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.

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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.

 

Community Development Block Grants Proposed for Elimination

April 10th, 2017

By John Collier, GOPC Intern

The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) is one of the longest running programs of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Beginning in 1974, the program has provided communities with a source of flexible funds to aid in affordable housing and anti-poverty programs. The future of the program is unclear, as the Trump Administration, in its 2018 Budget Blueprint, is calling for the elimination of the CDBG program.

The flexibility of the CDBG program sets it apart from other grant programs provided by the federal government. With CDBG grants, state and local governments have a large amount of discretion in how the money is spent, and require less federal oversight.

CDBG funds are allocated in two separate funding streams.  One goes to states and the other directly to cities meeting certain requirements. Seventy percent of CDBG funds are allocated to what is referred to as the CDBG Entitlement Program. This program distributes funds directly to large cities and urban counties. Eligible communities receive CDBG funds determined by a formula based on population, poverty rates, and housing units. Since the funding is based on a formula and depends on a number of factors, CDBG funding can vary from year to year. 

The other 30 percent of CDBG funds are allocated to the State CDBG Program. States award the CDBG funds to smaller units of government for a wide array of purposes. The State CDBG Program allows non-entitlement cities (typically cities with populations fewer than 50,000) to benefit from this CDBG program. In Ohio, CDBG funds are administered by the Office of Community Development at ODSA. The Office of Community Development outlines four areas for CDBG funding in Ohio:

  1. Community Allocation – projects including public facilities, services, housing, and economic development
  2. Neighborhood Revitalization – targeted investment in low and moderate-income neighborhoods
  3. Downtown Revitalization – targeted investment in façade improvements, streetscapes, and public infrastructure
  4. Critical Infrastructure – high priority projects, typically single-component projects such as roads and drainage, which provide a community wide impact

In 2016, Ohio received $137,566,074 from HUD’s CDBG programs, $41,292,727 went to the State Program and $96,173,347 was distributed through the Entitlement Program. Forty-five communities in Ohio were eligible for the Entitlement Program. The breakdown of expenditures of the State Program funds is as follows:

  • 55% for Public Facilities and Improvements
  • 20% for Housing
  • 14% for General Administration/Planning
  • 7.5% for Economic Development
  • 2% for Public Services

According to the State of Ohio’s 2014 Accomplishment Report submitted to HUD, state program funds benefitted an estimated 885,599 individuals through the various projects funded by CDBGs. One of these state projects took place in Preble County, which assisted the Village of Lewisburg in a revitalization of its downtown district. The funds helped repair building facades, install decorative brick pavers, decorative planters, sidewalks, etc. In Miami County, state CDBG funds were utilized in a critical infrastructure project. CDBG funds allowed Bradford Village to replace 1,250 feet of water lines as well as to install 3 fire hydrants. The project benefited the entire village.

While total CDBG disbursement has decreased every year since 2002, it may now be completely eliminated. President Trump’s proposed 2018 Budget requests a $6.2 billion or 13.2 percent decrease in discretionary funding for HUD from 2017 levels and a complete elimination of the CDBG program. The blueprint claims the program “is not well-targeted to the poorest populations and has not demonstrated results” and aims to redistribute the funds to other activities.  The CDBG remains a valuable source of flexible funding for community development, and there is no obvious replacement source for cash-strapped communities.  Federal lawmakers need to carefully consider the merit of the program before making any changes.

For more detailed information on the CDBG program visit the HUD Exchange.

 

Economic Impact Analysis Reveals Added Value to US Economy of Investing in Water Infrastructure and Warns of Multiplying Costs if Funding Gap is Deferred

April 7th, 2017

By John Collier, GOPC Intern

The Value of Water Campaign recently released the Economic Impact of Investing in Water Infrastructure – a report aimed at quantifying the economic impact water infrastructure has on the US economy. The campaign brings together leading water industry experts to better understand the economic benefits associated with closing the funding gap for water infrastructure spending, as well as the potential costs of failing to do so.

The US is at a tipping point when it comes to its water infrastructure. The infrastructure built in the last century, with a lifespan of 75 to 100 years, is coming to the end of its lifespan. Estimates from the American Society of Civil Engineers suggest the US will need to spend a minimum of $123 billion per year on capital improvements over the next 10 years to maintain a good state of repair. To put the scale of this infrastructure improvement into perspective, the report states that one-third of US water mains will need replaced by 2040. Current funding levels at all levels of government are not sufficient, and leave a sizeable funding gap. The report notes that aggregate capital spending across the local, state, and federal levels is only $41 billion per year, leaving an $82 billion annual funding gap. If current needs are left unmet, the report warns this funding gap will increase to $109 billion per year by the year 2026.

