Friday, December 13, 2002

City housing development fund supported

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A proposed $100 million housing development fund could help build 5,000 new and rehabilitated units in Cincinnati over 10 years, City Council members say.

Councilman Pat DeWine has proposed the fund, which would commit $15 million of the city's "neighborhood investment reserve" to a revolving loan fund. The remaining $85 million would come from area banks.

Two lenders - Provident Bank and U.S. Bank - have already committed about $20 million apiece to the fund. Fifth Third Bank, Key Bank and Huntington Bank have expressed "strong interest," Mr. DeWine said.

"You have a city that's dying for new investment and capital. This is one fundamentally important need," Mr. DeWine said. "There's a lot of people in this city who want to do great things, and who have the ability to do great things, but don't have the capital."

The fund would provide construction loans for new or rehabilitated housing units - for ownership or rental - at or below the prime rate. Over 10 years, the fund would turn over several times, resulting in $250 million or more in investment, supporters said.

The program would be run through the Cincinnati Development Fund; and bankers, not city officials, would decide who gets loans.

Bob Alexander, vice president of Provident Bank, said the city contribution would allow the banks to finance projects that ordinarily wouldn't qualify.

"It puts the banks in a position where they're better secured, and the city has a high potential to get its investment back, too," he said.

Mr. DeWine's is the first proposal for how to spend the remainder of the city's $55 million windfall from the sale of Anthem Inc. stock. The funding would come out of a $27 million neighborhood reserve proposed by Mayor Charlie Luken.

With Democrats John Cranley and Alicia Reece joining Republican DeWine as co-sponsors, the plan seems to have a broad base of support.

Mr. Cranley called it a "model" for how the city should use the Anthem money for capital investment.

Ms. Reece called it a "pro-growth" policy that would expand the kinds of loan programs available in Over-the-Rhine and downtown into "at-risk" neighborhoods such as College Hill, Bond Hill, Evanston and Price Hill.

Mr. Luken supports the DeWine plan.

"I think it's a good idea. Is it enough? Is it going to be used?" he said. "The only question I have with it is that I want to make sure there's a market for the funds."

If approved, loans could be made as early as Feb. 1, Mr. DeWine said.


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