GOPC Executive Director will depart to take position at Foundation

July 13th, 2016

 

Dear Greater Ohio Policy Center Friends:

After nearly ten years at the Greater Ohio Policy Center — eight of those years at the organization’s helm – it is with mixed emotions that I announce I will step down as the organization’s Executive Director, effective July 31st.  I have accepted a position as Vice President for Programs, an exciting opportunity at the newly established Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation.  Located in Detroit, Michigan, the Foundation will be focusing its activities and investments in Southeast Michigan (Detroit) and Western New York (Buffalo).  The Foundation’s sizeable endowment and expedited 20-year spending time frame create transformative opportunities in these two regions to stimulate growth and promote healthy communities.

I am extremely proud of the work that the Greater Ohio Policy Center has accomplished in the past decade. Filling an on-going critical need for innovative policies and practices that revitalize and promote sustainable growth in the state’s cities and regions, GOPC is in an unparalleled position to continue with cutting-edge research, policy advancement, and application of best-practices around the state. With its talented staff, highly engaged board, and well-earned reputation for high standards and bipartisan impact, GOPC is poised to continue advancing this important agenda in Ohio.  

I am deeply indebted to GOPC’s inspiring partners and dedicated funders and supporters from around the state and beyond. I am eager to continue this critical work affecting our communities from a new perspective and expect to stay in close touch with my Ohio friends and colleagues, as well as those located throughout the Midwest and the rest of the country, to advance our shared mission.

While the Board will be conducting a search for a new Executive Director, including solicitation of candidates from our family of partners and supporters, GOPC will be in the capable hands of Deputy Director Alison Goebel, who will act as Interim Executive Director.  I want to thank all of our stakeholders for the opportunity to have led GOPC and undertake this important work.

Warm Regards,

Lavea

 

Congress considers changes to EPA revolving loan formulas: Ohio may lose ground

July 6th, 2016

By Jon Honeck, GOPC Senior Policy Fellow

Background

Each year Congress appropriates funds for the U.S. EPA to provide capitalization grants for state revolving loan funds for wastewater treatment.  In Ohio, this fund is known as the Water Pollution Control Loan Fund (WPCLF).   The Ohio EPA sets priorities for the fund according to state needs and federal guidelines.  Local communities submit applications for loans to help finance wastewater treatment plant, sewer system upgrades, or conversions of septic systems to centralized sewage collection.  Ohio’s allotment of the total appropriation is set at 5.7% of the total appropriation amount; the state received $78.5 million in 2016. The annual subsidy allows the WPCLF to offer interest rates below standard market rates.  When combined with loan repayments, the fund can offer substantial amounts of financing.  In 2015, it made a record $759.6 million in loans. 

Congress orders a review

In 2014, Congress passed a major overhaul to the Clean Water Act.  This legislation, known as the Water Resources Development and Reform Act, mandated that the EPA review the allocation formula for the Clean Water Act revolving loan program.  The formula had changed little since the program was created in 1987.  At that time, the formula roughly reflected states’ share of the national population and share of the Clean Watersheds Needs Survey. 

Congress asked the US EPA to determine whether the formula addresses the water quality needs of states based on: (1) the most recent Clean Watersheds Needs Survey (CWNS); and (2) other information that the agency determined appropriate.  The CWNS takes place every four years.  In the 2012 survey, Ohio wastewater utilities identified $14.6 billion in capital projects that needed to be addressed over a 20-year period.  (Click here to access the 2012 CWNS).

Potential Revisions to the Formula

The US EPA presented its report to Congress in May, 2016.  It can be accessed here.  The agency’s main conclusion is that “the current allotment does not adequately reflect the reported water quality needs or the most recent census population for the majority of States” (emphasis in original, p. 5).    The report considers four basic factors that could be used in a revised formula:

  • Clean Watershed Needs Survey (CWNS, which the agency admits underestimates water quality needs)
  • Resident Population from the 2010 U.S. Census
  • Water Quality Impairment Component Ratio (WQICR), an existing database documenting pollution in rivers, lakes, and streams, derived from data submitted by the states; and,
  • Ratio of revolving loan fund assistance to the federal capitalization grant over the past ten years (to reward states that have increased project funding by leveraging their federal grants as much as possible);

Using these factors, the report considers three possible options for a new formula.  Each option would limit a state’s potential loss to 25% and its potential gain to 200%. 

