Workshop Highlights Creative Placemaking in Zanesville

May 25th, 2017

By Torey Hollingsworth, GOPC Manager of Research and Policy

Last week, the Ohio CDC Association and Ohio Citizens for the Arts held a day-long workshop on creative placemaking in Zanesville. Hosted in the studio and gallery of local artists and community advocates Michael and Kathy Seiler, the workshop focused on the intersection between the arts and community development.

According to instructor Brian Friedman of Plan F Solutions, creative placemaking is the process of strengthening communities through the arts. More than just arts-based economic development, creative placemaking is a holistic, arts-centered approach to transforming communities into more equitable places for residents to live and work. Creative placemaking projects bring artists in as co-equal partners in development efforts and have an explicit focus on preventing displacement. These projects have a real focus on engaging grassroots leadership and an ultimate goal of building a stronger community – not just a real estate development.

Alan Cottrill Studios 7    Paul Emory Studio 1

In Zanesville, the ideals behind creative placemaking have been put into action as a group of local artists have rehabilitated vacant houses, industrial space, and storefronts to create new studios, galleries, and homes. A group of artists is working with a developer and the city to purchase and restore a series of historic buildings on Main Street, with the intention of creating new residential options downtown. Michael and Kathy Seiler have purchased and rehabilitated homes near their studio with the goal of drawing new residents to the city’s core. Many artists are members of the Artist Colony of Zanesville, which is dedicated to “community development and economic growth” in and around downtown. The Artist Colony also hosts a monthly First Friday event, which draws visitors downtown as the galleries open to the public.

Greater Ohio Policy Center’s research on smaller legacy cities has found that placemaking is one strategy that helps promote urban revitalization in smaller communities that have experienced significant economic change. Building on an authentic sense of place can help attract and retain talented residents that draw jobs, new amenities, and other investment.

 

Panelists at Eviction CMC Discuss GOPC Co-Researched Report Findings on Housing Affordability Challenge in Central Ohio

May 23rd, 2017

By GOPC Project Associate Alex Highley

Recently, Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) staff attended the Columbus Metropolitan Club’s (CMC) session Highest Eviction Rate in Ohio, Consequences?  During the luncheon panelists explored the topics of affordable housing and the high rate of eviction in central Ohio, often referring to research in “The Columbus and Franklin County Affordable Housing Challenge: Needs, Resources, and Funding Models”, a report GOPC recently completed in collaboration with the Affordable Housing Alliance of Central Ohio (AHACO). Panelists for the session comprised of moderator Dan Sharpe of the Columbus Foundation, Brad DeHays of Connect Realty Mid-Ohio Contracting Services, Elfi Di Bella of the YWCA Columbus, and Stephanie Hightower of the Columbus Urban League.

The luncheon began with Sharpe explaining that Franklin County is the state leader in evictions while discussing some of the community development efforts to support families who are at risk of being evicted. To provide context to the housing situation, Sharpe noted that according to the AHACO report informed by GOPC’s research, a household needs to earn $15.98 an hour or $33,238 annually, at a full-time, year-round job in order to afford a two-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent. With the rate of poverty population growth three times faster than the rate of overall population growth in Franklin County between 2009 and 2014, residents are finding housing costs increasingly burdensome.

CMC 5.10 edited

According to the AHACO report, there is a glaring shortage of 54,000 affordable housing units in the region, which, as DeHays explains, is a direct contributor to the high rate of evictions in Franklin County. Often, the first step to an eviction is an unfortunate event such as illness or a flat tire, and then suddenly problems spiral out of control when bills rack up and families cannot pay their monthly rent. While Hightower was keen to stress that there are often a wide variety of reasons people are evicted, the root of the problem is that one in three families in Columbus live paycheck-to-paycheck, and therefore struggle to afford basic costs such as paying rent. 354 families are evicted in Central Ohio every week and to compound this problem, a portion of them may later end up homeless, often in part because of the stigma and barriers which a record of eviction brings to future housing opportunities.

In alignment with models analyzed by GOPC as part of the AHACO report, Hightower points to incentivizing developers to create units for low- to middle-income people as a potential tool for expanding affordable housing. Speakers at the session also suggested strengthening the Section 8 voucher program and simplifying the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program, along with improving education for landlords and tenants. GOPC supports Hightower’s emphasis on the importance of building capacity of organizations currently working on affordable housing issues and minimizing duplication by coordinating efforts. With a large number of nonprofit, public, and private groups in Columbus working to expand affordable housing, it is important to maximize the work of leaders currently working in this policy arena and to ensure that future interventions are done collaboratively.

