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Ohio lawmakers try to tackle affordable housing shortage in bipartisan bill


Ohio lawmakers try to tackle affordable housing shortage in bipartisan bill

Apr 17, 2024 | 4:40 am ET
By Morgan Trau
Ohio lawmakers try to tackle affordable housing shortage in bipartisan bill
(File photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Ohio is facing a major affordable housing shortage, and lawmakers on each side of the aisle have teamed up to propose assistance to local governments.

State Reps. Dani Isaacsohn (D-Cincinnati) and Adam Mathews (R-Lebanon) introduced legislation to create an annual housing fund of up to $200 million a year dedicated exclusively to providing grants to municipalities that adopt “pro-housing” policies.

“We need to be laser-focused on making sure that everyone in Ohio has access to a home that they can afford — and feel safe and secure,” Isaacsohn said.

How it would work

The Ohio Housing Financing Agency (OFHA) will be in charge of the fund, and local governments would need to prove that they are a “pro-housing jurisdiction” to get a cut of the money.

This money will come from eliminating non-business credits given to owners of multiple properties.

A jurisdiction would be designated as “pro-housing” if it puts forward three of the following policies:

  • Have a process to increase rate of permits reviews and grants for housing development by at least 20%
  • Have a preapproval process for expedited reviews and granting of permits for developers
  • Subsidize or decrease cost of water and sewer hookups for major projects
  • Develop “ready to build” sites, such as handling acquisition and rezoning so the developer only needs to finance and build
  • Eliminate or reduce parking requirements
  • Develop a housing plan that tracks the needs, gaps and potential strategies for housing for the next decade
  • Have policies that preserve existing moderate and low-income housing
  • Allow for accessory dwelling units
  • Have quadplex housing in at least 75% of available land in the jurisdiction
  • Reduce at least 50% of existing single-family zoning
  • Have density bonuses for developers if they provide a certain amount of low-income housing
  • Incentivize modular housing

Municipalities can only use this funding for repairs for low-income housing, supporting first-time homeowners, enforcing anti-discrimination policies and more. OFHA will be auditing the cities to ensure they follow the regulations.

Seventy-five percent of the funds will go towards municipalities that adopt at least three policies, allocated based on population. Twenty-five percent of the funds will go toward jurisdictions that adopt at least six policies.

But if cities can pick and choose three of the twelve policies, there are ways to avoid low-income housing — thus potentially allowing for more luxury apartments to be built.

“We make sure that it creates more of a comprehensive view of pro-housing policy,” Mathews said. “So you couldn’t just do one really, really well of creating a high-density luxury apartment right there and call it a day. You have to also continue to work with the other types of fair housing policies there that create that holistic view.”

Still, technically speaking, a city could choose 1.) a preapproval process for expedited reviews and granting of permits for developers, 2.) anti-discrimination enforcement and 3.) develop a housing plan that tracks the needs, gaps and potential strategies for housing for the next decade. None of these are explicitly addressing low-income housing.


Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio’s Executive Director Amy Riegel is thrilled about the proposal.

“Communities just have many barriers standing in the way of the development of the housing,” Riegel said. “This would help alleviate those barriers and help fund the positive outcomes.”

For every 100 people looking for an affordable unit, there are only 40 units available, she said. Right now, Ohio has a deficit of 267,000 housing units, the advocate added.

“The biggest issue, I think, is that we know that in the state of Ohio, over 68% of extremely low-income individuals are paying more than 50% of their income on housing costs,” she said.

The City of Cleveland is also interested in it, adding that it could be beneficial in conjunction with already existing policies.

“We haven’t seen the legislation so we still need to review it in its entirety before commenting on any particulars or potential impacts, but – broadly speaking – we are supportive of legislation that intends to increase the housing supply for our residents. We are encouraged to see bipartisan support behind one of the most-pressing issues facing our communities. We already have a head-start on some things mentioned by lawmakers (e.g. reducing zoning restrictions, speeding up permitting processes, etc.) and are excited about pro-housing policymaking like this, which goes hand-in-hand with actions we have recently taken – like Mayor Bibb’s A Home for Every Neighbor initiative. We look forward to seeing how this bill progresses and aligning it with our local strategy here in Cleveland,” spokesperson Tyler Sinclair said.

During the question portion of the news conference, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce said they were on board so far.

“We’re encouraged by the representatives’ bill in providing carrots to help grow the supply side of housing,” the Chamber’s Tony Long said. “As you know, the Chamber has been in favor of creating a sense of place for all Ohioans.”

However, they won’t have an official position until their housing select committee meets on May 2.

“I’m sure I have members that might be a little concerned about the funding side,” he added. “But so far, what we see in the language, it looks like a good start.”

The funding side could also be a problem with the representatives’ colleagues.

A Republican lawmaker proposed legislation in the 134th General Assembly, one that ended up dying before a full House vote, that would’ve prohibited local governments in Ohio from regulating or restricting short-term rental properties. She owns at least one Airbnb property.

Many Ohio lawmakers own multiple homes and act as landlords. Isaacsohn and Mathews were asked if they were prepared for pushback.

“I give my colleagues enough credit to think that when they’re here in this building, they’re legislating on behalf of what Ohioans need, not on behalf of their own personal interests,” Isaacsohn responded.

“Do you think that that is an optimistic outlook?” he was asked.

“Part of our generational take is that we prefer to choose optimism,” the lawmaker said — earlier noting that both he and Mathews are millennials.

“Also, it’s not just optimism,” Mathews added. “When you raise the standard, people rise to the occasion.”

Pat Melton, the spokesperson for House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill), said the leader is reviewing the legislation.

“He understands the importance of finding solutions to our housing issues and is looking forward to the bill making its way through the committee process,” Melton said.

The lawmakers have proposed a myriad of bills to impact the housing crisis. The Senate is also expected to put forward a similar policy on Wednesday.

Other recently introduced legislation aims to create an expedited process for getting squatters out of property that someone else owns. Some housing advocates, like Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless’ Avi Cover, have argued that this wouldn’t be happening if the state and the country weren’t struggling with a lack of affordable housing, skyrocketing property taxes, and the trap of the poverty cycle and homelessness.

Ohio lawmakers are trying to protect homeowners from “squatters,” people trying to claim rights over someone else’s residence. However, housing advocates worry that the proposed legislation will have unintended consequences that could hurt individuals facing homelessness.

The Isaacsohn/Mathews bipartisan housing bill is likely to be heard in the coming months.

“We really view this as a start to this conversation and are really eager to work with partners, folks who work in housing and other members across chambers to continue to hone this policy,” Isaacsohn said.

This article was originally published on News5Cleveland.com and is published in the Ohio Capital Journal under a content-sharing agreement. Unlike other OCJ articles, it is not available for free republication by other news outlets as it is owned by WEWS in Cleveland.

Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on X and Facebook.