National Transportation Group Recommends Strategies for Retrofitting and Rebuilding Roads to Incorporate Green Infrastructure

July 21st, 2017

By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Coordinator

The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) has released an Urban Street Stormwater Guide, offering city officials recommendations for adopting “green,” as opposed to “grey,” infrastructure solutions to improve streets’ ability to handle rainwater runoff. The recommendations on stormwater infrastructure complement many of NACTO’s transportation priorities, such as investing in complete streets that are accessible to all users. NACTO notes the cost-effectiveness of green infrastructure, and explains the ecological, social, and regulatory benefits of its usage. In the guide, NACTO shares some of the best practices being used around the country, where engineers and public officials have taken steps to incorporate green infrastructure into systems that are already in place.  The memo shows how far green infrastructure has come in the last 20 years: from an afterthought, to mainstream best practice. 

According to NACTO, 60 percent of urban areas are made up of some kind of impervious surface, such as concrete, meaning that water and other liquids cannot seep into the surface. Green infrastructure offers an alternative, whereby there is more surface area for water to go in the event of a storm. Green infrastructure comes in many different forms, including structures such as rain gardens, bioswales, and green roofs, and is a rare asset to cities because unlike most resources, green infrastructure actually appreciates over time because as plants grow larger they become stronger and more effective.

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Green Infrastructure in Cleveland, Ohio

In alignment with NACTO, Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) supports policies to modernize Ohio’s sewer and water infrastructure. In 2016, GOPC published a memo assessing the benefits that green infrastructure provides to communities in terms of cost and effectiveness, and analyzes some regional case studies. Many Ohio cities use green infrastructure to divert stormwater from antiquated combined sewer systems that overflow in large storms, dumping wastewater into rivers.  For example, it is far cheaper to create more parks and bioswales than it is to excavate a deep tunnel that can store millions of gallons of runoff.  Earlier in 2017, GOPC released Strengthening Ohio’s Water Infrastructure: Financing and Policy, which explores innovative strategies for modernizing the system in Ohio. Visit GOPC’s Sewer and Water Infrastructure page for all of the latest state and national news and resources on this critical policy area.

In the Urban Street Stormwater Guide, NACTO advocates for local governments to include green stormwater infrastructure into their formal policies and plans, which could include Green Streets Policies, specific stormwater codes and regulations, and developer incentives to expand green design practices. The guide also includes technical suggestions for retrofitting green infrastructure into streets, along with successful methods to execute comprehensive street reconstruction. Throughout the process of introducing a green infrastructure project, NACTO firmly recommends that city officials understand and evaluate variables such as the health of the watershed, existing infrastructure, flood zones, regulatory requirements, and current land use and zoning codes.

See NACTO’s report here and visit GOPC’s Sewer and Water Infrastructure page for all of the latest state and national news and resources on this critical policy area.

 

GOPC Presents Smaller Legacy City Work to Mayors Association of Ohio

June 22nd, 2017

On June 15th, GOPC’s Executive Director, Alison Goebel, gave the lunchtime address at the 2017 Mayors Association of Ohio, a member affiliate of the Ohio Municipal League.  Goebel shared highlights from GOPC’s ongoing work on smaller legacy cities in Ohio with the crowd of about 75 mayors.  Many of the attendees serve Ohio’s villages and smaller towns, such as Fostoria and Eastlake. Attendees responded positively to the recommendations GOPC makes for stabilizing and turning around smaller legacy cities, recognizing that these lessons have applicability to all communities, regardless of size.

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First Workshop of 2017 Ohio Transportation Academy Explores Regional Visions

June 21st, 2017

By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Coordinator

In partnership with Transportation for America (T4A), Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) began the 2017 Ohio Transportation Local Leadership Academy last week, bringing together leaders from various cities and regions around the state to equip them with ideas for local transportation solutions. Private, public, and nonprofit-sector representatives from Akron, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Delaware, Hamilton, Lorain, and Toledo came together at the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) headquarters in Columbus, for the first of six Academy sessions.

Workshop 1, titled “Achieving Regional Visions through Transportation,” opened with Beth Osborne, T4A Vice President for Technical Assistance, and Alison Goebel, GOPC Executive Director. Osborne highlighted the crucial role that transportation plays in today’s economy, noting demographic shifts, such as younger workers choosing to live in more walkable transit-rich areas, and also the reality that employers need broad access to workers. Goebel showcased some of the recent achievements of Ohio’s cities and regions, such as the doubling of jobs over a six-year period along Cleveland’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Health Line. In light of these recent successes, Goebel encouraged participants to think creatively locally, given that state and federal support for transportation is often unpredictable.

