Guest Essay, Columbus Dispatch, Dec. 3, 2023
House, gavel and foreclosure sign

Note: What is Ginther doing at the Climate Summit in Dubai? Is he taking lessons? Having a vacation?  Watching the “sun rise” over a city with a skyline?

More importantly, who paid for his trip?

Never bet on Andy, Council, their division heads, or overpaid for quality of work ad agencies getting anything correct. Their consistency, historically, is against all odds. If our world were random, City reality and reality of the ground would occasionally collide. But never in Columbus, Ohio.

Andy outdoes himself in his  latest dishonest screed, that appears on the first Sunday of December in the anti-editing, non-news Columbus Dispatch beside editor  Robinson’s almost every other day “guest essay.” She is unique in the history of Opinion page editors.

In his latest, Andy begins with an exceptionally rare statement: “Columbus is growing faster than ever before—that’s a fact.”  I was not aware that the City and “mayor” recognized “facts.” In this case, he is correct for recent growth but incorrect over the city’s more than 200-year history.

He next descends into his muddled mire of scarlet and gray dripping prose: “In order to meet this moment with the force and urgency it deserves, we need to do things differently to build housing in step with demand.” As I call for a translator and look for dancing houses, he continues, “This is a task of historic proportions, and I’m proud to say that we are more than ready for it.”  Did no one pass first-year composition? Or try ChatGPT?

We all know that Andy did not “hear it from our neighbors who are concerned about the dire consequences of insufficient housing” because we know that Andy and his private club have no familiarity with the diverse publics and physical city from whom they accept salaries, while they accept their rewards from the private interests who they actually serve. As in so much else, Andy promotes a dishonest plan not to meet the real needs of the people of Columbus but to advance private profiteering with public funds, and harm public services.

Andy’s references to Austin and Seattle are ignorant of their actual histories, contemporary realities, and economic bases. The rhetorical comparison is misleading. “We’re ready to build new housing in ways that cities like Austin and Seattle failed to do, before their housing affordability slipped away… in order to keep Columbus affordable, equitable and livable.”

No Andy, that moment has passed. For a great many residents, Columbus is not affordable and equitable. Far from it. Given the deplorable state of the physical city, it is not clear that Columbus is truly “livable” for anyone.

As I wrote only a few weeks ago in “The City of Columbus continues to prove itself incapable of learning: The contradiction and corruption of ever-expanding public subsidies for private development ‘tax abatements’” (Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Nov. 26, 2023), Columbus does not have a housing shortage. It has a truly affordable housing crisis.

If Andy and his buddies actually knew the city, they would see the vacancy and for lease signs--often posted illegally with the paid permission of Scott Messer’s and Tony Celebreeze’s Zoning (Un)Enforcement--throughout the city. Columbus has a surplus of both new and old unaffordable housing. The combination of tax abatements, income tax return areas, and at least 60 years of unregulated zoning variances—paid for both above and below the proverbial table—created a radically unbalanced Columbus.

Andy and his buddies want to reward their private handlers with development in the city. At the same time, they blame independent areas outside the city proper for the purported lack of “homes” in the area. Accepting responsibility is never part of The Columbus Way. Never.

Notice how Andy shifts without notice from “homes”—implying single family construction—to housing and public support for private development and construction. This poor slight of hand would fail him at a card table or Hollywood Casino but succeed in Colemanville and contemporary Ohio.

Andy proposes a new crisis of far too many housing units when he ridiculously utters “For every one job we create in the region, we need to build one home.” No, Andy. You live in a two career household. So do most others. Is this rotten icing the fallen cake of developers?

Notice that “affordable” is never—ever--defined with any honest, accurate attention to income levels and family needs. It is never related to homelessness and the needs of that rising population. There is never clearly defined and monitored accountability in return for public payments for private profiteering.

And when income levels are mentioned rarely —more often outside the city proper—they are in the range of $50-60,000 for one or two persons, and more than $70-80,000 for a family of four.

