Groups ask Ohio to spend $300M of COVID relief funds on housing

Dayton community invited to discussions today.

Some organizations and companies across the Dayton region and Ohio want the governor and legislature to put more than $300 million of the state’s federal rescue funds toward affordable housing projects and investments.

American Rescue Plan Act money could help create thousands of affordable rental and housing units, reducing homelessness and bringing stability to the lives of many vulnerable Ohioans, said the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio (COHHIO).

Credit: Cornelius Frolik

Credit: Cornelius Frolik

Local residents today will have a chance to provide comments about the state of housing in the region and share what they believe are its housing needs.

“I think it is very important for everyone’s voice to be heard,” said Amy Riegel, a Dayton resident and the executive director of COHHIO. “Housing often is a local issue.”

The Ohio Department of Development will host two listening sessions in Dayton about the state of housing in the community. They will be at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. at the Dayton Metro Library West Branch, located at 300 Abbey Ave.

Credit: Cornelius Frolik

Credit: Cornelius Frolik

The Department of Development says the listening sessions are meant to help the state better understand the current housing landscape and identify best practices and gaps in products, services and programs.

Multiple groups that plan to attend the meetings are calling on the state to use some of its $5.6 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money to expand the supply of lower-cost housing.

More than 225 companies and organizations have joined COHHIO to urge the state to use $308 million on housing investments.

This includes the Montgomery County Commission, the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center, St. Vincent de Paul Dayton and the YMCA of Greater Dayton.

The state could and should use rescue funds to create as many as 5,000 affordable rental units and 1,500 permanent supportive housing units, COHHIO said.

Permanent supportive housing units would serve homeless youth, human trafficking and domestic violence survivors and chronically homeless people with severe behavioral health issues.

Funding could and should be spent to rehab and develop affordable rental units while leveraging financing from housing tax credit and multifamily bond programs, COHHIO said.

New units could serve low-income families, seniors and people with disabilities.

Rental prices have been rising, and wages haven’t kept pace, and homes are selling very quickly, often over the asking price, said Riegel, who recently was named executive director of COHHIO and who previously worked for CareSource and the city of Dayton.

Though Dayton regularly is highlighted as one of the most affordable housing markets in the nation, even it has seen “drastic” increases in home prices, she said.

Ohioans on average need to earn more than $16 per hour to be able to afford a two-bedroom apartment, without shouldering a severe housing cost burden, Riegel said.

Many Dayton-area residents and Ohioans work in retail, customer service, the service industry and other sectors where they earn significantly less than that amount, she said.

In the Dayton metro area, retail sales people earn about $14.60 per hour, while waiters and waitresses earn about $11.50, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Some other occupations pay even less. The average weekly wage in Montgomery County was about $1,010 in the first quarter of 2021, according to the bureau.

Dayton and Montgomery County have a shortage of affordable housing, says an assessment that was released last year and was paid for by the Miami Valley Non-Profit Housing Collaborative.

The city and county could use more than 20,000 new affordable housing units in the next five years, the assessment found.

Gov. Mike DeWine’s office continues to work with the legislature to ensure that ARPA funds are used in ways that will lead to transformative change, said Jill Del Greco, a communications advisor with his office.

“All requests that have been brought to us are under consideration for future ARPA use, including requests for investments in affordable housing,” she said. “The Department of Development is hosting these discussions so that we can get the full picture of the current housing landscape in Ohio to determine how the state can best help those who need housing.”

Tim Bete, president of the St. Mary Development Corp., plans to attend the morning listening session on Monday. Bete said it’s a good idea to spend state rescue funds on affordable housing.

“It is a great use of the money because it’ll provide a benefit for a long time,” he said.

But Bete said developing affordable housing is very complicated and ARPA is just one funding source that seems to have a fairly short spending deadline.

He said rushing affordable housing projects carries the risk of putting them in areas where they aren’t needed most, and rushed projects also might not create the types of housing communities needs most.

Ohio needs to spend some time developing a statewide housing plan so that when funding opportunities arise there is a good strategy in place about where and what type of investments to make, he said.

St. Mary Development Corp. could receive some ARPA funds from the city of Dayton for new housing.

The nonprofit has been recommended to be awarded $1.5 million of the city’s $138 million in rescue funds to develop 10 new cottages at the Hoover senior lofts.

St. Mary could create additional units if more state or federal money became available, Bete said.

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