Cleveland Plain Dealer: Keep affordable housing tax credits in the budget. The need is great

Ohio has a pressing need for more affordable housing for low-income families and mothers with children. A shocking 25% of Ohio renters are “severely cost burdened,”’s Jake Zuckerman reports, citing state data. What that means in plain English is that more than half what they earn goes to put a roof over their heads and pay utilities. Even worse, there are not enough affordable and available rentals for low-income Ohioans — less than one-third of what’s needed by the state’s extremely low-income renters and slightly more than three-quarters of what low-income renters need.

For those more fortunate, think about what that would mean in your own lives: If, after paying the rent or mortgage, water bills, for electricity and heating, you only had half what you earned left to pay for food, health care, clothing, school supplies for the kids, transportation and other necessities — forget about emergencies.

Gov. Mike DeWine recognized in his State of the State message that the lack of affordable housing was contributing to Ohio’s high infant mortality rate, promising to use the next two-year budget, which must be finalized soon, to “expand access to safe, stable housing for pregnant and new mothers.”

And the governor’s budget proposal went farther, proposing $100 million in annual tax credits for developers who build low-income housing in Ohio. The Ohio House in its wisdom added to that, raising the annual maximum to $500 million.

DeWine’s budget also proposed a $50 million annual tax credit for affordable single-family housing development, which the House excised – but which merits reconsideration. DeWine pledged in his State of the State to address the affordable housing shortage “holistically.” Incentivizing affordable single-family construction should be part of that plan.

“We started a housing conversation last year in the waning days of the legislative session,” the governor noted in his State of the State. “And at that time, I pledged to the people of Ohio that we would address the issue of housing holistically.”

It’s a promise that he and Ohio need to keep.

That’s why Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman, a Lima Republican, needs to rethink his position that instead of incentivizing the construction of new affordable housing units, Ohio should instead add budget dollars to incentivize homeowner improvements.

“When people can remain in their homes, maintain that value, the people are better off,” Huffman said, according to Zuckerman, who noted that Huffman’s position sets “the stage for a showdown over affordable housing when House and Senate negotiators haggle over the final form of the state’s roughly $88 billion budget before sending it to DeWine for approval.”

The stakes are high — no less than a proper alignment of priorities for Ohio. Turning the state’s back on struggling families who too often end up in homeless shelters or couch-surfing among family members is an economic drag on the state, and its human capital.

Children can’t learn when their home life is unstable, or poisoned by brain-harming lead paint and other dangerous contamination. Mothers lose babies, and babies die early, because of a lack of affordable, safe housing.

Tax credits will help mobilize the private sector to build the affordable units that Ohio needs not just to shelter families, but to give them the stability they need to do better, and the safety they need so their babies and children can survive and thrive. Affordable housing will help get them back on their feet financially.

That’s worth at least $150 million in tax credits per year, if not more. The Senate should keep the $500 million in low-income tax credits in the budget and restore the governor’s affordable single-family tax credit proposal — and if it doesn’t, House-Senate conferees need to find their way to do both. Lives are on the line.