Jon Beard and Joe Motil and a homeless tent

The Columbus Coalition for Rent Control (“the Coalition”), a local nonprofit organization advocating a citizen ballot initiative, filed more than 4,200 petition signatures with the Columbus City Clerk at 11am on Tuesday, October 3, seeking a vote on a legislative proposal designed to empower citizens and encourage property owners and residential landlords to moderate rental price increases.

The group has determined that it will cease collection of petition signatures and will withdraw the petition, instead asking the City Council and council candidates for election to enact the legislation, which the Council could do on any Monday. Members of the Coalition released the following statement:

“Ultimately, we, the members of the Coalition, are all busy people with lives and other responsibilities and couldn’t collectively dedicate the time it needed to organize around this effort. With the looming increase in the number of required signatures following the November elections, we could not see a path forward to secure enough signatures timely to force a vote on the ballot. We know that most citizen initiatives take more than one attempt, because they are so difficult to do. We decided to turn in far more signatures than it takes for any member of council to get on the ballot, and now publicly ask the council to act – 20 months after privately asking the council to do so. We hope they do. If they don’t, we will consider organizing again with a new clock for submission.”

Jonathan Beard, one of the petition committee organizers, says, “Our elected representatives need to do their jobs and protect Columbus citizens from the crisis they have presided over for the past 20 years. The incrementalist approach they are taking seeks primarily to try to add supply after presiding over 15 years of underbuilding that created a shortage of nearly 180,000 housing units. Adding more units is necessary, but insufficient; as they are ignoring pricing which is the immediate crisis facing Columbus citizens today.”

“This is their job, they voted themselves a pay hike two years ago, and they are paid very well,” says petition committee member Denise Benning. “This – what we are doing here with this legislation – is why we have a City Council. They could simply pass this into law on any Monday. Ordinary citizens should not have to take extraordinary efforts to secure a future for our children in this city. We are calling on the members of Columbus City Council to do their jobs and simply put this on the agenda, hear public comment, amend if or as necessary, and pass it into law within the month.”

Beard is referencing a recent study by One Columbus, and other entities that document the percentage of rent-burdened Columbus area renters, which has increased from 35 percent to 43 percent, between the years 2000 and 2019. For Latino renters, the rent burden increased from 32 percent to 46 percent of households, and for Black households, from 42 percent to 51 percent. A majority of Black households are now rent-burdened – following the 16 years of the administration of Michael Coleman, Columbus’s first Black mayor and the longest-serving mayor in Columbus history. Then four years of an improbably majority-Black City Council has resulted in homeownership rates for Black households to decrease – from 40 percent to 33 percent – during that 20-year time period.

“These are just facts – the numbers are what they are. Don’t get mad at us for simply reading and stating what has been studied and reported. Clearly, the current political system and its politicians are not working for Black Columbus,” says Beard. “When it cannot support the basic human need of housing for so many of its citizens – especially its Black citizens which you would expect the Black former Mayor and majority Black city council in power from 2000 to 2019 to adequately represent and well-serve. This is one of the reasons some of us have been calling for true City Council districts, for better representation of all citizens – instead of the sham fake districts that Council president Hardin forced on the ballot against the counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF), our nation’s foremost voting rights experts. The LDF wrote in a November 17, 2017 letter from Leah Aden, the LDF’s Senior Counsel, to the City Attorney and City Council:

“While this proposed voting structure may create the perception that voters will have a representative chosen by a neighborhood community, the maintenance of the underlying at-large voting scheme for all members of the City Council will likely continue to unfailingly diminish the voices of Black voters in Columbus,” stated Aden.

And in fact, these sham districts have had the anticipated effect of diminishing political competition to the appointed incumbents – there were no primary elections and only three of the nine fake districts will be contested in the general election.

We can talk as much as we want about voting rights in Alabama, whose state representatives continue to defy a Supreme Court ruling requiring a second majority-Black congressional district pursuant to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and we can talk about the Ohio General Assembly defying seven Ohio Supreme Court orders against unconstitutional gerrymandering – but here in Columbus, our local officials are keeping us mired in a Jim Crow era political system, which is why Columbus can fairly be referred to as ‘Columbabama.’”

