Locations of Dayton’s affordable housing criticized

Ohio’s process for allocating tax credits for projects limits options for low income residents, a new study says.

New affordable housing projects in the Dayton area have been developed primarily in very poor and racially segregated areas, according to data from a report released Tuesday.

The upshot is that low-income families have extremely limited housing options in low-crime areas that offer strong access to quality schools, jobs, transportation and desired amenities, local advocates said.

The state of Ohio, which provides tax credits to affordable housing projects, should use better criteria when selecting winning projects to ensure more apartments are being placed in high-opportunity areas, said Matthew Currie, managing attorney at Advocates for Basic Legal Equality.

“We’ve seen this great disparity and we need bold action to stem the tide of this,” Currie said.

State officials, however, said the report, commissioned by the Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio, lacks important context about how funding decisions are made.

They say the process has prioritized high-opportunity developments and state-supported projects in poor and segregated areas and are meant to revitalize those neighborhoods.

The Low Income Housing Tax Credit program makes it financially feasible for developers to build and rehab rental housing for low-income Ohioans, including seniors, the homeless and families with children.

The tax credits cover the development costs associated with the acquisition, renovation and construction of new units and are allocated by the Ohio Housing Finance Agency.

Between 2006 and 2015, about 30 projects in the Dayton metro area received tax credit awards from the state, including 16 specifically designed for families, according to the report .

About 880 affordable units for families have been built or rehabbed in the Dayton area since 2006, says the report.

Of those, about 326 units were in Census tracts where 40 percent or more of residents live at or below the federal poverty level, the report states. In contrast, only 30 units were in areas where less than 10 percent of residents live in poverty.

Also, 511 units were developed in areas where 75 percent or more of residents were black, the report states.

Where people live matters, said Currie, because it has long-term implications for their economic and physical health.

The state should allocate awards to more projects in high-opportunity neighborhoods to give poor people better chances at economic success and climbing out of poverty, Currie said.

The tax credit program unfortunately has followed the same trend as public housing in that the developments are concentrated in disadvantaged neighborhoods, Jim McCarthy, president and CEO of the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center and the Central Ohio Fair Housing Association.

“Where we live affects everything we do,” McCarthy said.

The housing finance agency needs to change how it selects projects to finance because the current process deprives families with children of their fair housing rights by failing to provide choices, McCarthy said.

Moving forward, the allocation process should factor in the racial composition and poverty rates of the areas where projects are proposed, McCarthy said.

It is important to note that the tax credit program seeks to preserve and enhance existing affordable housing across the state state officials said.

But while some new housing projects in Dayton that won awards are in concentrated areas of poverty, the developments are a key part of a larger revitalization strategy for the distressed neighborhoods, said Sean Thomas, chief of staff with the Ohio Housing Finance Agency.

The multi-phase Roosevelt Homes project in west Dayton is constructing dozens of new single-family homes in a neighborhood that has struggled with housing abandonment and disinvestment.

The project is meant to be a catalyst to drive economic rejuvenation, local officials said.

The state allocates awards based on a Qualified Allocation Plan that is developed and adjusted every year using public input, Thomas said.

The allocation plan now encourages developing housing projects in areas of high opportunity, Thomas said, and the state will set aside funding to multiple family projects located in these more affluent and thriving neighborhoods.

“We think we have a good plan,” he said. “We think this report will generate a lot more feedback for us … We’ll take a look at the study and we have some meetings set up with legal aid and we’ll begin to talk to them.”

The state has changed its criteria for scoring projects, and the qualified allocation plan prefers projects that are near amenities over those in heavily blighted areas, said Tim Bete, president of St. Mary Development Corp., which has worked on a variety of low-income housing tax credit projects, including Roosevelt Homes.

“We’ve done a lot of projects in blighted parts of Dayton that we couldn’t do today under the current scoring,” he said.

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