Many Little Kenyon-Barrs

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This is part of a new series exploring the question: “How Does Gentrification Work?”

Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority’s (CMHA) 2014 annual plan calls for the demolition of 1455 units of public housing across Hamilton county. This would disperse the population, probably in excess of 5000 people, throughout the county. CMHA controlled properties stand at 99% occupancy, and the federal funds identified to build new housing are already disbursed, so the residents will likely be given Housing Choice (Section 8) Vouchers and be pushed back into the private housing market. The extent of the plan is striking, with large developments like Stanley Rowe and Winton Terrace set to be vacated and razed along with nearly the entire neighborhood of Millvale, each project accounting for 200 to 500 units of the total amount. There are two primary questions to be explored: Why is the housing being demolished? And where does this fit in with the pattern of displacement at the city-wide level?

To understand housing policy in Cincinnati, one must first understand the city’s geography. Like any modern city in the United States, Cincinnati is heavily segregated. Though neighborhoods like Avondale and Over-the-Rhine (OTR) serve as the de-facto centers of the black population, the city has no main dividing line between black and white halves–in a city that loves to talk about imagined differences between the East and West Side, no given cardinal direction can be identified as the black-side of town. Cincinnati’s black population, about 45% of the total, lives in several pockets strewn throughout the city. Many neighborhoods are upwards of 90% black–Avondale, Bond Hill, Madisonville, Millvale, Villages at Roll Hill (Fay Apartments), The West End and Winton Hills and others. These neighborhood are also among the most impoverished. City wide blacks face very high rates of poverty–46% of blacks compared with 22% of whites are in poverty. Additionally, blacks face high levels of police discrimination and an unfathomable unemployment rate, relying on public services to a much larger degree than their white counterparts. Of the roughly 13,000 families on the waiting list for CMHA assistance, either for vouchers or for public housing, about 12,000 are black.

With its stark delineation of black and white neighborhoods, Cincinnati ranks as one of the top segregated cities in the country. The disparities in the racial makeup of neighborhoods and the way that poverty follows racial segregation, call into question whether residents who would be dispersed under the regime of de-concentration of poverty would be welcome in new communities.

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The Tragedy of the Alaska Commons

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A tragedy of the commons is occurring in Cincinnati. It’s not the tragedy that economics students learn in courses extolling capitalist forms of resource distribution. This tragedy is real–90 units of permanent supportive housing for people who experience chronic homelessness likely won’t be built on Alaska Avenue in Avondale. And if past experience is any indication of the future, it will be an uphill battle to find a location for the housing anywhere in the city.

The plan to build the housing, called the “Commons at Alaska,” had already passed through several levels of oversight, including garnering the blessing of city council and several other groups both large and small. However, the process was stalled at an April 29th meeting of the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA), which oversees subsidized housing projects in Hamilton county, when representatives from National Church Residences (NCR), who were behind the proposed housing, asked for 60 to 90 days to re-evaluate the project, primarily to find a new location.

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