Within six weeks of the Coalition filing a proposed rent control petition (April 2022), the Ohio General Assembly passed a law prohibiting rent control across the state. “The city and the right-wing radicals in the statehouse striping citizens of our right to imitative are no different: they are both in bed with the richest, including the Ohio REALTORS, Columbus Apartment Association and the Columbus Partnership which helped organize the statehouse opposition,” said petition committee member Joe Motil who is currently a candidate for Mayor. “Our petition is based on the principle that the wealthy who choose to own property and rent it to Columbus citizens, do not have rights that exceed the rights of Columbus citizens who don’t own property – they already get obscene tax abatements that defund our schools and other public services. We seek to level the playing field between the rich and the rest.”

As a result of the new law prohibiting government-enforced rent control, the Coalition revised and refiled its petition in July last year and changed from straight rent control modeled after suburban Washington DC counties, to a legal framework that supports citizen-enforcement by tenants, tenant unions and tenant associations of two new causes of civil action, including a prohibition against residential rental price gouging.

The Coalition gave city leaders a fully funded legislative framework prepared by public policy, housing and community development experts that aligns the interests of landlords and tenants, making them both interested in investing in the property and rent stability. The Coalition creates a legal framework where landlords and tenants do not have competing interests, with the property owner interested in raising rates and the tenant with lowering them. Instead, under the Coalition’s framework, landlords would understand that their best business decision is to offer fair rents. A landlord who offers fair rents won’t get taxed, won’t get sued, won’t get a bad reputation in the community and will still be able to find partners to do business with, in Columbus. Those property owners who exploit tenants will get unjust profits taxed away, may get sued by people they don’t even know, can’t prey on Columbus citizens using any government support or subsidy, and become pariahs in the real estate development community. This is commonsense legislation to create long-term change and affordability.

“We have given the City Council political cover to enact this proposal, and call for the council to put it on their agenda for a vote by November 1st,” said petition committee member David Harewood. “In December 2022, we asked the Council president and housing committee chair to pass this legislation, which has since been sitting in the City Clerk’s office for a year and a half – as the city powers are wont to do when not forced to proactively help the people they’ve been elected to serve. The members of the Coalition hope voters will take note of Council’s action or inaction on this resident-supported initiative, along with the expressed intent of any competing Councilmember’s position on considering this citizen prepared legislation.”

The citizen-proposed Columbus Fair Housing Code provides for:

  • Registration and licensing of most rental units (excluding owners with less than four rental units, dormitories, nursing homes and assisted living facilities, and a few other classes of residential rental property), including registration by the natural names of the owners to create greater transparency and accountability.
  • Set “fair rents” for licensed rental units, based on pre-pandemic “fair market” rents in effect January 1, 2020. For new units, the fair rent would be set based on the first rent charged. Fair rents would increase at the annual percentage changes in wages in Franklin County, or the percentage increase in the annual cost of living adjustment for seniors. Fair rents, which would be published for each unit in 2025 are NOT rent caps, but the basis for creating incentives and disincentives.
  • Owners charging more than fair rents would be subject to a windfall profits tax of 60 percent of revenues in excess of fair rent.
  • Tenants, Tenant Unions (property-based) and Tenant Associations (neighborhood-based) are defined and empowered with rights under law and standing to initiate and enforce two new civil causes of action: 1) a prohibition against price gouging, and 2) a prohibition against residential rental coercion.
  • Owners whose blended portfolio rents are below a blended portfolio fair rent are termed Columbus Compact Community Champions and receive favorable access to city incentives. Owners in the top band where their portfolio rents are highest above a blended portfolio fair rent are termed Predators, and denied access to city incentives. Further, a Predator status similarly infects any partnership that owner is involved in, creating a strong incentive for landlords to keep caps on their rental unit pricing.
  • Department of Fair Housing policy and implementation would be overseen by a Fair Housing Commission of external stakeholders nominated by organizations that have a legally cognizable right to have their appointee on the Commission, and which could sue the city for failure to appoint their nominee.

The full text is available at