Homeless images

The City of Columbus requires residential real estate developers to provide “affordable housing units” in exchange for tax abatements. But the City has not provided any records showing they actually collect this information from these developers showing they truly do rent to moderate income tenants – this according to a longtime Eastside affordable housing activist.

Tax abatements allow a developer or resident to forgo paying property taxes in exchange for bringing jobs or revitalization to a neighborhood. But because the Short North has been one of the hottest real estate markets in the region over the previous decade, the question is: has Columbus’s most prominent corridor needed such tax breaks? Nevertheless, in 2018 the Shorth North was designated a Community Reinvestment Area offering a 15-year, 100 percent tax abatement if projects include 10 percent affordable units. A recent Dispatch article called Columbus the “tax-abatement capital of Ohio.”

Back in October, Franklin Park resident Jonathan Beard, an affordable housing activist who spurred the rehab of East Main Street, formally requested the City of Columbus to provide documentation they are actively collecting information from residential developers – who have been gifted tax abatements – that they rent to moderate income tenants.

For example, Beard requested this information for a tax abatement given in 2017 to the mostly high-end developer Thrive Companies, owned by the Wagenbrenner family.

“The City sent a copy of the weak policy, but were unable to provide documentation they collect information from developers on whether they truly rent to moderate income tenants at the tax-abated developments,” said Beard.

The City’s persistence on handing out tax abatements like Halloween candy to their favorite developers has many in the community believing Columbus as whole, especially its schools and (pot-holed) roads, are being shorted in many, many ways.

“The City is giving away millions of dollars to their campaign contributors and getting nothing in return,” believes Beard. “Lying to the people about having an affordable housing policy, when all they are doing is stealing money from our kids’ schools.”

No one needs reminding that the number of unsheltered people in Columbus is spiking. They are visible on practically every street corner. For the first time in Columbus’ history a majority of one racial group cannot afford to live here, says Beard.

“Recent independent studies that we have shown to City Council show that now a majority of Black Columbus renters have been forced to live in housing that is unaffordable to them – up from 42% in the year 2000,” he said.

Coincidentally, adds Beard, this is the racial group that has held a highly improbable presence in local elected office due to so many Black Councilmembers being appointed (by handing out the tax abatements) instead of actually winning the seat through a vote.

“Since the year 2000,” says Beard, “the city has been actively defunding nonprofit housing organizations capable of providing affordable housing. Our community has been sold out by its political leadership.”

Beard in 2022 created the Columbus Coalition on Rent Control and filed a petition with the City to officially begin a citizen-led ballot initiative which would create a rent control ordinance and establish a new City office named the Department of Fair Housing.

But soon after this the entrenched Ohio GOP stepped in and probably did so after sold-out City of Columbus leaders insisted on it. Ohio House Bill 430, which made a slew of changes to the Ohio Revised Code, also slipped in this amendment: That no municipality, such as Columbus, may pass or enact any law that would “impose or require rent control or rent stabilization.”

“The passage of a statewide rent control preemption is one of the most important legislative and regulatory victory ever achieved by the Columbus Apartment Association,” said Stephen Papineau, President of that lobbyist organization.

Cold words, especially now that more and more of our street corners are becoming crowded with people holding cardboard placards.

“When residents sought to pass a citizen-initiated ordinance for rent control, the City apparently went running to big business and the Ohio General Assembly to protect the wealthiest landlords by prohibiting rent control,” Beard said.