Columbus Housing Justice

USSF 2010

August 30, 2010
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CHJ attended the US Social Forum in Detroit, May 2010. We networked with housing justice groups across the country who are fighting for housing for the lowest-income. They are calling for a range of solutions — a stop to evictions, stop to foreclosures, stop to the demolition of public housing, and a switch from utilizing housing as an investment toward using it as a HOME.  All groups agree that those with the lowest incomes should have as much of a say in the decisions about their housing as those with the highest incomes.  CHJ members developed our understanding of the visions various groups are working toward, as well as our own ideas of what vision we want to work toward as we continue into the future.  We decided to flush these out more at a retreat sometime this summer.

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Ohio Empowerment Coalition Training

April 2, 2010
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WHAT: Ohio Empowerment Coalition Statewide Leadership Training Day

WHEN: Saturday, April 10, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

WHERE: Barack Recreation Center, 580 Woodrow Ave., Columbus, OH 43207

This is a Free Training. Free childcare is also provided. Lunch will be potluck style, so please bring a small dish from your ethnic/cultural heritage to share for lunch.

RSVP: to Lynn at 1-877-862-5179 or preferably by Monday, April 5th – but no one will be turned away.


* 101 Organizing – why we do organizing as opposed to other forms of advocacy

* Review of OEC current Issue Campaigns: Kinship Care reform, health care for all, living wage jobs, affordable childcare, and US Social Forum in Detroit

* Strategic Planning on our Issue Campaigns for upcoming Spring/Summer Months

* and more!

Katy Heins, Lead Midwest Coordinator for the National Center for Community Change, will be facilitating.

The Ohio Empowerment Coalition is a statewide Coalition of low-income people who work to bring about economic and social justice through public policy. The OEC provides information, education and training. The OEC organizes to make the State of Ohio a better place for all Ohioans.

Join with others across the state who are organizing to make changes in policies that affect low-income families and individuals.  We are organizing for:

1. An economic safety net for both families and single adults in case of job loss or inability to work

2. Kinship care supports to be more comparable to foster care.  We support children staying with relatives whenever possible as opposed to being raised by strangers.

3. Health care for each adult and child in Ohio

4. Public jobs that pay livable wages

5. Quality and affordable child care

BACKGROUND on Ohio Empowerment Coalition:

The Contact Center, located in Cincinnati, initiated the formation of the Ohio Empowerment Coalition in 1995.  In addition to Contact Center, the first organizing groups included Community Organizing Center (Columbus), Empowerment Center of Greater Cleveland, and Miami Valley Full Employment Council (Dayton).

Since then we have expanded to 33 organizational members.  If you are interested in joining call us at 1-877-862-5179.

The OEC was formed to organize low-income people to have a strong voice to speak out for themselves.  We organize issue campaigns on the direct action model of organizing.  We organize in the belief hat each person, no matter how poor, has a right to civic participation in our democratic society.

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Letter to the Editor printed in the Columbus Dispatch

February 23, 2010
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Columbus Housing Justice member Sam Agarwal recently witnessed an eviction down the street from her apartment, and wrote about the incident in a Letter to the Editor that ran in the Columbus Dispatch. An excerpt:

I awoke on Tuesday to a heaping pile of barely-worn furniture being chucked to the curb near my house on King Avenue. I thought, with a foot of snow on the ground, it was a bit early for spring cleaning. Only later that day did I notice a bright yellow sign on my neighbors’ door that read: “ You are being evicted. You have three days to pay rent or vacate the property.” … I personally am disheartened and outraged that the authorities are allowed to throw hundreds of people out of their homes amid temperatures below 20 degrees. This Draconian policy violates individuals’ right to life and liberty.

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CHJ testimony to the UN Special Rapporteur on Housing

November 7, 2009

Raquel Rolnik, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Housing, is in the United States this week to investigate the US housing crisis. As members of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, Columbus Housing Justice submitted the following written testimony about the demolition of pulic housing in Columbus, OH.



The Problem

In the face of an economic and foreclosure crisis, when the need for affordable housing has never been greater, the city of Columbus is planning to demolish or sell nearly one half of its public housing stock by 2013. The loss of 1,559 units out of the current 3,425 unit total is estimated to affect 4,365 people.

The city plans to relocate the bulk of residents to private-market housing using Section 8 vouchers, though some will be transferred to remaining public housing complexes.

Current residents of public housing slated for demolition have no option to stay in their current housing, and many complain of being given very little detail about their residential fates.

While authorities promote the Section 8 voucher program’s ability to give residents choice over their housing, this ostensible benefit also carries heavy costs that put at risk the human right to safe and secure housing.

First, many residents will have to relocate to areas that are far from their current jobs, access to public transportation, and other downtown amenities. The communities to be demolished or sold are overwhelmingly in the central city area. In contrast, the bulk of landlords who accept Section 8 vouchers are located in outlying areas. Residents who cannot find Section 8 housing downtown, and especially those who do not have cars, will face increased commutes and serious transportation crises that will put their jobs and livelihoods at risk.

Map: HUD multi-family assistance and Section 8 projects by number of units, Columbus OH

Sec 8Sec 8 key

Source: Columbus and Franklin County Consolidated Plan 2010-2014

Second, Section 8 housing is significantly less secure than public housing. Columbus already has a waiting list of 9,885 people for Section 8 vouchers. At the same time, the overall supply of Section 8 units is decreasing, down 11,423 units since 1999. It is no help to newly homeless residents of public housing to receive vouchers if there are not enough private units to house them, and if that supply is only decreasing over time. Also, unlike public housing, Section 8 is designed as temporary, rather than long term housing assistance. People are much more likely to lose their Section 8 voucher due to increased compliance and re-certification requirements, expiration, and budget cuts. As the saying goes “it is a lot easier to tear up a voucher than tear down a building.”

