Joe Motil and Young Latina woman

Joe Motil and Esther Flores

City Council this week approved of two new Community Reinvestment Areas or CRAs, one for Grandview Crossing and one for Northland. They also extended the boundaries of the Linden CRA. These CRAs now make developers eligible for a 15-year 100% property tax abatement. 

Furthermore, City Council approved a $6.7 million tax abatement for Kaufman Development’s Gravity Project 2 in Franklinton.  

I do not have an issue with the creation of the Northland CRA and extending the boundaries of the Linden CRA as long as tax incentives are used primarily to benefit true affordable housing for low-to-middle income residents, and keeps gentrification in check.  

But at a time when people are struggling to survive, the Mayor and City Council must be out of their minds for approving the Grandview Crossing CRA and the Kaufman Gravity 2 abatement.  

Anyone who supports either of these abatements is displaying a total lack of sensitivity and neglect to the overall needs of our entire community by giving away millions in crucial property tax revenues.  

This is business as usual at City Hall, where developers and corporate power brokers pull the strings, and because of their wealth, they too must not care what the pandemic’s economic fallout will do to the rest of our community. 

So much for our Mayor and City Council being #InThisTogether. 

Their actions suggest they must view property tax revenues as “non-essential” to the needs of Columbus citizens. This can’t possibly be their logic, it has to be something else. Keep in mind Kaufman associates gave City Hall officials $54, 000 over the last two years.  

This is what County Commissioner John O’Grady recently stated regarding local government tax revenue. “The number of our neighbors who are struggling financially is staggering. And just as the need for government services grows, the resources available to provide those services via sales, property and income taxes are diminishing.” 

Columbus Public Schools, for example, will be losing an additional $9.2 million of state revenue. Yet the Mayor and this City Council continue to recklessly slash much needed revenue that serves the needs of the city’s most vulnerable by trading tax abatements for campaign contributions.       

It is irresponsible to continue this fiscal death tax abatement policy that continues to impair the social and economic livelihoods of our community, especially during the struggling financial times created by COVID-19.  

The Grandview Crossing CRA is prime real estate adjacent to the affluent suburb of Grandview Heights. Nevertheless, City Hall gave local developer Wagenbrenner a $4.2 million 75% 10-year tax abatement in January for their Grandview Crossing project. But now the Grandview Crossing CRA has upped the Wagenbrenner’s abatement (and others) to a 100% 15-year giveaway.  

I guess well over $100,000 in campaign contributions to City Hall officials from Wagenbrenner associates since 2014 carries a lot of weight with policy decisions on tax abatements.  

City Council member Rob Dorans tried to support the Grandview Crossing CRA with his pre-arranged comment by citing newly named Columbus Department of Development director Michael Stevens claim that since part of this land was a brownfield the taxpayers should hand out even more so he could develop it.  

What they failed to mention is how Wagenbrenner received $3 million from the state’s Clean Ohio fund to help clean the site.    

The City of Columbus Tax Incentive Policy requires Wagenbrenner’s Grandview Crossing project to create 10 percent of its apartments at 80 and 100 percent of the Area Medium Income or AMI. This will amount to just over 200 workforce housing units for those making an annual income of about $47,000 - $60,000. 

I don’t see how either of these projects helps to address our segregated housing problem in Columbus when the average annual income for black and brown people is roughly $37,500.     

Columbus is the second most economically segregated city in America, whose citizens pay the 4th highest overall taxes in the U.S., and with a 30% foreclosure rate in Franklin County due to folks not being able to pay escalating property taxes.  

Yet the Mayor and City Council continue to give away property taxes in these two risk free development areas of Columbus, and then try to claim that by doing so, these tax abatements are some kind of tradeoff that helps to address our affordable housing crisis. 

It’s time City Hall recognizes the correlation between our city’s 20.9% poverty rate and 29.9% poverty rate amongst blacks, and failed tax abatement policies that loses millions in property tax revenue to educate our children, assist seniors, and other important mental health and social services.  

If the pandemic can’t make them realize how tax abatements shortchange our entire community, then nothing will.