Tuesday, October 24, 2000

Why not share the wealth in Over-the-Rhine?

        Over-the-Rhine needs a decent grocery store. This neighborhood could also use a good scrubbing and several hundred more people who own their homes.

        Surely, residents there would welcome some new shops and a few more branch banks. A little competition for Firstar from Fifth Third, for instance.

        That's what this neighborhood doesn't have.

        What it does have is a terrific bakery, an enviable hardware store and a rich assortment of vacant buildings in the heart of the city.

        And poverty. Lots of poverty. Cincinnati's City Council doesn't need to spend another dime on programs that will buy more poverty for this neighborhood. Over-the-Rhine already has plenty.

        ReSTOC, an agency that controls up to 70 downtown properties, including many vacant ones, has proposed a plan for 45 new low-income units. The city would have to agree to put $700,000 toward the project.

        Just what this neighborhood doesn't need — more evidence that it has been designated for the exclusive use of the poor.

Signs of backbone
               Imagine a retailer saying, “Boy, I heard nobody in that neighborhood has any money. Think I'll open up a store.”

        Or a parent saying, “Geez. You mean absolutely every kid who goes to that school comes from poverty? Sign my kid up.”

        Or an empty-nester saying, “I'd like to live closer to the office, downsize a little while we're at it. Maybe I could buy something in a neighborhood that is poor — and getting poorer.”

        The people who already live in Over-the-Rhine deserve better than this, and some members of Cincinnati's City Council have had nerve enough to say so. This is not easy.

        They will be accused of “losing” $4 million in state funding. Well, that's kind of like getting a gift certificate for something you don't want and don't need. Then winding up having to spend a big chunk of your own money to use it.

"Heels dug in'
               So far, Mayor Charlie Luken and Councilmen Jim Tarbell, Phil Heimlich and Pat DeWine have refused. Councilman Charlie Winburn came up with a compromise that would have required ReSTOC to fix up some of its abandoned buildings and rent some of the others at market rates. No thanks, ReSTOC said.

        Francis Wagner, who heads the city's neighborhood services department, says “folks on both sides sure have their heels dug in.” But ReSTOC has asked for another week before the matter comes before council again.

        I hope ReSTOC's new plan includes letting go of some of its abandoned buildings for the $700,000 it wants from the city. And I hope the city doesn't give an inch.

        Last Sunday, more than 2,000 people spent $10 each to go on a walking tour of downtown and Over-the-Rhine, looking at housing. More than 400 signed up at the Emery to get more information about the apartments there and 100 signed up to be on the reservation list. Only 60 apartments are available.

        We talk about diversity all the time, and we usually understand that means extending a welcome to a minority. So, let's demand that the city hang tough for diversity in Over-the—Rhine. Deciding that everybody in a neighborhood should be poor is just as ugly as deciding that nobody in a neighborhood should be.

        E-mail Laura at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393.


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