For West End residents and business owners, having a voice about the future means being engaged
March 27, 2019
It’s been almost a year since a community benefits agreement between FC Cincinnati, The Port and West End Community Council was forged to help the neighborhood navigate the change expected from the $250MM soccer stadium project and leverage its civic power to influence equitable development. The Port is both a financing partner of the stadium, and a community development partner to the neighborhood development corporation Seven Hills Neighborhood Houses (SHNH). The Port and SHNH have put community engagement at the center of their first initiatives: updating the neighborhood’s WE Speaks plan and commissioning an independent third-party housing study as the data platform for analyzing the risk of displacement and pathways to creating equitable development. This story is a brief snapshot of recent activity.
Memorandum of Understanding
In October 2018, The Port voluntarily entered into 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.
West End Housing Study
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 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. When the plan was created in 2016, it did not contemplate a multimillion-dollar sports stadium being built in the neighborhood.
The community engagement events have been structured to encourage residents to create a vision for the neighborhood going forward by focusing on actions or policies that will help bring positive outcomes from the soccer stadium construction. 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.
Stadium Public Financing
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 where 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 station, 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.
Home Improvement Program & Eviction Prevention
In 2019, SHNH will work with other housing partners to roll out a $100,000 home improvement program and $176,000 for eviction prevention support.
Initial Housing Study Findings
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). This data 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.
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 Brighton Center, People Working Cooperatively and the Homeownership Center about resources available to maintain and strengthen housing.