NEIGHBORHOOD OF FOCUS: WEST END
Strengthening city neighborhoods by working with community partners and residents to foster sustainability, expand economic opportunity and stabilize property values and tax base.
The Port’s role in revitalizing neighborhoods can include everything from public finance and lending on major business and commercial projects, to historic stabilization, to construction of infill housing and rehab of existing housing stock. In the West End, The Port is providing public finance assistance to the FC Cincinnati stadium project, and is also a community development partner working in tandem with Seven Hills Neighborhood Houses, the neighborhood CDC.
In Cincinnati’s West End neighborhood, the Port’s early involvement in 2013 was focused on property acquisition and stabilization through the tools afforded to the Hamilton County Land Reutilization Corporation (Hamilton County Landbank). In recent years, the Port has accelerated stabilization of vacant, blighted properties, in partnership with the City of Cincinnati, and holds property on behalf of the community for future redevelopment.
On April 16, 2018, the Port entered into a community benefits agreement with FC Cincinnati, related to its soccer stadium investment in the West End. The agreement outlines commitments to West End residents and stakeholders that support anti-displacement of legacy residents; bolster economic development and equitable growth; include West End residents in stadium construction jobs; and facilitates community input on projects as redevelopment inevitably accelerates in this historic urban neighborhood.
On May 16, 2018, the community benefits agreement was amended to include West End Community Council.
As part of the community benefits agreement with FC Cincinnati, The Port and Seven Hills Neighborhood Houses (SHNH) are working on further community engagement to update the WE Speaks plan, as well as to commission a housing study to research baseline conditions of the West End and to make recommendations on how to prevent displacement and create equitable development. In October 2018, The Port voluntarily entered in to a Memorandum of Understanding with SHNH formalizing guiding principles of the partnership that will shape the course of both organizations’ work in the West End. SHNH is the lead community development corporation (CDC), recognized by the West End Community Council and The Port.
After a robust RFP process, SHNH and The Port retained APD Urban Planning & Management to undertake a West End Housing study. APD-U is located in Atlanta, Georgia, and has played a large role in helping Atlanta’s Westside neighborhood plan for equitable development where the Falcons stadium was built. Having experience working in a neighborhood with a similar situation as the West End, as well as having ties to Cincinnati, made APD the top candidate for the housing study. They began work in October 2018, starting by collecting data of baseline property and demographic data. They have also participated in and observed a number of stakeholder interviews and meetings with various West End community leaders. The full housing study will be completed in 2019.
Retained by The Port and SHNH to facilitate community engagement is Design Impact (DI). In December 2018, DI convened a core team consisting of West End community councilmembers, residents, SHNH, the Community Building Institute, the City of Cincinnati, The Port and representation from FC Cincinnati. Since early 2019, DI has led the community through an engagement process to help inform both the West End housing study as well as update its WE Speaks plan in light of the FC Cincinnati stadium development. When the plan was created in 2016, it did not contemplate a multimillion-dollar sports stadium built in the neighborhood.
The community engagement events have been structured to encourage residents to share concerns about the stadium and start to create a vision for the neighborhood going forward by focusing on actions or policies that will help ameliorate concerns about the soccer stadium construction, including worries about displacement. Participants have also had opportunities to start building a relationship with both SHNH and The Port. The end result of this effort has been that more than 80 people have been interviewed, and there were four large group workshops with up to 40 residents in attendance at some sessions; and the community was able to create over a dozen policy ideas that will potentially be implemented during and after the housing study is complete.
In 2018, The Port closed on its project lease of the FC Cincinnati stadium and issued lease revenue bonds up to $250MM. As a public finance partner, The Port gains fee title to the project and leases it to FC Cincinnati as a strategy to save on construction costs.
In February 2019, The Port was asked to join a collective effort to help Monica Williams re-open her food business, Just Cookin’. Ms. Williams, a black restaurateur, closed her West End location on 15th Street after FC Cincinnati bought the building from which she had operated for six years. The Port recognized this as a critical opportunity to leverage its role and mission in order to contribute to the overall package that will get her back in business. The Port will provide to her, in the short-term, a semi-permanent and movable food truck, lease it to her for a nominal amount, and locate it on property near the stadium. Ultimately, The Port intends to identify a permanent space for Just Cookin’ from Landbank-owned inventory in the West End.
In 2019, SHNH will work with other housing partners to roll out a $100,000 home improvement fund and $176,000 to eviction prevention support.
