Thursday, March 13, 2003

West End joins critics of city's low-income housing policy

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

From the beginning, the proposal to tear down the English Woods complex has produced an unusual alliance of English Woods residents, who don't want to leave their homes, and west side Cincinnati neighborhoods, who fear an influx of low-income housing.

Wednesday, a third neighborhood joined the fray as West End residents accused Cincinnati City Council of using their neighborhood as a pawn in a chess game with the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority.

Council has refused to help the housing authority on any projects until CMHA, which owns English Woods, agrees to "specific, accountable and enforceable strategies to prevent the further over-concentration of low-income housing in city neighborhoods."

That includes the City West project, where CMHA is using funds from a federal program called Hope VI to tear down much of the West End and replace it with new town homes. To continue that project, the housing authority needs the city to sign off on state tax credits by next week.

"It's a horrible shame that English Woods and the West End have been pitted against each other," said Finance Committee Chairman John Cranley, who accused the housing authority of arranging a protest of about 100 residents in City Council's chambers Wednesday.

"For too long, CMHA has ignored the interests of the people of English Woods, has ignored the will of the people of Price Hill, and has acted undemocratically," he said.

CMHA's executive director tried to broker a compromise this week, in which the housing authority would ask the federal government to allow it to restrict the number of subsidized units in large apartment buildings.

The "building-based cap," which would require a waiver from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, would be an unprecedented attempt to address City Council's concerns while still moving forward with CMHA's aim of replacing large apartment complexes with voucher-based housing.

Cranley rejected that plan Wednesday, saying it's not something the city can "take to the bank."

Vice Mayor Alicia Reece - who agreed in January to a moratorium on city support for CMHA projects - now says she never intended that ban to apply to the West End.

"I hope we're not playing games with people's lives," she said. "At night, we will go home and have roofs over our heads. I think it's a shame to tell people, `We're sorry, but we have to sacrifice you to save people in other neighborhoods.'"

Mayor Charlie Luken said City Council shouldn't be afraid to stand on principle.

"It's CMHA that's holding everybody hostage by refusing to stick to a clear, honest housing policy that will help not only their residents, but the surrounding neighborhoods," he said.

A vote is expected next week.


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