For more information, including GOPC’s exploration of affordable housing models from around the country, read the AHACO report: The Columbus and Franklin County Affordable Housing Challenge: Needs, Resources, and Funding Models

 

Shrinking Cities Reading Series Part II: Terra Incognita

May 10th, 2017

By Torey Hollingsworth, GOPC Manager of Research and Policy

Terra Incognita, published by Ann Bowman and Michael Pagano in 2004, was one of the first academic works focused on the factors that influence how local governments interact with vacant land. The authors take a broad view of what constitutes vacant land – ranging from abandoned housing or industrial sites to greenspace, and seek to move beyond the perception that vacancy is always negative for a city. The authors use survey data and interviews to understand how cities with different tax structures, social systems, and economic development needs perceive and utilize vacant land.

First, the authors set out to gain a better sense of the extent and condition of vacant land in cities around the United States. They sent surveys to the planning directors of all U.S. cities with populations above 50,000 and then followed up with interviews in certain areas to understand how governments make decisions about vacant properties in their cities. The survey results revealed varying perceptions of vacant land: some cities felt they had too much, while others felt that they had too little to promote new development. Unsurprisingly, increases or decreases in vacant land were found to be tied to market conditions, specifically whether the population was growing or declining. The authors focus in on three metropolitan areas for case studies – Phoenix, the quintessential sprawling city where vacant land is frequently open desert; Seattle, where state annexation laws limit the ability of the city to grow even as its population increases; and Philadelphia/Camden, shrinking cities with substantial amounts of abandoned and contaminated property.

sidewalk      flint2

After attempting to quantify the amount of vacant land in different parts of the country and looking more deeply into the case study cities, the authors propose a model for how local governments engage with vacant land based on three key considerations. These are:

  • The need to raise funds through taxation, i.e. the “land-tax dynamic.” The land-tax dynamic is related to the relationship between tax structure and land use. The authors argue that there are specific spatial outcomes based on what kind of taxation structure is available to a city. Cities that are primarily dependent on property taxes are incentivized to push for higher market-value developments while attempting to push negative impacts like traffic to a neighboring jurisdiction. Cities that rely on a sales tax seek to create “shopping sheds” that can draw residents as well as people from neighboring jurisdictions. Cities that rely on the income tax – including most cities in Ohio – are encouraged to draw high wage earners to work in the city and are not as concerned about them living there.
  • The social value of land. The social value of land is related to a city’s need to create a positive social environment and protect property values. As such, it considers how vacant land can serve to divide or unite parts of the city. Vacant land is sometimes used to separate higher income areas from lower income ones, but it can also provide opportunities for positive social interactions like park space or community gardens.
  • The need to promote economic development. Finally, the need to promote economic development encourages land that has higher value to be put to its highest and best use.

These three imperatives work together to shape local government actors’ choices about vacant land, including which areas are most likely to be redeveloped and which are likely to be left alone. The authors illustrate this through a three-dimensional cube, where each imperative represents one facet. Any vacant parcel in a city fits somewhere in the cube based on the interplay of its revenue, social, and development potential. City leaders can use a parcel’s position within the cube to guide long-term decisions about reuse, even as political or market conditions remain uncertain.

 

This article is part of a blog series exploring books and articles written about shrinking cities, or communities that are losing population and dealing with housing vacancy and abandonment. For more information on this series, see the first post “Reading Series on Shrinking Cities”. These summaries are provided only for educational purposes and opinions expressed in these summaries do not necessarily reflect those of Greater Ohio Policy Center.

 

Budget Update No. 4: Transportation Budget in the books; Main Operating inches along

April 3rd, 2017

By Jason Warner, GOPC Manager of Government Affairs

This is the fourth in a series of articles taking a closer look as specific items contained in the Governor’s proposed budget for FY2018-19, which the legislature must pass by June 30, 2017The third article is available here

The Ohio House of Representatives and Ohio Senate sent the final version of the State Transportation Budget (HB26) to Governor John Kasich on March 29, which he then approved on March 31.  The transportation budget will take effect on July 1 and will fund transportation operations and other transportation-related functions through June 30, 2019.

Highlights of the final budget include an increase in federal flex funding for purposes of replacing Ohio’s aging public transportation fleet. Flexing federal highway dollars reallocates funding Ohio already receives. At present, the state flexes around $23 million per year for public transportation purposes. House Bill 26 increases this amount by $10 million per year, to $33 million annually. This is a significant increase in funding which will help support the purchase of new rural transit vans and full sized buses.