The benefits of meeting the funding gap are bigger than simply avoiding service disruptions, and would ripple to the farthest reaches of the economy. The US stands to gain $220 billion dollars in annual economic activity and would create 1.3 million jobs nationwide over ten years, should the water infrastructure funding gap be closed. Many of these jobs that are involved in the design and construction of improved water infrastructure are well paying and are attainable with a high school diploma. Moreover, indirect effects of investing in construction would create positive indirect effects on the economy, such as the purchase of working supplies in interrelated industries. An added benefit to the investment is the $94 billion businesses would save each year due to no longer needing to fund their own water supplies.

Water Treatment Plant - wikicommons

        Water Treatment Plant. Photo credit: Wikicommons

The campaign asserts that as the nation moves to assess and repair its aging infrastructure, there is need for significant federal investment. From 1977 to 2014, federal contributions have fallen from 63 percent of total spending to 9 percent of total capital spending on water infrastructure. Much of the burden has been picked up at the local level – per capita spending by local communities has risen from $45 in 1977 to upwards of $100 in 2014.

Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) recently released Strengthening Ohio’s Water Infrastructure, a report exploring the opportunities at the state level to ensure long-term financial stability of Ohio’s water infrastructure. The use of asset-management, regionalization, and private-public partnerships may be the key for the financial stability of Ohio’s water systems and adequately funding capital improvements.  Affordability is becoming more of a strain for some communities as user charges continue to increase in parallel with national trends. 

Modernizing the water system for the 21st century remains one of GOPC’s main policy objectives. GOPC is in the midst of a multi-year project on Ohio’s water and sewer infrastructure – and is currently identifying the best practices from around the nation.

For further resources and reports, please visit GOPC’s Sewer and Water Infrastructure Resource Page

 

GOPC Assesses Suitability of Replicating Peers’ Funding Tools to Support Affordable Housing in Central Ohio

March 31st, 2017

By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Associate

The Affordable Housing Alliance of Central Ohio (AHACO) has released a new report, The Columbus and Franklin County Affordable Housing Challenge: Needs, Resources, and Funding Models, underscoring the difficulties many residents face in obtaining affordable housing in Columbus and the surrounding suburbs. Informed by Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) research, the report then investigates ways that the public sector can aid in increasing the affordable housing supply. GOPC’s systematic study of tools and programs that have been successfully used in cities outside Ohio highlights opportunities for expanding affordable housing in and around Columbus.

With Central Ohio’s population growing at a substantial rate and wages not keeping up with increasing rent prices, affordable housing is harder to come by for renters in the region. Between 2009 and 2014, median rents went up by almost twice the rate of median household incomes. Given that Franklin County poverty rates are growing, including in most of the major suburbs, many new job openings do not pay a “housing wage,” and the stark spatial mismatch between where jobs are located and where people live, AHACO concluded there is a strong need for new affordable housing. AHACO sought GOPC’s expertise to deliver robust research of viable models that could support much of the good work already being done throughout communities in Columbus to improve affordable housing opportunities for residents.

Click Here to Access the Executive Summary and the full Report

Methodologically, GOPC conducted an extensive literature scan and internet search to assess the funding mechanisms that communities around the country employ in order to spur the creation of a rich and diverse set of housing choices. In total, GOPC studied 40 funding mechanisms in 25 communities in detail. GOPC judged the merits of possible replication in Central Ohio by comparing the respective cities’ demographic data, summarizing the cities’ relevant economic conditions that made implementation of the tools possible, and concluding with weighing the advantages and limitations of mirroring the tool in Central Ohio. Examples of successful tools and the cities they are used in are listed below.

  • Seattle, WA – Dedicated Property Tax Revenue – $340 million generated over 20 years
  • Austin, TX – General Obligation Bonds – $120 million generated over 7 years
  • Portland, OR – Tax Increment Financing (TIF) – $107 million generated over 4 years
  • Washington, DC  - General Fund Appropriation – $48 million generated over 1 year
  • San Francisco, CA – Linkage Fees & Impact Fees – $188 million generated over 9 years
  • Denver, CO – Inclusionary Zoning: Developer Set Asides – $7.6 million generated over 13 years
  • Denver, CO – Social Impact Bonds – $8.7 million generated over 1 year

Along with explaining the mechanism of each tool and highlighting the number of affordable housing units produced through the program, GOPC discussed the tools’ applicability to Columbus. In many cases, the tools already exist and are used to some extent, or current law precludes their usage towards affordable housing purposes. For instance, General Obligation bonds issued by a county, township, or municipality can be used for housing construction costs, but may not be used for a rental or operating subsidy in Ohio. The county sales tax offers another opportunity; the current temporary permissive Franklin county sales tax of .25% generates over $58 million per year. If this revenue were to be directed toward affordable housing purposes, then this would represent a sizable amount of revenue available for funding solutions should voters renew the tax in 2018.

