Housing-Related Proposals, Summer of ’22
Dear Reader, it’s been quite a while since my last post. My apologies. Please know that the dearth of writing doesn’t signify an absence of activity at Council. In some ways, just the opposite.
So what’s the latest? In many ways, the issue of housing—whether, how, where, and in what form to develop more in our community—is impacting a number of planning and policy debates at the City. In some ways this issue is not new. After all, we have debated the issue of high-density apartments for a decade or so now, and current discussions fit into that continuum.
But the issue is complicated, and is about more than apartments and the many impacts of new urbanism and mixed-use development. Yes, those issues remain highly important to our community, and to me, but there are other dimensions to the issue of housing that I take seriously. For example, there are calls for us to examine and change our housing policies, not focused primarily on the effects on our built environment, but as they relate to inclusion and opportunity and the pervasive demand for more and more housing in the region.
When I ran for re-election last year, I talked about how it was important for the health of our political culture here in Worthington that we proactively engage in challenging, difficult conversations. Better to have open and respectful debate, than it is to try to avoid problems by ignoring the voices and ideas of each other.
Accordingly, having listened to many residents, proactively consulted with housing experts, read articles and studies, reflected on the current moment in our city, and spoken with Council colleagues, I have prepared a series of housing-related proposals for City Council consideration. The proposals fall into two categories: legislation related to housing policy, and processes for effective, long-term planning (of which housing is a component). I sent these proposals to my colleagues on Council two days ago, in a memo (copied below), before last night’s meeting, where we had a brief discussion about the proposals. As a result, one or more of these items will be on the agenda at the third meeting of this month, on Monday, 7/18.
Before getting to the memo itself, I want to be clear that my primary commitment, now and always, is to the existing residents of Worthington. Any high-impact policy, especially if it relates to permanent changes in our built environment and the resulting feel of our neighborhoods, must have the support of the broad public if I am to support it myself. I hope this is clear as you read through my proposals, and in what I will be saying in the upcoming discussions and debates.
I believe the issue of housing is highly important, not only for those needing it and seeking it, but for our community as a whole. I know many of you feel the same way. I offer these proposals as a constructive way forward that will afford everyone in our community an opportunity to give voice to their beliefs and interests, and to be fully respected when doing so, as we work our way forward as a community.
As always, I welcome your forthright feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org
July 4, 2022
Happy Fourth Council Colleagues,
As you know well, the issue of housing has been, and is, a focal point of discussion and debate in our community. The issue of housing takes many forms, and is related to many other topics and values that are of importance—senior housing, starter housing, affordable housing, social justice, diversity and inclusion, mobility and accessibility, regionalism, sustainability, responsible development, property rights, density, traffic, schools, impact on the City budget, home values, character of neighborhoods, and the interests of existing residents, to name but a few.
What follows are my current proposals related to the issue of housing in Worthington. The proposals fall into two basic categories: 1) actual legislative policies and programs that we could enact now, and 2) processes for further study and planning.
It is my intention that we discuss these legislative proposals at one or more Council meetings in the near future (if there is support, I suggest starting the third meeting of July). These legislative proposals represent an opportunity to not only talk and study, but to do something tangible, now, with either immediate (in the case of Pay to Stay) or near-term impact (in the case of Housing CRA and the Affordable Housing Bond Package) on the issue of housing in Worthington.
The proposals related to planning express my general thinking about how we may best—because constructive and actionable—conduct a study of housing issues in Worthington, and how this analysis would help inform a subsequent review and updating of the Comprehensive Plan (CP) in its entirety. In the meantime, prior to completion of a housing study, I propose that we begin work on updating the CP by focusing on areas of the city—Huntley and Proprietors Roads—where economic development considerations are foremost and the opportunities for creative thinking are evident.
