastructure ($300 million); recreation and parks ($200 million); public service for work such as road resurfacing, and trash pickup ($250 million); and public utilities, which includes projects for the city's electric system, wand water, sanitary and storm sewer lines ($550 million).

The "yes" votes in the Franklin County portion of Columbus ranged from 62% for the health and safety bond issue to 71% for the recreation and parks issue. The affordable housing package picked up 68% of the vote.

They are all part of a total of a $1.5 billion bond package.

As far as affordable housing, city officials say the money is to be spent this way, in very general terms:

  • $80 million to build affordable rental units;

  • $50 million for affordable homeownership through the Central Ohio Community Land Trust;

  • $40 million to preserve housing affordability in targeted neighborhoods that have seen home prices skyrocket, such as the Near East Side, Linden and Franklinton;

  • $30 million for programs and housing for people dealing with homelessness.

"Not only did we lay out ways on how to spend $200 million, we have a housing strategy and plan," Mayor Andrew J. Ginther said Tuesday night as Franklin County Democrats were watching vote tallies coming in at Strongwater in Franklinton.

Ginther talked about a regional collaborative with Columbus' suburbs and other central Ohio communities toward a $1 billion investment goal for affordable housing over the next 15 years that would include federal and private funding. Ginther said he planned to talk with Upper Arlington officials on Friday.

Carlie Boos, executive director of the Affordable Housing Alliance of Central Ohio, said the vote on the affordable housing issue shows that there's a clear mandate for affordable housing.

"If there are any local leaders wondering if now was the right time to step up for affordable housing, I think now they have an undeniable answer," Boos said.

Local developer Bob Weiler, who leads the board of the Affordable Housing Trust for Columbus and Franklin County, said the bond money will help his group partner with banks to provide lending to projects that might otherwise not be able to obtain it.

"The bond package makes a difference in the lives of so many who can’t afford the high prices of rentals," Weiler said.

"It shows that the voters have put aside difficult economic times and all the other high prices and recognize that those who need housing need a warm, safe roof over their heads and deserve it," he said.

Developments such as the $20 million Intel project in Licking County promise to create thousands of jobs and lure more residents that will continue to put pressure on a housing market that is getting pricier by the year.

"Columbus cannot do it alone," Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin said. "We know that a house is where a job goes at night. We are falling behind."

The Affordable Housing Alliance of Central Ohio has said that 54,000 low- and moderate-income households in Franklin County pay more than half their income toward housing costs.

In 2019, Columbus voters approved a $50 million bond package that city officials say leveraged another $276 million in public and private sector support to create more than 1,300 housing units. That housing, was to be for individuals earning less than $46,960 per year or families of four making less than $67,050.

That money helped pay for the 100-unit Mulby Place apartments for seniors on Cleveland Avenue in North Linden and the 180-unit Sinclair Apartments on Sinclair Road near Interstate 71 on the North Side.

The new bonds won't raise taxes. The city sets aside a quarter of its income-tax collections – its largest revenue source – to repay its debt.

But by voting yes, voters are effectively agreeing to cosign on the package, with their property taxes automatically increasing to cover bond payments in the event that income taxes fall short of projections.

mferench@dispatch.com

@MarkFerenchik

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Columbus voters approve affordable housing, infrastructure bonds