To understand how many new units of affordable housing could be created using these tools, GOPC estimated the total costs of various housing projects. For instance, permanent supportive housing costs $165,000 per unit to build and $7,000 per person per year in operation costs. GOPC also reviewed the feasibility of particular tools from a legal standpoint. For example, Franklin County has the authority to devote general funds toward rent subsidies, similar to the Local Rent Subsidy Program used in Washington DC. To conclude the report, GOPC created a chart for the Appendix which organizes each funding source according to the political subdivision (states, cities, counties, etc.) that may implement a program to support affordable housing along with whether that program is currently being used for housing purposes in Franklin County.

Click Here to Access the Executive Summary and the full Report

 

Southwest Ohio’s Pipeline H2O Launches Program for Upgrading Sewer and Water Infrastructure

January 31st, 2017

By Nick Livingston, GOPC High School Intern

Pipeline H2O, a water-based startup technology program located in Hamilton, Ohio, has just announced its first class of companies that are working on water infrastructure challenges. Pipeline H2O’s main objective is to acknowledge and advance the work of water technology companies improve water services and seek innovative strategies for reusing water, upgrading infrastructure, treating wastewater, and monitoring water quality. This timely news coincides with GOPC recently beginning the Implementation Phase of its Water Financing Project, providing recommendations on strengthening the long-term sustainability of water infrastructure in Ohio. 

At the end of the selection process, Pipeline H2O chose eight startup companies to begin the program, including two companies from Ohio: kW river Hydroelctric from Hamilton, and Searen from Cincinnati. Companies that have been selected to participate in the Pipeline H2O program exhibit through their work many of the strategies that GOPC recommends in its recent report, Strengthening Ohio’s Water Infrastructure: Financing and Policy. For instance, WEL Enterprise’s system that treats and reclaims wastewater on one platform is a strong example of developing new technologies in order to save energy costs, which is a strategy GOPC recommends in its report.  

GOPC‘s report also emphasizes the importance of asset management, which is the process of cost-effectively upgrading and maintaining assets. The companies selected for the Pipeline H20 program are efficient in maintaining resources and saving money while upgrading water quality, demonstrating sound asset management techniques.  For instance, the Aquatech startup Searen has created a Vacuum Airlift, which replaces legacy hardware and consolidates pieces of equipment. In addition, GOPC’s call for public-private partnership to make projects more flexible and timely can be seen through Pipeline H2O’s partnership with government agencies such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the City of Hamilton, and the City of Cincinnati.

Go Here to access GOPC’s latest report Strengthening Ohio’s Water Infrastructure: Financing and Policy and Here for more on Pipeline H20’s inaugural class of water technology companies

Pipeline H20’s assessment was handled by a committee composed of water experts, including Greater Cincinnati Water Works, the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati, City of Hamilton Water, Confluence, Butler County Groundwater Consortium, U.S. EPA, Hamilton Mill, Cintrifuse, Village Capital, and Queen City Angels.  New and innovative ideas concerning water development will be introduced throughout the region from the selected companies, and the Pipeline H2O program will be set in action from February 2017 through May 2017.

 

Cincinnati Enquirer Publishes GOPC Op-Ed on Recommendations for 21st Century Infrastructure Policies

January 26th, 2017

The Cincinnati Enquirer recently published GOPC Senior Policy Fellow Jon Honeck’s guest column “Here’s how to, and how not to, rebuild America.” In the op-ed, GOPC makes practical recommendations to guide policymakers as they tackle the challenges of keeping the country moving in the 21st Century. 

For the first time in years, the nation’s infrastructure crisis will be a leading issue in Congress. To build on this momentum at the state level, GOPC is advocating for improvements in public transit in the upcoming Ohio Department of Transportation budget. The op-ed recommends that policymakers in Ohio and in Washington should adopt a “fix it first” policy that focuses on maintaining and utilizing existing infrastructure. With this solid foundation in place, we can think creatively about how to finance catalytic projects that think out of the box.

Go here to read the op-ed.

For more information on strategies and policies needed to rebuild Ohio, please see GOPC’s Water Infrastructure and Transportation Modernization Resources for the latest news and tools in these fields, including a report on water infrastructure released last week: Strengthening Ohio’s Water Infrastructure: Financing and Policy.