OPTION FACTORS and FORMULA WEIGHTS
1 2012 Clean Watersheds Needs Survey (70%), 2010 population (30%)
2 2012 CWNS (50%), 2010 population (30%), WQICR (20%)
3 2012 CWNS (50%), 2010 population (30%), WQICR (10%), Ratio of assistance to federal grant (10%)

Ohio’s allocation would decline

Ohio fares poorly in all three scenarios, mostly because its share of the national population has fallen by over a full percentage point in the last 30 years, to about 3.7% of the national total.  Interestingly, Ohio’s share of the Clean Watersheds Needs Survey has fallen only slightly, reflecting the large amount of EPA-mandated combined sewer overflow work that must be done.   All three scenarios would yield double-digit declines in Ohio’s allotment, with option 1 creating an 18.2% decline, and options 2 and 3 at the maximum reduction of 25%.   In Program Year 2016, a 25% reduction would have meant a loss of nearly $20 million in federal funding. 

What happens now?

The scenarios in the report are only suggestions.  Congress would have to pass legislation to modify the current formula.  Formulas that did not have a “stop-loss” rule of 25% could have even greater effects on Ohio’s allocation.  Significant federal funding cuts would make it more difficult for the WPCLF to provide low interest rate loans to Ohio communities at a time when sewer rates are rising and affordability is becoming an issue.  It would become especially difficult to offer principal forgiveness options to Ohio’s poorest communities.  These communities already face reduced federal funding options from cuts to the Community Development Block Grant program.  Between 2000 and 2014, average Ohio sewer charges increased by 85 percent, more than twice the rate of consumer inflation.[1]  In a 2015 report on infrastructure needs, GOPC identified replacement and upgrades to water and sewer infrastructure as critical needs that span Ohio’s cities and villages of all population sizes.  Key stakeholders in the area should make every effort to inform Congress about the importance of maintaining Clean Water Act revolving loan program funding. 

[1] Author’s analysis of average user charges from Ohio EPA, 2014 Water and Sewer Rate Survey.  Consumer Price Inflation increased by 37 percent.

Opportunity to Feature Your Photography of Ohio’s Cities

June 28th, 2016

If you take photos in Ohio’s cities as a hobby or as part of your profession, then GOPC is interested in featuring your work in future editions of reports, newsletters, memos, and on our website. GOPC is looking for high quality photos that showcase the beauty and vibrancy of Ohio’s cityscapes, neighborhoods, green infrastructure, shops and restaurants, and farmland. Please send any photos you are willing to share with us to Alex Highley at ahighley@greaterohio.org. If we decide to showcase your work, we will of course credit the photos and share with you the content we created. 
 

AkronPanorama

Update on Recently Passed Bills by Ohio General Assembly

June 28th, 2016

May 2016 was a busy month at the Ohio General Assembly with a number of bills passed, including several that GOPC has been tracking.  The bills described will assist neighborhood and community revitalization efforts around the state.

  • HB390-fast track mortgage foreclosure on blighted residential properties.  This bill became the vehicle for HB463 (and the earlier iteration of HB134).  The portion of the bill GOPC was closely following provides path to expedite mortgage foreclosure on blighted residential property.  The bill requires properties for sale through the sheriff or a private auctioneer to be offered through a website as well as in person.  This bill is on the way to Governor for signature.
  • HB 233-Downtown Redevelopment Districts.  This act authorizes municipal corporations to create DRDs and Innovation Districts, which are essentially TIF districts.  The DRD TIF and the Innovation District TIF can be used for a range of activities, including funding downtown managers (i.e. operating costs) and investing in building rehabilitation.  This act has been signed and will go into effect August 6, 2016.
  • HB 182-Joint Economic Development Districts.  This bill expands eligible uses of JEDD income tax to include redevelopment; allows retail businesses to apply for property tax exemption in Enterprise Zones; adjusts Ohio’s New Market Tax Credit to allow more businesses to apply; requires federal NMTC commitment to access state NMTC.  The bill is on its way to the Governor for signature.
  • HB 303- D.O.L.L.A.R. Deed Program.  The bill creates a voluntary program whereby homeowner facing foreclosure can quit-claim deed their home to their lender (deed in lieu of foreclosure) and then lease back the property for a set period of time with the option to rebuy. The bill is on its way to the Governor for signature.