The conference report removed Senate provisions adding $48 million to the Ohio Public Works Commission’s Local Transportation Improvement Program (LTIP) and requiring $30 million of the forthcoming Volkswagen Emissions Mitigation Trust Fund to be sent to public transit authorities for rolling stock. Conferees also agreed to allow county commissioners to approve a $5 motor vehicle license (MVL) fee increase by resolution, but specifies that any increase must take effect after 30 days. This will allow local voters an opportunity to subject the increase to a referendum. If a referendum is approved, the increase would only take effect if it is approved by voters.

The removal of the $30 million in funding from the Volkswagen settlement came at the request of the Ohio EPA and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. They indicated to the conference committee there were still issues around the settlement which needed to be worked out and cautioned that allocating money from the settlement was premature. The chair of the Senate Transportation, Commerce and Workforce Committee, Frank LaRose (R-Copley), has indicated that he wants to see the settlement money appropriated for this purpose and will work to do so either through an amendment to the main operating budget (HB49) or through stand-alone legislation. GOPC will work with the senator to ensure that this does happen.

Other highlights from HB26 include:

  • Requires the Registrar of Motor Vehicles, within 9 months after the effective date of the bill, to establish by rule the service fee that is paid to a deputy registrar, a limited authority deputy registrar, or the Registrar, as applicable, for specified services at a rate that is not more than $5.25.  The current rate is $3.75. 
  • Requires the Registrar or Motor Vehicles to conduct a study of the benefits and detriments of lowering the permanent registration fee for commercial trailers and semitrailers and streamlining the registration process. A pilot program will be conducted between January 1, 2018 and December 31, 2019 with the fees being reduced from $30 to $15 for vehicle registrations in Clinton, Franklin, Lucas, Mahoning, Montgomery and Stark counties.
  • Limits the proposal to permit the ODOT director to establish variable speed limits to a pilot program to be limited to all or part of I-670 (Franklin County), all or part of I-275 (Hamilton County) and the portion of I-90 between I-71 and the Pennsylvania border.

At the same time, the Ohio House continues its work on the Main Operating Budget (HB49). This week, the bill resumed hearings in the full House Finance Committee following a month of hearings in five subcommittees and the House Ways and Means Committee. Various interest groups and members of the public shared their views on the budget in multiple hearings during the past week, and will continue sharing their thoughts this week before the legislature goes on recess for the next two weeks to observe Easter. Also last week, the Ohio Senate Finance Committee began holding informal hearings receiving background testimony from state agencies in advance of beginning formal hearings after the House approves their version of the state budget. That is expected to occur sometime in early May.

Visit GOPC’s Transportation Modernization page to learn more about this important issue area

 

Miss the Webinar? Watch Preserving Our Neighborhoods: An Educational Webinar on Ohio’s Recently Passed HB463

February 8th, 2017
Thank you to all panelists and attendees who participated in GOPC’s Webinar, Preserving Our Neighborhoods: An Educational Webinar on Ohio’s Recently Passed HB463.

If you missed the Webinar, you can watch it in full here:

View the recording of the Webinar

PowerPoint Slides are available here

February 21, 2017

In January 2017, Governor Kasich signed HB463, a bill that contains new provisions that will help Ohio’s communities mitigate and prevent blight.

During the Webinar, panelists discussed new provisions enacted by HB463 and what they mean for neighborhood stabilization and economic development. Hosted by: Alison Goebel, Executive Director, Greater Ohio Policy Center Panelists: Jason Warner, Manager of Government Affairs, Greater Ohio Policy Center Adam Hewit, President, Government Solutions Group Robert Klein, Founder & Chairman, Community Blight Solutions Aaron Klein, former United States Treasury Department Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy Josh Harmon, Chief Environmental Specialist, Franklin County Municipal Court and President, Ohio Code Enforcement Officials Association                                                                    .

Hb 463 pic 2        Hb 463 webinar pic

GOPC Bids Farewell to Long-Serving Trustee and Founding Member David Beach

January 9th, 2017

Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) would like to thank David Beach for serving on the GOPC Board of Trustees for the past ten years. David has fulfilled his third term as Trustee and will continue his work in Cleveland, where he is the Director of the GreenCityBlueLake Institute, the sustainability center of The Cleveland Museum of Natural History. We are very grateful for David’s leadership at GOPC, as he was one of the founding members of the organization, which was incorporated in 2007. David was also GOPC’s first Board Chair; he served in this position from August 2007 until December 2011.

