City passes on $12M project citing location

By Josh Ellerbrock -

LIMA — The City of Lima has pulled its support for a potential $12 million housing project primarily due to its proposed location.

St. Mary Development Corp. and New Lima-Housing for the Future began scouting locations for a new low-income housing project as far back as November, and by mid-January 2020, they had decided on 892 S. Cable Road — a strip of land behind Chief Supermarket and Lima’s Knights of Columbus Hall on the edge of Shawnee Township.

Mayor David Berger said when the city learned of New Lima’s intention, concerns were raised. While the city supports new housing opportunities in general Berger said, 892 S. Cable Road sits outside Lima schools. And that creates problems.

At the heart of the issue is Ohio Housing Finance Agency’s funding formulas. Every year, the state relies on a grading system to decide what low-income housing developments get funded and which don’t.

Consequently, New Lima-Housing for the Future Executive Director Scott Frenger took the formula into account knowing that a higher score creates a better chance to get funded. The result was placing the development at the location with the highest score — in the middle of what Councilor Peggy Ehora called a commercial center.

Early site plans show that traffic in and out of the complex would require maneuvering through the Chief Supermarket lot or behind it.

“It is about location, location, location — and we don’t like this one,” Ehora said.

Berger argued that because the funding formula forced the site to be placed in Shawnee schools, it would give low-income families — especially those who need the wraparound services provided by Lima schools — an extra incentive to leave the city, thereby continuing the shrinking of Lima.

In other words, Berger argued the state has incentivized the hollowing of cities like Lima, and this last project was the one that broke the camel’s back.

“They are eroding our city centers. That cannot be a decision in how these resources are spent. It hurts us, and we can’t cooperate with that,” Berger said.

Berger has since drafted a letter arguing against the project, which he plans to send to the Ohio Housing Finance Agency.

During a Council of the Whole meeting held Thursday night, councilors largely agreed with the mayor’s opinion. Councilor Dixon relied on estimations provided by Lima schools Superintendent Jill Ackerman to show that the potential housing project could pull up to $50 million out of the school district’s budget over the life of the apartment building,

Ehora, a former school board member, echoed similar sentiments.

“(The development gives the message): ‘Let’s give you an opportunity to live somewhere outside the school system.’ That’s the complete opposite of the message that I want people to receive,” Ehora said.

Councilors have the option of joining their names to the letter of opposition to the state. Some made their intentions clear.

“I’m not interested in making investments at all costs, and this exceeds the threshold for me,” Council President John Nixon said.

Other councilors wanted more information before they decided whether they oppose the project.

Either way, New Lima-Housing for the Future has already sent the state the application for Shawnee Lofts, and it remains to be seen if the letter of opposition has an effect on whether it receives funding.

The list of funded projects are scheduled to be released by the Ohio Housing Finance Agency in May.

By Josh Ellerbrock

Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.

Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.

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