A tale of two Franklintons: development and affordability spar in central Ohio's oldest community
Two decades after the completion of the flood wall, Franklinton is seeing explosive development, especially near the Scioto River.
The neighborhood now faces an age-old problem: gentrification threatens to push out families who have always called the historically-affordable neighborhood home.
The story has always ended the same, the lower- and middle-income residents are forced to leave. But some hope Franklinton might be the exception, and that this time, growth will lead to a thriving mixed-income neighborhood.
Eric Vacheresse is an artist who has lived in east Franklinton for a dozen years. He’s renovating Garage 129 on McDowell Street to use it as an art gallery and performance space. It would fill a growing void as many other artists get booted by developments or priced out of the neighborhood.
Among east Franklinton’s murals, studios and collectives, towering luxury apartment buildings have sprung up.
“It's popped up in the last two years,” Vacheresse said. “Like, my skyline has completely changed. I'm still like, my eyes are still adjusting.”
Vacheresse knows that this is how gentrification happens – and that he played a part in it, too. The artists always come first, making previously downtrodden areas like Franklinton “cool” and desirable.
But as development moves from the sparkling Scioto Peninsula further into east Franklinton, Vacheresse hopes the artists won’t get left behind.
“There’s not much room for, you know, the little guy to flourish,” he said.
Central Ohio’s oldest community
Long before it was absorbed into Columbus, Franklinton began as central Ohio’s oldest community. For much of its nearly 230-year history, it was plagued by a major problem: flooding.
The working-class neighborhood was often called “the bottoms,” because it was built on bottomlands – the low-lying area by the Scioto River. Floods repeatedly destroyed infrastructure.
In the 1980s, the federal government prohibited new development in the neighborhood and restricted improvements of existing buildings.
That changed in 2004 with the completion of the floodwall. It brought the promise of revitalization to what had become a depleted Franklinton.
Two decades later, that promise is being realized, but not without consequences.
“There was a hope that we could do gentrification right in Franklinton,” said Kevin Ballard, vice president of Franklinton’s century-old social service agency, Gladden Community House. "No one's ever done it right before, anywhere in the country. But we had hopes that we could kind of try to slow it down.”
Ballard said even away from east Franklinton in the heart of the neighborhood, the housing that low-income families can afford is being demolished or bought up and flipped. Meanwhile, rent prices rise across the city.
Leaning back in his office chair at Gladden Community House, he pointed out the window.
“This beautiful building right across the street here was built by the Franklinton Development Association as affordable housing, 10 units. We need 100 of those. We need 1,000 of those,” Ballard said.
Town Square Station is Franklinton Development Association’s first big housing project. Its 99-year land lease through Central Ohio Community Land Trust guarantees rents will remain low for decades, according to Franklinton Development Association Director Eric Skidmore.
Franklinton Development Association has been in the neighborhood for about 30 years. For much of that time, the organization focused on rehabbing houses for lower-income individuals for home ownership. Now, the association works to increase the number of apartments with rent restrictions for eligible low- and middle-income families.
“Basically, we think that there is a lot of value to, a diverse neighborhood, a mixed-income neighborhood,” Skidmore said.
Half a dozen current and future Franklinton projects hope to create some 300 affordable apartments in the coming years. Franklinton Development partnered with Woda Cooper Companies on the 97-unit Starling Yard, which is expected to be completed in 2025. And in Vacheresse’s neighborhood in east Franklinton, McDowell Place, developed by Homeport Ohio, is expected to offer 50 apartments by 2024.
Still, Skidmore says that still won’t fully meet the need.
“But we'll do the best that we can,” he said.
Searching for a solution
Gladden House Director of Development Travis Hoewischer believes developers could be part of the solution.
“It's a lot to expect sometimes of for profit companies who have a job to do and or a product to sell to also invest in the community,” Hoewischer said.
But Hoewischer thinks most developments and businesses coming into the neighborhood do want to give back – he and Ballard said Land Grant Brewing and Cover my Meds have been great partners. But Ballard adds there can be complications.
“There are lots of new people moving in and businesses moving in that want to be supportive of the neighborhood. They just don't quite know how because it is two very different cultures,” Ballard said.
But Ballard, Hoewischer and Skidmore all agree that community organizations will do what they can to support current residents and mitigate gentrification as long as they can.
However, change is coming. It always does.
“It’s hard to manage it in a more humane way that protects the existing residents, even as it supports new development. That's just a hard balancing act and there's no magic answer to that,” Ballard said.