Proposed Legislative Actions, Now
- Pay to Stay—A few months ago, as part of a virtual Building Inclusive Communities (BIC) meeting, Carlie Boos, Executive Director of the Affordable Housing Alliance of Central Ohio (AHACO), cited Pay to Stay—a policy that helps responsible tenants avoid eviction—as an urgent policy matter, and as a logical follow-up to Source-of-Income legislation. According to AHACO, “Pay To Stay codifies and standardizes an existing defense to eviction actions by allowing tenants to pay everything that is owed to avoid eviction.” I spoke with Ms. Boos soon after the BIC meeting, and again a few weeks ago, and she confirmed that Pay to Stay remains for AHACO a high-priority, actionable policy. The Pay to Stay Technical Guide, with an excellent Executive Summary on pg. 3, can be accessed here: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/55dcbb61e4b04de53492b533/t/628d15680b30c76af59c2ca2/1653413228873/Pay+to+Stay+Technical+Guide+-+May+2022.pdf
- Housing CRA—Worthington currently allows legislation creating Community Reinvestment Areas for commercial development only. I became aware of this fact (commercial only) during our recent discussions and actions where we expanded the city’s CRA boundaries. The Ohio Revised Code doesn’t restrict CRAs to commercial only—Worthington’s current policy reflects a decision by a prior Council and staff—but allows residential as well. While reading housing policy documents and articles over the last few months—and confirmed in subsequent conversations with Leah Evans, President and CEO of Homeport—I became aware that CRA tax benefits can be an important element in enabling affordable housing developers to build their financing “stack.” I propose that we examine this issue to understand the possible pros and cons of residential CRAs in Worthington.
- Affordable Housing Bond Package—Similar to Columbus’ 2019 affordable housing bond package, I propose that Worthington put on the ballot, as soon as practicable, a proportionally sized (≈ $1.1 million) program. These funds, if approved by the voters, would enable us to meaningfully incentivize the redevelopment, and/or new development, of affordable housing in our city. By “affordable housing” I mean projects that are locked-in to 30 year term, guaranteed rent levels at a prescribed percentage of AMI. I recommend that the ballot issue include provisions about timing for the use of the funds, a stipulation that they be used on parcels zoned multi-family at the time of the public vote, and any other qualifying descriptions and/or constraints for the use of the funds that heighten likely pubic support. In sum, I view this proposed program as a significant effort—a first for a central Ohio inner-ring suburb—and, if approved by the voters, and successful in its implementation, as a landmark first step. The public vote is an essential part of this proposal, since the support of residents is and will be integral to the long-term success of any progressive vision for housing in Worthington.
Proposed Planning Actions, Moving Forward
- Housing Study—Educating ourselves, and the public, with facts and clear concepts about the many facets of the housing issue—current and prospective—is necessary if we are to have an informed, pragmatic, and effective policy process here in Worthington. Toward this end, I propose that we authorize a study of housing that, while presenting some high-level comparative data, is very specific to Worthington, providing 1) a survey of current housing-related facts within our community (types, amounts, values, locations, related-zonings, trends thereof, etc.), and 2) an analysis of feasibility (availability of physical space, financial and legal factors, etc.) and impacts (access and affordability, environmental, traffic, schools, city finances, etc.) of different housing outcomes in different locations in our city. In other words, what is the current state of things, and where and how, if we so choose, could we alter the landscape, and to what effect? I believe we should sanction a study that provides a clear presentation and analysis of facts, while explicitly avoiding advocacy and policy recommendations (there are studies, books, organizations, etc., representing various housing viewpoints that are readily available elsewhere). The formulation and pursuit of policy is Council’s job, in dialog with the public, and this housing study ought to be a means of enabling practical conversation and action at Council.
- Comprehensive Plan—I propose that we—the MPC and Council—commit to updating the Comprehensive Plan (CP), in its entirety, and pursue this process along two tracks. First, conduct the housing survey and study, which will provide a factual grounding for an issue that permeates many of the land-use discussions in the CP. Second, and concurrent to the housing survey, that we begin now a focused consideration of the CP’s vision for Huntley and Proprietors Roads. These two corridors represent very significant commercial/industrial assets for the city (second only to the Wilson Bridge Road corridor), and, especially in light of the reconfigured Northeast Gateway, warrant a high-priority reappraisal within our CP. In sum, let’s get started by focusing on an area of high commercial importance, while preparing for an updating of the Plan across the broader community by way of the housing study and any other preliminary work that we undertake.
These are my proposals. Thanks for your consideration. I look forward to our discussions.
City Council President
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