This is not truly affordable housing, nor does it meet active, acute needs. Moreover, Andy: that price is often for a poorly designed and poorly constructed, and uninspected apartment—not for a home as usually defined.

What I can never tell is whether Andy, Mb, Dorans, Hardin, and others know that they are lying and deceiving the public, or if they are unaware of that stark fact.  Mb delights in referring to percentages but never mentions the Ns or numbers on which they are based or changes or their absence over time. This is arithmetic, not math or statistics. Does anyone know the answer to that question?

Does anyone on the City payroll or what inaccurately calls itself the “local news media” recognize that the rapid expansion of tax abatements actually contradicts the endless but still empty shilling of Dorans’ misnamed Zone In when the intention is to Zone Out and Up. Andy unknowingly says as much, even if Rob can’t or won’t.

Andy’s radical expansion of tax abatements not only removes ever more money from already inadequate public services from schools to safety, sanitation, condition of the physical city, and health care, among much else. It reduces already inadequate services and a destructive environment. Can no one in the City count, add, or subtract? They list college degrees.

In passing, Andy mentions that the long-established practice of the City granting zoning variances is “costly.” Note that he does not say for whom. The all but automatic granting of zoning variances to private developers and absentee landlords substantially destroyed many older neighborhoods. This includes Franklinton, Weiland Park, and my own University District among others.

Ginther is not referring to the cost to both residents forced out or the lives of remaining ones. His concern is solely with the private businesses expenses of bribing inspectors, division heads, city councilors, and mayors.

These are established facts. They constitute The Columbus Way. Andy learned at the feet of his masters in his decades of city employment.

Before I end, I must ask Andy to tell me specifically what it means to “bring [housing units] online”?  Is he proposing virtual housing? Is he investing in X? Is ChatGPT his new favorite contractor? Or will his “online” housing serve the rising numbers who cannot afford Andy’s subsidized unaffordable housing destroying neighbors, roads, and intersection especially without adequate mass transit or any traffic patrolling.

Andy and his crowd will never admit that they relentlessly ignore Columbus’ imperative need for a City Plan under the supervision of a highly qualified, certified City Manager with actual urban planners and traffic engineers. And, lest anyone forget: transparent accountability.

That would cost his masters—and also himself. But it would benefit the city and its residents. We know why Columbus will not join the 20th century, let alone the 21st. That is not The Columbus Way.

Note: As usual, the Columbus Dispatch missed a major opportunity to report revealingly and usefully. On Dec. 1, a headline reads, “What did Columbus officials learn from Latitude Five 25 mess to help with Colonial Village?” Unwilling to make actual comparisons and criticize the City, the simple fact that both human disasters were caused by the failure of City Zoning Inspection and Enforcement is never mentioned. The failings at both absentee landlord-owned large housing complexes were well known and reported.

Both in neither case—nor countless others including the Greyhound pseudo station—deals were made. Violations continued until the structures had to be closed, residents removed with no plan for safe housing, and only then did City Attorney Klein move publicly. This is the same operation that currently orders Inspectors and Enforcement officers not to inspect and not to enforce the law in residential neighborhoods. The Dispatch reporter knows this. So does Klein, relevant division heads, and some if perhaps not all city councilors. Buildings collapse. Hundreds and hundreds lose housing. Lives are threatened. Some die. This too is The Columbus Way.

See my many relevant essays in the Columbus Free Press


Harvey J. Graff is Professor Emeritus of English and History, inaugural Ohio Eminent Scholar in Literacy Studies, and Academy Professor, Ohio State University. Author of many books on literacy, children and youth, cities, and interdisciplinarity, most recently he published Searching for Literacy: The Social and Intellectual Origins of Literacy Studies (2022). My Life with Literacy: The Continuing Education of a Historian. The Intersections of the Personal, the Political, the Academic, and Place is forthcoming. “Reconstructing the new ‘uni-versity’ from the ashes of the ‘multi- and mega-versity’” is in progress. He is also editing Changing Paths of Academic Lives: Revising How We Understand Higher Education/Universities, 1960s to 2020s and Beyond, a collection of original essays