One Water Summit Showcases Innovative Solutions to 21st Century Water Challenges

June 20th, 2016

By Jon Honeck, GOPC Senior Policy Fellow

The U.S. Water Alliance is a coalition of water utilities, environmental engineering organizations, nonprofits, academics, and other groups interested in raising public awareness of challenges facing the U.S. water supply.  The group held its “One Water Summit 2016” in Atlanta, GA, in June, attended by GOPC Senior Policy Fellow Jon Honeck.  GOPC is engaged in a multi-year project to address water and sewer infrastructure needs in Ohio. 

Conference programming reflected the diversity of water-related challenges across the country.  Panelists at the opening plenary session discussed Atlanta’s attempt to address water supply and water quality issues brought about by decades of population growth, sprawl, and more recently, climate change.  The Atlanta metropolitan planning commission took the lead by integrating water with land use and transportation planning.  With changes in water pricing to promote conservation, the Atlanta metro region achieved a 10% water consumption decline in spite of population growth.   Water audits are now required for buildings with 25,000 ft2.  The Atlanta PACE program (Property Assessed Clean Energy) can provide commercial loans for water and clean energy efficiency that are paid back through property tax assessments.  Current efforts are aimed at improving water quality through green infrastructure.  The Turner Foundation is a major driver of this effort and a regional green infrastructure strategy is in the planning stages. 

One of the panels discussed the possibilities for implementing green infrastructure on a larger scale.  Green infrastructure has become a nationwide phenomenon with cities learning and sharing their experiences with each other.  Federal rules now require EPA-funded Clean Water state revolving funds to set aside an amount equal to 10 percent of their annual capitalization grant for green infrastructure projects.  Philadelphia has been considered a leader in this area as it implemented a plan to address combined sewer overflows under an EPA consent decree.   Atlanta has completed its CSO projects, but wants to continue to make progress in water quality to protect drinking water sources and to enhance recreational opportunities in urban areas.  Atlanta sent a large delegation to Philadelphia to learn from their experience.  The delegation included a multiple city departments and private sector groups, illustrating the breadth of the partnerships needed to carry out its goal of reducing runoff by 225 million gallons per year.   Panelists discussed the new mindset needed to implement green infrastructure, including treating natural vegetation as a capital asset and tracking long-term maintenance.  Philadelphia has no ROI information yet on its extensive green infrastructure installations because it is too soon to understand long-term maintenance costs, but green infrastructure is receiving about 3.5% of its annual capital budget.  In the Q&A session, other examples were brought up of cities moving ahead with green infrastructure, including the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District grants program, which provides assistance to private landowners with large surface parking lots (and large amounts of stormwater runoff), and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewage District, which aggressively pursuing green infrastructure for flood control and watershed management. 

One of many interesting panels discussed “Building a New Business Model for Water.”  Unlike most other countries, the U.S. water and wastewater industry is very fragmented, with 69,000 individual utilities nationwide.  David St. Pierre, CEO of the Chicago Water Reclamation District, discussed opportunities to think about larger structures through mergers, including the potential for cross-state mergers of public utilities.  This would entail putting in place a new regulatory structure that does not exist at present, but it would allow utilities to reap the benefits of economies of scale and learning that at present are only available to large international companies.  Often times, drinking water and wastewater utilities remain separate even in the same municipality.  Tony Parrot of the Louisville Metropolitan Sewer District discussed an inter-agency agreement to tie the operations of the MSD with the local drinking water utility, and how this led to the implementation of a new common billing system that will save operational costs.  The next step is to move to a full merger of the two systems.   Increasingly, some systems are turning to private companies to build or operate their facilities, and representatives of Veolia Water and MVP Capital discussed their experiences in partnering with public utilities. 

