All codependent relationships cause collateral damage. In the case of a failing marriage with children, the parent’s spawn tend to bear the brunt of the damage. In the case of the City of Columbus and big business, our people bear the brunt -- and many while accepting our lot as business-as-usual. In the meantime, our housing crisis puts increasing pressure on our most vulnerable populations. Often those in positions of power and specifically equipped to handle these crises are too far removed from them to understand their urgency on anything but an academic level.

During a podcast interview a few years ago, Council President Shannon Hardin described the nature of his position in business terms: The City of Columbus, in his view, is a corporation. The Mayor is our CEO and the Council President is our head of the Board of Directors.

In the beginning of June of this year, leadership at FIRST Collective, a nonprofit for mutual aid and occasional arts programming, met with Councilwoman Shayla Favor’s office to discuss developments at Camp Shameless -- the houseless camp on Mound and Carpenter recently featured in the Columbus Dispatch. Having already received the neighborhood’s support, our all-volunteer staff requested less than $200K in ARP funding to begin to build a series of tiny homes on the city-owned lot as transitional housing.

Near the end of that hour-long meeting, Councilwoman Favor said “We don’t invest in tent cities.” 

We had spent the previous forty minutes proposing a temporary housing solution to replace the tents. 

She’d apparently not absorbed that detail.  

A few weeks later I attended another meeting, this time with Councilwoman Favor and President Hardin to discuss activities associated with the Columbus Coalition for Rent Control, who’ve currently got a petition to codify incentives for good landlords and punishments for exploitative or neglectful ones. That evening, the City rolled out their “Housing for All” legislative package, which I also attended.

As I left that Town Hall -- during which a whopping three members of the audience were permitted to ask the panel any questions -- I spoke briefly with President Hardin. At the end of our brief exchange, he thanked me and asked me to “keep holding us accountable.”

I attended the last Council meeting of the City’s fiscal year on Monday, July 25th. Before the meeting, in the hallway in front of Council Chamber, I overheard three people pleading with one of Councilwoman Favor’s aides to help them with their Section 8 vouchers. 

Among the  dozens of agenda items at the Council meeting were $15K awarded to the Greater Columbus Arts Council (GCAC),  around $300K granted toward infant mortality prevention, and something in the realm of $300M (over decades) in tax abatements to large developments for a few buildings and two dozen $15-an-hour jobs.. 

President Pro Tempore Elizabeth Brown’s husband, Patrick Katzenmeyer, works for The Pizzuti Company, which was among the city’s most-awarded recipiients. 

Patrick’s father, Tom, is the Executive Director of the GCAC. (Full disclosure: this writer is a recipient of multiple GCAC grants, most of which have been for projects that challenge the very system from which they benefit.)

In the meantime, the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority has ceased paying for Section 8 vouchers, forcing landlords to either lose money or evict their tenants, thereby exacerbating the housing crisis everyone knows about but few people will give voice to. 

This morning -- July 28th, 2022 -- the City issued FIRST Collective’s Camp Shameless an eviction notice. 

City Council seats are part-time positions. Councilwoman Favor, like her colleagues, has two legislative aides. She chairs Housing, Health and Human Services, and the Criminal Justice and Judiciary Departments. 

The chairman of a “corporation” the size of Columbus -- where a “company” (the city government) manages the lives of a million people cannot truly be held accountable by people like me when leaders of the very organizations and companies he manages eat dinner with him regularly. As a corollary, any board member (councilperson) with a portfolio that covers that corporations’ most volatile issues is abound to be overwhelmed, especially when the position they hold is designed to be part time.

The vulnerable-- who pay the taxes that fill those jobs -- live their realities with overtime. They don’t have the capacity to hold Council accountable. That lack of capacity, too, is by design.