Monday, Jun 18, 2018
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Ohio’s gap in affordable rental housing for poor families is growing; Washington and Columbus need to act

For every rental home or apartment in Ohio that is available to — and affordable by — extremely poor households, three families need such housing. Increasing the supply of housing for the state’s lowest-income households needs to become a higher state and federal priority.

This year’s edition of an annual study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition concludes that the demand for affordable housing among the lowest-income Americans has grown since the national housing crisis caused by the Great Recession. But the supply has not increased, creating what the new report calls “an acute and persistent shortage.”

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The Coalition on Housing and Homelessness in Ohio, which contributed to the study, notes that the shortage is slightly less pronounced in this state than it is nationwide. Still, COHHIO says Ohio needs nearly 290,000 more low-income rental units to close its housing gap.

The study defines an “extremely low-income” household as one whose income is 30 percent or less of the median income (half of the households make more, half make less) in a housing market. By any standard, that’s poor.

Even if such households find rental housing — often substandard or overcrowded — in Ohio, three-fourths of them spend most of their income on rent and utility bills. That leaves little for food, health care, emergencies, or anything else, aggravating their poverty. And if they can’t find housing they can afford, the prospect of homelessness grows.

So-called deeply low-income households, whose incomes are just 15 percent or less of area median income, have it even tougher. For every five of these renter households in Ohio, there is just one available, affordable unit.

And even then, 90 percent of the households that manage to find a place to rent spend most of their income on housing. Most people in this category, COHHIO says, are old or disabled, surviving on fixed incomes.

The study also examines housing needs in the 50 U.S. metropolitan areas with the highest number of renters (Toledo isn’t among them). It concludes that metro Columbus has less than the national level of available, affordable housing for extremely low-income households. Cincinnati and Cleveland do somewhat better, but still have deficits of such units.

The report observes that renting became increasingly popular among higher-income households during the recession. That has caused demand to increase, rents to rise, and poorer households to face even more of a squeeze.

The housing coalition recommends that Congress and the Obama Administration finally put money into the National Housing Trust Fund, a program created in 2008 to provide federal aid to states to expand their supply of affordable low-income rental housing. Similarly, COHHIO calls for adequate state funding of the Ohio Housing Trust Fund.

Of course, the Ohio General Assembly is more intent at the moment on pursuing legislation that would make it easier for landlords to discriminate against tenants, and would reduce penalties against landlords who violate fair-housing laws. As in so many other areas of state policy, the message from Columbus to the most vulnerable Ohioans appears to be: You’re on your own.

There isn’t great cause for optimism that Washington will give the issue a more-sympathetic hearing. But it may be the only hope that Ohio’s low-income renters have.

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