From the beginning, David has been a leader in GOPC’s pursuit of ambitious urban revitalization policy change. He has been a strong voice on the need to combat urban sprawl, as well as offering a unique perspective to GOPC on environmental issues.

David has been writing and speaking about the environment, neighborhood development and regional planning issues for more than 25 years. He has deep roots in Northeast Ohio; his family has lived there for six generations.

From everyone at GOPC, we thank David for his service as a GOPC Trustee and wish him all the best in the future.

GOPC’s Open Letter to Ohio EPA Regarding VW Mitigation Funds for Public Transportation

December 13th, 2016

GOPC encourages you to submit formal comments to the Ohio EPA urging them to use Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust Fund dollars for public transportation. Below is a copy of the letter that GOPC submitted on December 13, 2016. You may use this letter as a template for your comments to the Ohio EPA. 

Send your comments to derg@epa.ohio.gov. Comments will be accepted until December 31, 2016.

 

December 13, 2016

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency
Attn.: Office of Environmental Education, Diesel Emissions Reduction Grants Program Manager
P.O. Box 1049
Columbus, OH 43216-1049

Subject: Usage of Volkswagen Mitigation Trust Funds for Transit Repower and Replacement

Dear Office of Environmental Education:

My name is Alison Goebel and I am the Executive Director of the Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC), a nonpartisan, nonprofit with a mission to champion revitalization and sustainable growth in Ohio. Thank you for accepting formal comments on the state mitigation plan for the Mitigation Trust Fund associated with the Volkswagen Consent Decree.

I am writing to urge the Ohio EPA to use 50% of the Volkswagen settlement funds to repower and replace diesel vehicles in Ohio’s public transportation fleet.

Public transportation in Ohio has been severely underfunded for years. Currently the state allocates approximately $0.63 per Ohioan to transit, while Ohio’s peers, such as Pennsylvania and Michigan, invest over $24.00 per capita. As a result of deferred support, over one-third of Ohio’s 3,200 transit vehicles are still on the road despite being beyond their useful life and in need of replacement.

The state mitigation plan for the VW Environmental Mitigation Trust Fund represents an enormous opportunity.

Half of Ohio’s allotment ($35.7 million) of the Mitigation Trust Fund could:

  • replace more than 125 diesel-powered city buses, or
  • repower more than 700 buses with alternative fuel engines

Using the settlement funds for transit vehicles is the highest and best use of the Mitigation Trust Fund dollars.

The eight largest public transportation systems serving Ohio EPA’s possible priority counties provided more than 105 million rides in 2015. If transit ridership rates remain the same over the ten year life of the Mitigation Trust Fund, Ohio will potentially avoid more than 1.05 billion automobile rides.

Eliminating emissions from outdated diesel transit engines and substantially contributing to the reduction of individual automobile emissions will have extraordinary and compounding benefits for Ohio’s air quality.

GOPC has a number of resources on the multiple benefits of providing Ohio with more transportation options, especially transit. Those materials can be found on our Transportation Modernization webpage. We encourage you to see us as a resource as Ohio EPA writes its state mitigation plan.

Again, we urge the Ohio EPA to use the Volkswagen Mitigation Trust Fund to repower or replace a portion of Ohio’s diesel bus fleet. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Alison D. Goebel, PhD

Executive Director

 

GOPC Names Alison D. Goebel as Executive Director

November 1st, 2016

Alison D. Goebel, Ph.D., is the next Executive Director of the Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC). Goebel has held a variety of roles with the organization over the last six years, most recently serving as Interim Executive Director since August.

“We are excited to have such a passionate and effective advocate for Ohio’s communities leading Greater Ohio Policy Center,” said Peg Moertl, Chair of Greater Ohio Policy Center’s Board of Trustees and Senior Vice President, Community Development Banking, at PNC Bank in Cincinnati. “For nearly a decade, GOPC has championed the revitalization and sustainable redevelopment of Ohio’s older industrial cities and towns. We know that under Alison’s direction, GOPC will continue to be the foremost expert on and advocate for policies that make Ohio a great place to live, work, and raise a family.”

“I am thrilled and honored to lead an organization like Greater Ohio Policy Center,” said Goebel. “As a nonpartisan, research-based non-profit, GOPC is a unique and valuable resource for state lawmakers and local leaders. I look forward to working with policymakers, partners, and practitioners to strengthen Ohio’s economy.”