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Beth Osborne, of Transportation for America, speaking during the Academy

The Academy welcomed three engaging speakers from the Indianapolis area to discuss their region’s recent transportation reform via an initiative called IndyConnect. Former Mayor Greg Ballard and Mark Fisher of the Indy Chamber discussed their coalition-led project, culminating with a successful ballot initiative that allowed for the broadening and expansion of multimodal transportation, creating new electric BRT lines, and boosting support for other bus, bike, and pedestrian modes. Nicole Barnes of the Indianapolis Congregation Action Network (IndyCAN), an organization that was part of the coalition, then discussed the role of grassroots advocacy in terms of creating convincing messaging for different key audiences. All three speakers explained that convincing people to vote to expand modes of transportation that some voters perhaps personally may never use should rely on the underlying theme that improved transportation is a crucial economic development tool that connects more hardworking employees with jobs in a more efficient process, which in turn produces secondary benefits to the economy.

During various breakout sessions throughout the day, participants enthusiastically discussed their regions’ goals and how building stronger local transportation systems can help them achieve these goals. Future sessions will continue to build upon these shared goals and visions for Ohio’s regions. Thank you to all participants and staff for a successful first workshop. GOPC would also like to extend a big thank you to MORPC for graciously hosting the first Academy workshop.

“State Government and Urban Revitalization”: New Paper Outlines Principles for State Engagement with Revitalizing Cities

June 13th, 2017

By Torey Hollingsworth, GOPC Manager of Research and Policy

A new working paper written by researcher Alan Mallach and released by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy explores how state governments can support lasting and inclusive urban revitalization. By law, cities are subject to significant intervention by state governments, even in states where municipalities have home rule authority. To greater or lesser extents, states set guidelines about what cities may or may not do, which can bolster or limit their ability to build stronger economies and neighborhoods. States also typically have access to greater resources, meaning their financial and programmatic support – or lack thereof – for urban revitalization efforts can make a significant impact. In Ohio, cities have home rule authority, which allows for a degree of autonomy from state authority. But the state can still broaden or limit municipalities’ powers, including their capacity to raise revenue, or as seen recently –can choose to reduce state revenue sharing.  Municipalities’ fates are not determined by state policy alone – but state policy can be a headwind or tailwind for cities seeking to turn things around.

Mallach defines urban revitalization as a series of processes that together can create transformative change. Specifically, he identifies five key elements of the broader urban revitalization process: fiscal and service delivery capacity; healthy real estate markets; healthy neighborhoods and quality of life; economic competitiveness; and human capital development. While each element requires unique strategies and interventions, the elements are so interdependent that cities must work on all of them in concert to make real progress.

These elements are also subject to what Mallach calls an “inclusivity screen,” which measures the extent to which the benefits of growth and revitalization are available to all of the city’s residents. As discussed in the recent report “Looking for Progress in America’s Smaller Legacy Cities,” which was summarized in an earlier blog post, many revitalizing cities have struggled to make new prosperity broadly accessible to residents. But evidence suggests that more inclusive growth leads to greater economic gains and less political turmoil, underscoring the importance of viewing all revitalization efforts through the inclusivity lens.

By examining states’ roles in impacting the five elements of urban revitalization and inclusivity, Mallach derives principles that should guide state policy in supporting successful revitalization.

  • “Support cities’ efforts rather than attempt to substitute for them”: Urban revitalization efforts will only be successful if they are driven by local leadership. State governments must recognize that local officials have the best understanding of their communities’ needs, and that constraints placed on programs or spending at the state level often hinder the local creativity necessary to successfully revitalize.
  • “Neutral is not neutral”: Jurisdictions do not begin on an even playing field, which means that places that start off stronger benefit more from “neutral” policies than those that began in a disadvantaged position. States should target their resources to jurisdictions that need them most and should reexamine policies that disadvantage central cities that are in need of revitalization.
  • “Integrate urban revitalization into a regional framework”: Cities and the suburban and exurban regions that surround them make up a single economic unit, and as such, any revitalization efforts championed by state governments should encourage greater cooperation among jurisdictions in fragmented regions.
  • “Break down silos and integrate revitalization elements”: A lack of coordination among government agencies and departments is a widely acknowledged problem. States should not only encourage local governments to remove internal barriers to coordination, they should also ensure that state agencies are organized in a way that promotes collaboration with local governments.
  • “Build an inclusivity framework into state policies and programs”: Many of the challenges related to poverty and inequality are outside of a city’s immediate ability to control, and many cities fall short of addressing even those they can impact. States have an important role to play in increasing access to economic opportunity for residents, either by enacting state policies that directly benefit low-income people or by explicitly enabling or encouraging cities to create inclusive policies.

