Sen. Sherrod Brown talks affordable housing in Toledo

Toledo Blade

Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown’s Cleveland address is in 44105, the ZIP code that in the first half of 2007 had more foreclosures than any other ZIP code in the country.

“Our neighborhood still looks like it. You can see those neighborhoods don’t recover fast from that,” Mr. Brown told a group of community leaders gathered Thursday in Toledo. “You know what happens when there’s a foreclosure, and then there’s another one, and what that does to the housing stock of a whole neighborhood. To turn that around takes real federal, state, and local investment.”

The senator hosted a roundtable discussion at Nexus Healthcare on Thursday, the first of many discussions he plans to have across the state in the coming months about barriers to affordable housing.

He said if the Democrats win control of the U.S. Senate, he’ll be the chairman of its Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, and he intends to put an emphasis on housing. He said that means addressing everything from lead-based paint, drinking water quality, substandard housing, evictions, and foreclosure. 

In addition to the roundtable discussions, Mr. Brown is asking Ohioans to share their housing stories and their ideas to make it easier to find affordable, quality places to live through his website, brown.senate.gov.

“If we don’t do housing better in this state, we’ll never make quality of life better for so many moderate and low-income families,” he said.

He asked the 15 community leaders gathered for Toledo’s discussion to paint a picture of what barriers to housing looks like in their neighborhoods. Representatives from local government, the Fair Housing Center, Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority, the Area Office on Aging, and others told stories of single mothers living in cars, absentee landlords, landlords not accepting housing vouchers, and shelter waiting lists 300 names deep.

LMHA on Tuesday closed its public housing waiting list for all bedroom sizes and locations for an undetermined period of time, leaving about 3,000 families on the list with uncertainty and countless others wondering where else they can turn. It’s a move they haven’t had to take since 2005, but one officials said is necessary to not give false hope to people looking for an affordable place to live.

“It all comes down to there not being enough units,” Rachel Gagnon, executive director of the Toledo Lucas County Homelessness Board, said to sum up the discussion.

Part of the issue is there aren’t enough affordable developments, the group said, or not enough tax credits to make those developments financially feasible. There also are pockets of Toledo where residents advocate against low-income housing developments because of the stigma that comes with them.

The group also agreed that there aren’t incentives for people to renovate Toledo’s existing homes that need a lot of work to get them back to the quality and value they once were. In most cases, the investment is more costly than what the post-renovation value of the home would be.

David Mann, president and CEO of the Lucas County Land Bank, encouraged Mr. Brown to consider bringing the Neighborhood Homes Investment Act, a bill introduced in the House, to the Senate.

It calls for the creation of a new federal tax credit that would bridge the gap between how much it costs to acquire and renovate a property and how much it could then be sold for. If neighborhoods like Mr. Brown’s had that kind of investment, property values could bounce back, Mr. Mann reasoned.

“The market is not going to do it. No one is going to lose money,” he said.

Mr. Brown said part of the solution must be providing support to the community organizations who help people stay in their homes or find homes they can stay in. It’s also making sure that banks are willing to lend in communities where home values are low, he said.

“I want to make sure that the banks play the role that they should, that community groups are helped, that we invest in housing structure better than we do, and that we have a tax structure that encourages home construction and encourages people to be able to buy a home,” he said.

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