Goebel will be responsible for charting GOPC’s advocacy, research, and outreach on issues related to urban revitalization, modernized transportation options, improvements to infrastructure, and talent retention within the state.

She holds a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and is a member of the Ohio Lobbying Association. Goebel succeeds Lavea Brachman, who departed Greater Ohio Policy Center earlier this summer after nearly a decade as co-founder and Executive Director.

GOPC Staff Speaks at MORPC Summit on Sustainability and the Environment

October 25th, 2016

By Jon Honeck, Ph.D., GOPC Senior Policy Fellow

Overview

On Friday, October 21, I had the privilege of being a panelist at the MORPC Summit on Sustainability and the Environment, held at the Columbus Hilton Downtown.  The panel’s title was “Looking Ahead, What Are the Important Sustainability Policy Issues?”  The other panelists included Kent Scarrett of the Ohio Municipal League, Jack Shaner of the Ohio Environmental Council, and Holly Nagle of the Columbus Chamber.  Panelists were asked to speak about upcoming issues in the lame duck state legislative session and the 2017 state budget process.  In the short run, panelists agreed that Ohio’s renewable portfolio energy standards are likely to be a top priority of the General Assembly when it returns after the 2016 election.  For the 2017 budget process, I focused my presentation on transportation, water and sewer infrastructure, brownfield remediation, and application of public nuisance statutes to commercial and industrial property. 

Transportation

GOPC is trying to improve state funding for public transit and advocate that the state make progress in an “active transportation” strategy that makes roadways safe for all users, including bicyclists and pedestrians.   The Ohio Department of Transportation budget is considered separately from the state main operating budget bill.  The budget scenario for public transit funding is difficult.   Currently the state only provides about 3 percent of overall public transit funding, with local and federal funds providing the largest shares.  On a per capita basis, Ohio ranks 38th highest in the nation in its support for public transit.  GOPC has proposed some ways to provide dedicated funding from the state, but progress is complicated by the need to replace Ohio’s Medicaid managed care sales tax.  Seven local transit authorities rely on a local sales tax and collectively they received $33.6 million from the sales tax on Medicaid premiums. If this funding goes away without a replacement, significant service cuts will result.

Water and Sewer

Many cities across the state are facing a dual challenge of upgrading aging infrastructure and complying with EPA regulations to fix combined sewer overflows that lead to raw sewage being discharged into waterways during major storms.   Over the next 20 years, the EPA estimates that Ohio utilities will need $14.1 billion for wastewater treatment upgrades and $12.1 billion for drinking water infrastructure.  GOPC’s analysis of the problems facing Ohio legacy cities and the need for additional funding can be found here.  These estimates do not include any potential costs of lead service line replacement that may be needed in the wake of public reaction to the situation in Flint, MI.  Under Ohio House Bill 512, Ohio utilities must complete a map of all lead service water supply lines by March, 2017, a date that is in the midst of the state budget process.  The availability of this information may influence public opinion.   

With the Kasich Administration proposing its final budget, sustainability issues will have to hold their own against education, taxation, criminal justice, and other high profile issues.  GOPC will ensure that advocates are informed and can make the case for sustainability during the budget process.  For more information, please sign up for our email updates. 

 

Positive Trends for Ohio’s Communities, but Recovery Remains Fragile

October 13th, 2016

GOPC Opinion Piece
October 12, 2016

The U.S. Census Bureau recently announced that household income increased and poverty decreased for most Americans in 2015. Census estimates show that these trends held true in most of Ohio as well. This is great news. Without a doubt, gains for Ohioans will help strengthen the economy in our state and local communities.

Yet these encouraging findings must not distract us from the continuing challenges facing Ohio, especially its small and mid-sized cities. Challenges like the shift away from manufacturing, population decline, and concentrated poverty existed long before the Recession but became even more difficult because of it. Creativity and strategic risk-taking by local leaders has resulted in rebounding downtowns, safer neighborhoods, and other reasons for optimism, but past and present Census data strongly suggest that recovery has been fragile and that another downturn could easily undo recent progress.

State and federal lawmakers should support policy solutions that are sensitive to the particular needs of small and mid-sized cities and their regions, which are still transitioning to a new post-industrial economy. Ohio’s long-term prosperity depends on making sure that all of its communities are able to thrive. While the news from the Census Bureau should be celebrated, there is more to be done to guarantee that these positive trends hold steady in the face of future economic dips.