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With $50 Million On The Ballot, Columbus Looks For Affordable Housing Strategy

Mayor Ginther describing the city's One Linden Plan during an interview with Tracy Townsend of WBNS-TV at the Columbus Metropolitan Club.
Nick Evans

Columbus officials are asking voters to sign off on $50 million in new borrowing for affordable housing. But voters will have to decide before a specific spending plan is in place.

The city and the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, or MORPC, are inviting consultants to help them analyze current affordable housing efforts and to develop plans for the bond money in a new Request For Proposals. 

“We are looking for effective and strategic plans, not just for Columbus but for the region, that will ensure residents will be able to remain in their neighborhoods without stifling growth and development," Mayor Andrew Ginther said in a press release.

Columbus Development Director Steve Schoeny explains they want approval to borrow money first, so their eventual plans aren’t obsolete.

“We didn’t want to have a plan in place today, that by the time we actually have the dollars is a year and a half old,” Schoeny says. “The housing market changes fast enough that we thought it was better financial stewardship to be working on obtaining the funds at the same time that we’re doing the planning.”

He notes the timeline between approving the bond and dollars becoming available could take months or more than a year. The entirety of the $50 million may not be realized right away either.

The deadline for consulting firms to submit proposals is May 6, one day before the election. Schoeny says the city and MORPC are shooting for late July to name a winner. Assuming the bond measure gains approval, defining a strategy for the new dollars will be a major part of their charge.

Schoeny adds the region’s affordable housing needs far outstrip the $50 million currently on the ballot.  

“This is not a situation where we’re going to have dollars that are unnecessary," Schoeny says. "It’s a matter of figuring out how we—what’s the right way to spend this $50 million.”

It’s a point the mayor made when he announced the borrowing in January—calling it a "down payment" on the city’s affordable housing needs.

The neighborhood development bond issue is just one part of more than $1 billion in new borrowing on the May ballot. The four other bond measures will support spending on public health, parks, utilities and public services.

Ginther has said the city can manage that debt load without raising taxes.

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Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.