To learn more about policies and strategies for modernizing Ohio’s water and sewer infrastructure and transportation systems, make sure to attend our 2017 Summit: Investing in Ohio’s Future March 7th and 8th! We hope you join us: Register today!

GOPC Updates Analysis on Challenges Facing Ohio’s Smaller Legacy Cities; Presents Findings at CMC

January 17th, 2017

Greater Ohio Policy Center has released an update to its 2016 report From Akron to Zanesville: How Are Ohio’s Small and Mid-Sized Legacy Cities Faring? The report examined the economic health of Ohio’s older industrial cities over the last 15 years and recommends proactive state policy solutions to strengthen these places. Newly released 2015 data confirms the general downward trajectory of many key economic indicators in these communities.

  • Ohio’s mid-sized legacy cities – Akron, Canton, Dayton, Toledo, and Youngstown – resemble their larger neighbors in many ways, including their challenges with entrenched poverty, low household incomes, and substantial rates of housing vacancy and abandonment. But the signs of recovery continuing to emerge in Cleveland and Cincinnati are not apparent in the economic health data of the mid-sized cities.
  • The proportion of adults working or looking for a job – a key indicator of economic health – declined significantly between 2000 and 2015 in small and mid-sized legacy cities.
  • Unemployment rates ticked down in all city types between 2014 and 2015. By 2015, Columbus and the state as a whole recovered their unemployment rates to 2009 levels. Mid-sized legacy cities also approached their unemployment levels at the end of the Recession. However, unemployment levels in all city types and the state as a whole continue to exceed 2000 levels.

GOPC’s research has confirmed that cities that are rebounding invest in place-based assets to revitalize.  To help Ohio’s smaller legacy cities stabilize and thrive, in 2017, GOPC will continue to lead advocacy on a slate of policies that support community redevelopment as routes to economic stability.

As part of GOPC’s recently launched smaller legacy city initiative, Executive Director, Alison D. Goebel, discussed the 2015 findings and GOPC’s policy recommendations at a Columbus Metropolitan Club forum, Big City Problems in Ohio’s Small Towns, which over 140 people attended earlier this week. During the panel, Goebel discussed ongoing challenges, such as economic and population decline, that Ohio’s smaller legacy cities face. To enable these cities to rebound, Goebel emphasized the importance of local civic capacity and the need to invest in both people and place-based assets.

GOPC was joined by Tara Britton, director of public policy and advocacy at the Center for Community Solutions and John Begala, retired executive director of the Center for Community Solutions, and the session was moderated by Karen Kasler of the Ohio Public Radio Statehouse News Bureau. If you missed the CMC forum, a Video of the whole event has been made available on CMC’s YouTube channel, which can be viewed online for free!

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GOPC’s Executive Director Alison Goebel (right) speaking at the Columbus Metropolitan Club about recent data on smaller legacy cities and strategies for regrowth.

We will be hosting a smaller legacy cities panel along with a whole array of exciting topics during our 2017 Summit: Investing in Ohio’s Future March 7th and 8th! We hope you join us; Register today!

 

Season’s Greetings! GOPC’s 2016 Accomplishments and a 2017 Preview

December 20th, 2016

Staff holiday pic 16

Pictured from left: Jason Warner, Sheldon Johnson, Alex Highley, Meg Montgomery, Torey Hollingsworth, Jon Honeck, Alison Goebel, and John Collier

 

Dear Friends,

From everyone at the Greater Ohio Policy Center, we wish you a safe and enjoyable holiday season!

Throughout 2016, GOPC has been a leader in championing revitalization and sustainable growth in Ohio, ensuring the state is equipped with policies and practices that create robust cities and regions. With so much happening around Ohio, the past twelve months have proven to be busy and rewarding for GOPC in equal measure. We introduced Alison Goebel as our new Executive Director following the departure of Lavea Brachman, and in conjunction with this smooth transition, we achieved many important goals and started planning for even greater success next year. In 2016, we:

  • Published original research reports on many critical revitalization issues in Ohio, including:

o   Akron Urban Health and Competitiveness Report finds that Akron is at a crossroads for further growth and economic development.  This work received extensive coverage from news media, including Akron Beacon Journal, Cleveland Plain Dealer, and WCPN

o   Transportation Modernization Memos analyze strategies that improve multimodal transportation and underscore the outsized economic benefits of implementing policies that support all modes

o   Credit Gaps in Opportunity Neighborhoods assesses redevelopment needs and highlights the barriers to revitalization in many of Ohio’s opportunity neighborhoods

o   Green Infrastructure for Stormwater Control analyzes grey and green water and sewer infrastructure and highlights modern, cost-effective strategies for maintaining aging stormwater systems

o   Ohio’s Small and Mid-Sized Legacy Cities highlights the serious economic and demographic challenges facing smaller legacy cities – received extensive coverage from news media, including WKSU Chillicothe Gazette, and Youngstown Business Journal 

