Lima Housing Task Force starts conversation

By Josh Ellerbrock -

LIMA — The Lima Housing Task Force is gaining momentum.

The roughly 50 members met for the second time ever Tuesday to review the task force’s first month. While there has yet to be any major policy recommendations, the group is starting to take its first steps towards tackling one of Lima’s largest longstanding issues — the lack of quality housing to meet today’s demands.

Right now, the group is examining what segment of such a broad problem needs to be tackled first, and they’ve started to gather the data to answer that question.

For example, the group’s Design & Infrastructure subcommittee has started creating an inventory of parcels that could be used to identify development opportunities. The group also heard from Ohio Housing Finance Agency Director Dr. Katie Fallon.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Fallon confirmed and quantified a number of ongoing trends identified in Lima. Basically, because of aged housing stock, low median income and lack of large-scale development, the amount of high-quality affordable housing has been decreasing over the years. In order to reverse such trends and increase homeownership rates, the task force will need to find ways to tackle blight and somehow keep rental rates from getting out of reach for most families.

Complicating the issue, Fallon pointed out, is creating units for larger families, older residents and disabled people, who often require specialized facilities. Racial disparities, caused in part by Ohio’s unequal home loan rates (38% loan denial rate for Black people versus 22% for white people) will also need to be considered, Fallon said, in order to address racial equity.

During the Q&A session of Fallon’s presentation, Councilor and Subcommittee Chair Peggy Ehora asked Fallon if rental demand from college students pushed up rents in the local market. Fallon said it may have, although it depends on the number of students.

Similar questions were brought up during the December meeting of Ehora’s subcommittee, the Innovation and Sustainability committee. Tasked with exploring different funding sources, the group began its discussion around which funding sources to pursue first.

Developer Mike Blass encouraged the group to try to engage the marketplace and private investment instead of chasing grants and public dollars. Members largely agreed with the notion, citing the potential of bureaucratic setbacks that come with public funding.

The subcommittee also proposed bringing the city’s two large hospitals into play in the housing equation to encourage development, which Beth Keehn, Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical Center’s director of government and community relations, agreed with.

She proposed tackling housing on a street-by-street or neighborhood-by-neighborhood approach to maximize impact.

Other early proposals made by the task force is examining the potential of form-based housing code versus traditional zoning, differentiating and defining some of the interchangeable terms (such as affordable housing) in the housing conversation and setting the overarching goals and vision for the group.

Either way, task force members emphasized the energy needed to tackle such a long-term problem, and so far, early conversations have shown some promise, Mayor David Berger said.

“I really do think it’s creating — amongst us already and even among the larger community — a buzz that is helpful,” Berger said.

By Josh Ellerbrock

Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.

Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.

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