Affordable Housing Going Green: Hamilton County community to see new public housing development

by J.P. Dean
Just northwest of downtown Cincinnati sits 28 square miles of rolling green hills. It’s a suburb with 38% of its land classified as forested and 11% is farmland. There’s a lot of green in Green Township and soon there’s going to be more afford¬able housing there too thanks to a recent arbitration from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

HUD’s recommendation came as the verdict on a dispute between Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) and Hamilton County that began over a year and a half ago. In October 2009, accusations were filed against CMHA claiming that it was allowing Green Township to avoid adding any new public housing. The results of HUD’s investigation were released in February of this year and earlier this month CMHA voted 3-2 to accept a Voluntary Compliance Agreement with HUD’s decision. The plans are in motion to build public housing in the township.

Of the 22,000 plus units that house the population of Green Township only 28 of them are currently public housing. This 0.01% puts the township far below the already low 4% average for Hamilton County. The discrepancy has been largely attributed to a certain conflict of interest, former CMHA board chairman Arnold Barnett is also a resident of Green Township. For several years Barnett managed to sidestep public housing in his “backyard” but now CMHA will comply with HUD’s recommendation and add the missing housing units that could have been there years before. Unfortunately, this decision is being met with resistance by some residents.

Recent newspaper articles have sensationalized fears of rising crime and falling house prices that come with the usual rhetoric against affordable housing, but the most drastic rebuttal to CMHA’s decision is a case of “cutting one’s nose to spite your face.”

David Linnenberg, vice chairman of Green Township’s Board of Trustees, is threatening to withdraw the township from grant programs associated with HUD to avoid having to add more affordable housing in the future. Linnenberg and his associates would rather forego millions of dollars for roads, parks and other improvements than embrace this opportunity to improve the lives of several low income families. The board will vote on the issue later this month, but the facts seem to be getting muddled in the panic that some are creating.

There is some confusion over the numbers. HUD has requested a minimum of 32 new units but some reports say 68 new units while other say that it will be a new total of 68 once the new units are built. Depending on what source you are reading the numbers either look modest or are made to seem high. According to Jessica Powell of the Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio, half of the confirmed 32 units will be subsidized housing which brings the number of public housing units down even further. But even if 68 new units were constructed this would still leave Green Township considerably below the county average for helping struggling families find affordable housing.

Despite the fear mongering that seems to be surrounding the CMHA’s choice to build the housing units there are many in Green Township who recognize the positive potential of this move. When interviewed, former CMHA board member Lacretia Johnson has defended the benefits of affordable housing in the area. Johnson and her family currently live in one of the 28 public housing units to be found in Green Township and therefore have witnessed firsthand the benefits that scattered housing in financial secure neighborhoods can provide for families seeking to better their lives.

Legal Aid and others have congratulated CMHA and hope that the people of Green Township will see the good in this opportunity.

The next Board of Trustees meeting will be held on Monday, June 27 at 6303 Harrison Avenue in Green Township. If you want to attend, the public forum is held between 5 p.m. and 5:25 p.m. and potential speakers are required to fill out a speaker card if you wish to address the board.