Mallach concludes that states are important actors in revitalization activities, and provides a long list of more concrete recommendations for how they can promote cities’ success. These recommendations include allowing for diversified municipal revenue sources, providing state dollars to seed catalytic redevelopment projects, and “fix-it-first” and multi-modal transportation policies. A full list of recommendations is available beginning on page 49 of the report.

 

Shrinking Cities Reading Series Part III: Why the Garden Club Couldn’t Save Youngstown

May 31st, 2017

By Torey Hollingsworth, GOPC Manager of Research and Policy

Why the Garden Club Couldn’t Save Youngstown by Sean Safford is a commonly cited work on struggling cities, particularly smaller ones. Unlike the other work profiled so far, Safford deals less directly with issues of vacant land but examines how civic capacity and social networks can influence a city’s path. Why the Garden Club Couldn’t Save Youngstown compares the trajectory of two very similar Rust Belt cities – Allentown, Pennsylvania and Youngstown, Ohio – and examines why Allentown has been more successful in rebounding from economic decline and adapting to the 21st Century economy. Both cities experienced significant crises as their primary economic engine – the steel industry – retooled in the 1970s, resulting in fewer local jobs and the eventual dissolution of each city’s key local company. Despite these challenges, Allentown has recently experienced economic and population regrowth while Youngstown has still largely not rebounded from the crisis of 40 years ago.

Safford narrows in on the social networks between economic and business elites as a key point of divergence between the cities. He traces the structure of social networks back to the founding of each city to determine its effect on the community’s response to later crises. In Allentown, business scions settled among the various cities and towns in the Lehigh Valley and built a spirit of friendly competition amongst themselves. This resulted in investment in civic, educational, and cultural institutions that were ultimately to the benefit of the community as a whole. In Youngstown, on the other hand, Safford finds that business leaders were more closely knit together and identified more with their class identity than another identity tied to place or ethnic group.

In Allentown, community leaders, including the president of Bethlehem Steel, sought to increase their own power by building stronger ties among members of disparate communities. In a particularly notable example, Allentown leaders worked to build a literal bridge between two communities and raised money and support for the project through a grassroots level campaign. The stronger ties among members of different economic classes that resulted from this effort helped build networks that were resilient in the face of eventual crisis. In Youngstown, on the other hand, Safford concludes that business leaders saw little personal value in engaging with the broader community and instead actively worked to pit ethnic groups against one another.

As the crisis in steel manufacturing loomed, leaders in Allentown responded by laying the groundwork for greater economic diversification. In Youngstown, business leaders doubled down on steel manufacturing. Once the crisis finally hit in the 1970s, Allentown was insulated from the worst effects of the downturn due to increased diversification. Local leaders turned to building local economic engines outside of the steel industry. In Youngstown, Safford says that business leaders essentially left the community on its own to figure out an answer – and the fragmented communities within the city all proposed competing responses to the crisis.

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Youngstown, Ohio

Safford is able to follow the connections between economic elites in both cities to trace what kinds of networks produced the different kinds of results. He found that in 1950, economic connections in both cities are relatively dense among different powerful people. In Youngstown, those connections extended into the social realm as well, as many members of the economic elite attended the same churches and participated in the same clubs. In Allentown, social networks among economic players were much more diffuse, although a few key organizations appeared to connect many of the most prestigious leaders. Safford argues that Allentown’s more diffuse network allowed economic elites to respond to the crisis more effectively. Allentown’s social networks create multiple layers of interaction among participants that are connected but not identical to one another. When one of the layers went into crisis – as occurred in the economic realm – actors had other, insulated layers of interaction to pull from to creatively respond to the crisis at hand. Safford argues that actors were able to receive more and different kinds of opinions about potential responses to the crisis by hearing from a more diverse set of actors. Additionally, a broader set of leaders could emerge than the closed off set of “usual suspects” present in Youngstown.

Safford examined the network ties of the most powerful people in both cities again in 2000. His research showed a striking difference in the makeup of each city’s powerbrokers. Quite a few economic elites and political figures remained in prominent positions in Allentown, while in Youngstown power was much more concentrated among leaders of nonprofit organizations and educational institutions. Safford claims that Allentown was stronger because there were still economic leaders involved in its civic structure – and Youngstown suffered because that was not the case. There is little economic incentive for corporate leaders to actively participate in their communities, but in Allentown, the multiple layers of network ties led actors to find other value in participating in civic activities.

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.

 

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.

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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