It is clear from the One Water Summit that there is tremendous energy and creativity in addressing water-related issues, and that the formerly sedate world of water utilities is changing fast.  Ohio cities have much that they can learn from their peers.  Other legacy cities, such as Louisville, are facing that challenges brought about by managing an infrastructure built for higher levels of water use.  Ohio’s capital city could also learn from growing cities like Atlanta that have combined land use and water infrastructure planning.  The issue of aging infrastructure, which is GOPC’s main concern, was brought up repeatedly by conference participants in panels and in informal conversation.  We are hopeful that GOPC’s forthcoming recommendations on financing mechanisms will not only be of use for Ohio but for other states across the nation. 

 

Reflecting on a Successful Fellowship on Legacy City Revitalization at UChicago’s Institute of Politics

June 15th, 2016

By Lavea Brachman, GOPC Executive Director

I have recently returned from a two month fellowship at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, a new nonpartisan entity designed to ignite a passion in students for politics and public service, where I taught the seminar, “Can America’s Older Industrial Cities Pull Off a Second Act?”  I drew heavily on the research and advocacy work that GOPC is doing with its many partners to drive economic prosperity in Ohio’s legacy cities (or older industrial cities), where quality of life and regrowth are challenged.

The seminar raised questions such as: how to distribute scarce resources for neighborhood revitalization; what is the role of large anchor institutions, like universities and hospitals, in generating neighborhood or economic development when that is not their primary mission; how are massive transportation and sewer and water infrastructure needs going to be financed; and how do we tailor policies and practices to account for the differences between large and small legacy cities.

But the challenge – either implicit or explicit — underlying all of these questions is that of the existing and growing economic divide in Ohio’s cities as well as other legacy cities, like Detroit, Gary, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Philadelphia, as the percentage and numbers of middle income residents continue to decline.

    LB chicago

This phenomenon is not limited to legacy cities in this country, but the economic contrast is particularly stark in them and has profound societal and political consequences. For instance, UChicago, situated in the thriving Hyde Park neighborhood, is also a stone’s throw from other parts of Chicago’s South Side with remnants of older industrial past– closed manufacturing plants, some still operating factories —  resembling other Midwestern legacy cities.   If you didn’t know you were in America’s third largest city – and the largest and most prosperous city in the Midwest –  then you would think you were transported to a legacy city neighborhood with high levels of economic distress.  Contrast that with Chicago’s downtown and many of its adjacent neighborhoods with thriving commercial and residential districts.   Like legacy cities, Chicago, too, is experiencing increasing extremes in residential income levels and neighborhood conditions.

This trend is of deep concern not only for the residents living in these neighborhoods but also for residents in the more prosperous areas in the rest of Chicago as well as in these other cities — and our country. As our legacy cities rebound, let’s demonstrate economic regrowth practices that intentionally address this increasing economic gap, so they can be the leaders in solving and reversing this growing, pernicious national trend.   

A Great Year and a Heartfelt Farewell to Greater Ohio Policy Center

June 6th, 2016

By Lindsey Gardiner

At the beginning of April last year I embarked on a journey with GOPC, as Manager of Government Affairs, that would challenge me to think outside the box and learn about policies that would address issues communities face on a day-to-day basis. From foreclosure to abandoned gas stations, I never knew and truly understood the rippling effect they had on the overall health of a neighborhood and impact on business growth. In a little over a year’s time I have had the privilege to see a significant amount of development of economic development and revitalization policy within the Ohio Legislature. I have come to know numerous legislators who are just as passionate as GOPC in bringing Ohio communities back to pre-great recession levels, and I cannot wait to see the progress that is made over the next year. Unfortunately, the upcoming work that GOPC and the State accomplish together must be made from afar as I have accepted a position that is closer to my family in northeast Ohio. Nevertheless, I will most certainly cherish the relationships I’ve made and carry the lessons I’ve learned about community revitalization and economic development with me wherever my family and I go in Ohio and beyond.

