Housing for low-income residents is in short supply in Cleveland, and the number of affordable units - along with people's ability to actually afford them - continues to diminish. Now housing advocates are worried that cuts in the state budget could add to the problem. 90.3 WCPN's Bill Rice reports.
Bill Rice- This single-family home renovation in Tremont is one of several under the auspices of the Cleveland Housing Network, which works to secure housing opportunities for low income residents. The organization's lease purchase program is something akin to a rent-to-own deal - CHA leases the property to a qualified tenant for a period of fifteen years, at which point ownership reverts to the tenant for the balance of the value minus rent paid. It's a good deal, says CHA Assistant Executive Director Kate Monter Durban, in that it promises eventual home ownership, with very affordable rents.
Kate Monter Durban- Our average rent in the lease purchase program is about $266 per month, compared with $450 to $500 a month in the open market.
BR- However, such opportunities are limited to about 150 each year, Monter-Durban says, leaving thousands more low income people to the mercies of the commercial rental market. Housing advocates say affordable rental units are steadily decreasing in the city. But what's equally troubling, they say, is the inability of poor people to afford even what's out there. The so-called wage-rent disparity is going up - that is, rents are rising faster than wages. According to Bill Faith of the Coalition for Housing and Homelessness in Ohio, it takes a $14-an-hour job to maintain a standard 2-bedroom apartment.
Bill Faith- There's too many workers not making those kind of wages to get into housing they can afford.
BR- And, says Faith, there aren't enough resources available from the government to help a lot of those workers get into affordable housing. There's the Section 8 subsidy, paid for with federal government funds. But that's subject to waiting lists and the lottery system. So the majority of low-income families, according to Mark McDermott of the Enterprise Foundation, are subject to rents that eat up most of their income.
BF- On top of all that, housing advocates are now worried that the Ohio Housing Trust Fund may fall victim to further budget cuts. The fund consists of state money to cover various low-Income rental and ownership programs throughout the state. It was allocated fifty million dollars for the current two-year budget - that's about even with the last budget, says Kate Monter-Durban. But that allocation, she says, is tenuous at best.
KMD- This past budget cycle was very challenging, although legislators ultimately supported us ito holding the state's commitment to affordable housing firm. The state faced challenges and there is talk now about across the board cuts in state programs because tax receipts are down.
BR- Monter-Durban says she and others have pushed for legislators to designate a specific source for those funds - such as real estate transaction fees that would go specifically to the trust fund. She says that would protect the fund from the whims of a changing state budget. But so far there hasn't been much enthusiasm for the proposal among legislators. In Cleveland, Bill Rice, 90.3 WCPN News.