  • Hosted a successful Webinar, attended by over 150 people, examining how Ohio’s smaller legacy cities from Akron to Zanesville have fared over the past 15 years
  • Presented our work at over 25 conferences and meetings in Akron, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Marietta, Toledo, Washington DC, and Youngstown
  • Testified at the statehouse on state policy on issues concerning revitalization including active transportation, foreclosure reform, and brownfield redevelopment
  • Launched brand new Water and Sewer Infrastructure and Smaller Legacy Cities web resources with up-to-date news, original research, and previews of upcoming reports

Coming in 2017…

In 2017, we will build on this momentum and to continue to underscore the importance of Ohio’s cities as the economic drivers of the state. With partners from around the state and nation, we look forward to continuing to research and advocate for policies that revitalize neighborhoods, diversify transportation systems, modernize water and sewer infrastructure, and build strong cities and regions in Ohio.

We can’t wait to host our 2017 Summit, Investing in Ohio’s Future: Maximizing Growth in our Cities and Regions on March 7th & 8th in Columbus. The Summit will explore best practices in financing and accelerating comprehensive and sustainable growth in communities throughout Ohio. We are meticulously planning an exciting and informative event that we predict will be our best Summit yet. We hope you join us!

If you believe in creating vibrant, sustainable cities and regions in Ohio, we invite you to support GOPC with a year-end contribution. We are grateful for your support.

Warm wishes for 2017,

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Alison Goebel and the Greater Ohio Policy Center Team

 

Mid-Sized Cities with Declining Populations Face Water Infrastructure Dilemma

October 31st, 2016

By John Collier, GOPC Research & Conference Support Intern, and Jon Honeck, GOPC Senior Policy Fellow

The United States Government Accountability Office recently released a report on the water infrastructure dilemma occurring in the United States’ mid-sized and large cities with declining population.  GAO’s analysis was requested by Congressman Paul Tonko (D-NY), to understand the unique challenges these cities face in repairing and replacing water and sewer infrastructure.   The GAO noted that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) surveys of water utilities estimate that over 20 years, $655 billion will have to be spent to maintain, replace, or upgrade the country’s water infrastructure.

GAO interviewed water and wastewater utility officials in 10 cities in the Midwest and Northeast, including Youngstown, Ohio, that experienced large population declines between 1980 and 2010.  Youngstown lost 42% of its population over this time frame.  GAO acknowledged that mid-sized to larger cities with declining populations are generally more economically distressed, and suffer from higher unemployment, higher poverty rates, and lower median incomes. These cities, whose peak population typically was in the 1950s and 1960s, suffer from decreased revenue and increased costs. The characteristics of these legacy cities put them in a unique financial bind.

Nearly all the cities in the report expressed concerns over their ability to control combined sewer overflows. Outdated infrastructure in these legacy cities needs updated, but their financial situation makes this difficult.  All the selected cities in the report have raised utility rates in an effort to raise more revenue, but this results in affordability problems for low-income households.  Low-income households in Youngstown now pay over 8% of their median income for their water and sewer bills on a combined basis, well above EPA guidelines for affordability of 3%.  Although Youngstown and other cities have established payment plans to make utility access affordable for lower-income households, it does not discount bills for low-income households, and the prospect of future rate increases will continue to make affordability difficult. 

One of the interesting findings from the report was that the utilities in the study are adopting asset management plans, but it is very difficult to downsize or “rightsize” their infrastructure despite large areas of vacant housing or vacant land.  Asset management refers to creating a comprehensive inventory of the utility assets and their condition, and integrating this data with maintenance and capital planning.  The utilities noted that downsizing was difficult because they still had to service a few houses in each block, or maintain lines through vacant areas in order to reach neighborhoods farther away.  This response illustrates how difficult it is to separate infrastructure planning from overall land use planning. 

Greater Ohio Policy Center considers the modernization of Ohio’s water infrastructure a critical issue. GOPC has conducted an assessment of the issues Ohio’s legacy cities face, and the need for additional mechanisms, such as green infrastructure as an alternative stormwater management tool.  We believe that asset management and regional consolidation are key outcomes that could be accelerated with additional state incentives.     

More information about water infrastructure and links to GOPC’s reports can be found Here.