You may have already observed the many legislative developments this month after browsing our May Legislative Update, and in that you might have noticed that the foreclosure reform bill (HB 463) made its way across the legislative “finish line” just before the House and Senate made a much-deserved return to their home districts for the Summer Recess. Like any bill, HB 463 was no easy task and required a lot of negotiation, compromise, and of course patience. A little over a year ago when I began working with GOPC I was invited to serve, per the Ohio State Bar Association, as one of the voices that would help craft legislation aimed at fixing Ohio’s deeply flawed foreclosure policy. Learning about foreclosure was quite the learning process, but as a former legislative staffer, lobbyist, and appointed local government official, I personally believe that Ohio has a lot of serious progress to be proud of.

My first job I served as a Legislative Aide and Clerk of the House Ways and Means Committee for the Ohio House of Representatives, and I have to admit I never thought I would learn so much about tax policy nor did I ever anticipate becoming so passionate about the subject. My experience at GOPC has been similar with fast-track foreclosure, but it is also the case for the remediation of brownfields. When the Clean Ohio Fund was implemented, brownfield cleanup was funded by the Clean Ohio Revitalization Fund (CORF) making our state a leader in turning these unusable eyesores into functioning pieces of communities. The return of jobs and revenue goes unmatched by other remediation programs offered by the State today, and although CORF is no longer implemented I believe Ohio is making its way back to focusing on brownfields with the recent development of the Abandoned Gas Station Cleanup Program. There is so much opportunity when it comes to brownfield cleanup and after working on this particular subject for a little over a year I have learned that job creation, attracting/retaining the millennial workforce, and revitalizing communities are all interconnected with brownfields. GOPC’s unique place-based perspective seamlessly ties these various elements together in a way that I believe will help keep the Legislature moving in the right direction in brownfields cleanup.

Overall, my experience at GOPC has been something I will never forget. GOPC has tremendous leadership and staff, who are passionate about their cause and I thank them for their dedication to revitalizing communities and creating a stronger Ohio. I look forward to seeing GOPC’s research play an instrumental role in educating community leaders and seeing those efforts applied in the policy making process. Best of luck to GOPC and thank you for everything!!!

 

Federal Reserve Bank of Boston Publishes GOPC Article on Revitalization of Legacy Cities

June 6th, 2016

By Lavea Brachman, GOPC Executive Director and Torey Hollingsworth, GOPC Researcher

The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston has published a Greater Ohio Policy Center article on the revitalization of America’s small- and medium-sized legacy cities. Beginning on page 7 of its Summer 2016 Communities and Banking magazine, the article describes several promising resilience strategies for legacy cities, based on GOPC’s data analysis. The article also highlights Case Studies from Worcester, Massachusetts; Kalamazoo, Michigan; Syracuse, New York; and Akron, Ohio of recent economic recovery practices.

Visit the Article Here

Downtown overhead

This article is part of broader research that GOPC is conducting on the health of small- and medium-sized legacy cities across the country.

To read the Article, please go Here

 

 

Ohio General Assembly Passes House Bill 512 to Reform Water Testing Procedures

June 2nd, 2016

By Jon Honeck, GOPC Senior Policy Fellow

Before leaving on its summer break, the Ohio General Assembly passed House Bill 512, a major reform to Ohio’s drinking water regulations that will tighten lead notification and testing requirements, tighten the requirements for lead-free plumbing fixtures, and provide more flexibility to the Ohio EPA and the Ohio Water Development Authority to support public drinking water and wastewater treatment infrastructure.  The bill passed with strong bipartisan support in the wake of the well-publicized crises involving lead in drinking water supplies in Flint, MI, and Sebring, OH.  The American Water Works Association estimates that there are 6.1 million lead service drinking water supply lines still in place across the nation, including many in Ohio.  With proper corrosion control methods, many of the issues with lead pipes can be avoided, although the ultimate answer is to replace these lead lines over time.  We hope that this same bipartisan spirit will carry forward into the fall and 2017 as the state grapples with important water infrastructure and water quality issues. 