In March 2019, APD-U shared initial housing study findings of existing conditions and estimation of the number of people who are at-risk of being displaced. The data indicates, for example, that of the 3,068 housing units that are renter-occupied in the West End, 1,490 (48%) are considered market-rental units and at risk of displacement – principally because these units are unsubsidized and therefore not protected from future increases in market pressure and escalating rents. (About 1,454 rental units are subsidized. Renters comprise about 90% of the West End housing market). While this data confirms what many residents feared, it also underscores the importance of continued engagement to help ensure that actions are taken at the community and city level to implement programs and propose changes to policy in order to prevent displacement.
As APD-U continues to work on the next phase of the housing study, (which will focus on a community retention plan; graphic master plan with design recommendations; a financial feasibility model; a decision-making matrix; and a set of housing implementation recommendations), there will continue to be touchpoints with them and the community throughout the process to make sure voices are heard and information is communicated.
So what is next?
In addition to the various monthly meetings that are happening in the West End, SHNH will host its next Housing Resource meeting on April 17 at 6 PM at the Neighborhood House (901 Findlay Street). At the meeting residents will hear an update about the housing study, as well as get more information from groups like Habitat for Humanity, the Peaslee Center, People Working Cooperatively, the Homeownership Center, about resources available to maintain and strengthen housing.
“This is the first time we have had our public finance practice and our neighborhood revitalization work come together in such a significant way. The West End is a neighborhood that is important to us. As a party to the community benefits agreement, we are the third-party safeguarding the interests of the community and making sure there is due process, without putting undue burden on FC Cincinnati to be involved in such a granular way.”
Laura Brunner, President and CEO – The Port
The Port Project & Programs expected to help West End redevelopment:
Public Finance of FC Cincinnati stadium: On April 16, The Port’s Board of Directors met and approved preliminary terms for the Port’s role in financing the FC Cincinnati Stadium project and related public improvements. Terms include the issuance of bonds, as well as a project lease, by which the Port will own the stadium. The Board will have the opportunity to review and approve final terms.
1201 Linn Street revitalization: The Regal Theater is a historic centerpiece of the West End’s Linn Street neighborhood business district. The vacant property was acquired and stabilized by the Hamilton County Landbank. In 2019, The Port will further stabilize The Regal Theater in partnership with The City of Cincinnati, and work with the neighborhood to revitalize it with appropriate uses consistent with its legacy of showcasing African American artists and musicians. Read more about the “Regal Theater.”
Hamilton County Landbank: Land banks were created to address the many problems municipalities incur due to abandoned properties. In Hamilton County, the Landbank is a critical neighborhood revitalization tool that works with partners to administer a variety of property acquisition and redevelopment programs that reduce blight and make properties productive. Local, public ownership of vacant, tax-delinquent properties is sound strategy that controls redevelopment. We are actively working to protect the community’s interest by acquiring tax delinquent and vacant properties and to preserve historic buildings as well as to improve the safety and security of the neighborhood.
Rehab Across Cincinnati & Hamilton County (REACH) – The Port launched REACH as a targeted effort to spur redevelopment by rehabbing vacant and blighted homes at scale. Nearly two dozen individuals and families have moved into REACH homes, and new REACH homes go on the market regularly. REACH has been funded through a percentage of delinquent real estate taxes recovered by the County.
Communities First – Down Payment Assistance for Ohio – Communities First provides homebuyers with down payment / closing cost assistance throughout the State of Ohio. Over 2,000 homebuyers have utilized Communities First to help them move into a new home.
Housing Affordability: FC Cincinnati plans to assign its option to acquire 65 vacant parcels in the West End to the Port. These properties are currently owned by Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority. The option expires at the end of 2018, giving the Port time for planning and to determine a source of funds for the purchase. Whether we do the development ourselves, assign it to a developer, or hold a long-term ground lease, the Port has a number of options and we want to make sure that affordability is a consideration so that we do not cause displacement. The Port’s control of this is a critical piece of the overall development to meet the needs of low-to-moderate income residents. The Port will commission a comprehensive housing study as part of the community benefits agreement.
Inclusion: The Port’s Inclusion Policy will be the standard used to hire minority and disadvantaged contractors.
“From our first meeting, leaders and stakeholders in the West End impressed us with their commitment to their community and spirit of partnership. LISC Greater Cincinnati was happy to sponsor and participate in the planning process that led to the West End Speaks Plan which outlines a clear set of goals for the West End neighborhood. We continue to support community based leadership that is working towards those goals through our partners at the Seven Hills Neighborhood Houses, a long-standing community asset. We look forward to seeing grassroots, neighborhood based leadership further integrated into decisions that impact West End’s future.”
Kathy Schwab, Executive Director – LISC Greater Cincinnati