Under the bill, homeowners must be notified within two business days of lead laboratory test results received by a community water system.  If the lab results show a lead level above the applicable threshold then the water system must provide information about the availability of health screening and lead blood level testing in the area to the homeowner and notify all customers that the system has exceeded acceptable lead levels within two business days, and provide information about lead testing to all customers within 5 business days.  Within 18 months of the notification of about excessive lead levels, the system must submit a revised corrosion control treatment plan to the Ohio EPA.  A revised corrosion control plan requirement is also triggered if a system changes sources of water supply, makes substantial changes to treatment, or operates outside the limits for certain metals or chemicals. Each water system is also required to map parts of its service area that are likely to contain lead lines.

Many Ohio cities are engaged in multi-year capital projects to fix combined sewer overflows and replacing aging water infrastructure.  The Water Pollution Control Loan Fund, which is controlled by the Ohio EPA, provided over $700 million in revolving loans in 2015 for these purposes.  The Fund receives an annual capitalization grant from the U.S. EPA so it can provide below-market interest rates to projects that are a high priority for the state and local partners. House Bill 512 broadened the scope of the WPCLF’s authority to match recent changes in federal law.  New funding purposes include energy conservation and efficiency at wastewater treatment plants (which use enormous amounts of electric power), watershed management, recapture or treatment of stormwater, and decentralized sewer systems to assist smaller, more isolated rural areas.  In addition, loan terms for the WPCLF are increased from 20 to 30 years, making them more affordable for borrowers.  These changes make it easier to develop creative approaches to managing the water treatment system. 

As Greater Ohio pointed out in Phase I of its ongoing infrastructure project, the state’s needs are vast and the financial capacity of many water utilities is stretched to its limit.  We will make further policy recommendations on this point in 2016. 

 

Legacy of Poindexter Village Celebrated in Columbus

May 27th, 2016

By Sheldon K. Johnson, Urban Revitalization Project Specialist

On Wednesday March 18th, Greater Ohio Policy Center attended Columbus Metropolitan Club’s (CMC) event to commemorate the history and legacy of Poindexter Village. Constructed in 1939, Poindexter Village was the first public-housing project in the city of Columbus. All but two of the 35 buildings that housed 414 units were demolished by the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) in 2013. The 26 acre site will be redeveloped in several phases. The first phase, a 104 unit senior apartment complex called Poindexter Place, is nearing completion. The occasion last week, though, was not about planning for the future, but celebrating and remembering the past.

Poindexter Village was named for the Rev. James M. Poindexter, a prominent leader in Columbus’ 19th century black community.  Rev. Poindexter was the pastor of Second Baptist Church from 1862-1898, became the first African-American elected to the Columbus City Council in 1880, and served on the Columbus Board of Education from 1884-1893. Poindexter Village was significant not only in name, but also for its location. Prior to the establishment of CMHA the area between Long Street and Mount Vernon Avenue was known as the Blackberry Patch. It was home to low-income African-Americans who lived in low quality housing.

Poindexter Village offered not only quality housing with modern amenities, but allowed for the creation of a community. The neighborly atmosphere of Poindexter Village was an important part of the discussion between panelists Myron Lowery, Memphis (TN) City Council Chairman, Curtis J. Moody, president and CEO at Moody Nolan, and Leslie J. Sawyer, retired civil servant. Mr. Lowery, who lived in Poindexter Village for 4 years, and Ms. Sawyer, who attended Poindexter Village Preschool while her father managed the complex, both spoke of how important community was to their childhood.

Several audience members shared memories of their time living in Poindexter Village and urged that the legacy of the complex not be forgotten. Though details of what will happen in the next phases of redevelopment weren’t discussed this event speaks to the importance of the built environment. The presence, or lack thereof, of surroundings such as buildings, greenspace, and infrastructure can have both positive and negative effects on a community. Balancing the revitalization of bricks and sticks for the future while celebrating the special culture of a specific neighborhood or city is important work that many Greater Ohio Policy Center partners are currently undertaking.