Columbus Housing Justice, a member of PPEHRC, sees these changes in public housing as part of the larger process of exclusion and gentrification in Columbus. The majority of complexes set for demolition and private development lie on valuable downtown land. Abandoned in earlier decades by wealthier (and whiter) Ohioans, the city and private interests now want to develop these sites for the use of that same demographic group. This requires the exclusion and relocation of the poor whites and people of color that inhabit downtown public housing. 88% of public housing residents are people of color, and all have low to very low incomes. This number includes a high number of Somali refugees (Columbus has the second highest Somali concentration of any American city).

Fighting Back

Columbus Housing Justice believes that the destruction of downtown public housing constitutes the destruction of valuable historical landmarks, cultural enclaves, and community ties among the poor.

To fight the loss of these communities and protect the human right to housing, CHJ is organizing residents of the city’s largest public housing community (Poindexter Village) to articulate demands for greater information, control over their destinies, and the preservation of public housing stock in downtown Columbus. Our efforts are slowly expanding to include residents of Riverside-Bradley, another public housing community.

Poindexter Village, a 432 unit community, was built in 1932. It was one of the first three public housing projects in the country and was inaugurated by Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was built on the former site of the “Blackberry Patch”, a shanty-town that was home to many poor southern blacks who migrated north through the turn of the century. After its construction, Poindexter Village continued to be a hub of southern black culture in Columbus. The community takes its name from a famous local slave abolitionist, and one of the city’s world-renowned artists, Aminah Robinson, grew up in Poindexter and drew on its rich cultural legacy to make her artwork.


Poindexter Village, First Families in 1940 by Aminah Robinson

CHJ has formed a residents’ group in Poindexter that will hold its first Town Hall Meeting in December to begin articulating a list of demands to the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority. We have also submitted video testimony to the Columbus City Council, critiquing the city’s consolidated plan for its lack of concern for the housing rights of the poor.

This video testimony can be viewed online here:

Testimony of Laura, of Columbus Housing Justice

Testimony of Lorraine Astrop-Scroggins, Riverside-Bradley resident

Testimony of Danielle Lawrence, Poindexter Village resident

Testimony of  Sherry & George Truex, Poindexter Village residents

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Metropole residents in Cinci respond…

October 4, 2009
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This is a follow up to our last post, speculating that Columbus risks following the same misguided  path towards low income housing as Cincinnati if trends continue. Looks like residents there are fighting back – let’s take this as inspiration!

press release: “Residents of Metropole Apartments Speak”

September 26, 2009

On Thursday, September 24th, The Cincinnati Enquirer published an article exposing the ongoing negotiations concerning the future of the Metropole Apartments, located at 609 Walnut Street in Cincinnati’s Central Business District. On Friday, September 25th, The Business Courier offered a more substantial report on the issue: the current owners of the Metropole Apartments are in the process of selling the building – and as its perspective owner, 3CDC plans on converting the historical apartment building into a boutique hotel and displacing the current residents. Commenting on the issue were several key players. James Cunningham, Field Office Director for HUD’s Cincinnati Office, Jeff Ruby, restaurant owner, Josh Spring, Executive Director of the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, as well as Councilmember Chris Bortz, of Towne Properties. Still, both articles lacked the most important voice on the issue: the current tenants of the Metropole Apartments. The Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless stresses that this is not because the tenants have nothing to say, but instead they have not been asked – by current owner Showe Management, by 3CDC, by Jeff Ruby, or by Councilmember Chris Bortz. In fact, concerns about the building’s future prompted the residents of Metropole to start the Metropole Tenants Association (MTA) months ago. The primary objective of MTA is to ensure that the rights of the tenants are upheld, and that their voices are heard in relation to the future of their home.

At a meeting of MTA, tenants demanded that their voices be heard and expressed resentment toward the way that their home is being depicted in the media. Specifically, several tenants responded to Jeff Ruby’s unfounded assertion that “You can’t have those types of places across the street from the Aronoff Center. It’s like parking a Bentley on 14th and Main and expecting the Bentley to still be there” and The Cincinnati Enquirer’s focus on past police raids. Chris Cook, a tenant of Metropole for 2 years, insists that Jeff Ruby needs to look at the actions of his own customers. “I am not junkie,” stated Cook, “I don’t like the drunks coming out of Jeff Ruby’s [restaurants]. I live in the front of the building on the fourth floor, and the music and noise that come from the bars keep me up until 3:00am. I live there. THEY DON’T. If anybody has a right to complain, it’s me!” Another tenant says that “The Metropole has had a 100% turn around from a few years ago. It’s the local bars causing 90% of the noise. Mr. Ruby needs to keep his customers inside the bars and not outside smoking and barfing on our sidewalks.” Several tenants at the meeting expressed the same sentiments. During the meeting, members of MTA frequently spoke to the different sets of rules being applied to people on the block. Residents pointed to the fact that Metropole tenants are not even allowed to stand in front of their building, while bar-goers can sit outside and get drunk without a word from police. One MTA representative referred to the bars’ patrons as “alcoholics”.

Others said that Councilmember Chris Bortz – who has a marked business interest in the area – should check his facts before expressing his opinion to the media. In the Enquirer article, Bortz stated that there are shared bathrooms for tenants in the Metropole. However, MTA wishes to inform Bortz that no such shared bathroom exists within the building. In regards to the issue at hand, however, MTA has been persistent on its position on the conversion of the Metropole Building into a boutique hotel. That is, they will not allow it. What Showe Management and 3CDC must understand is that the building at 609 Walnut is not just a building – or a needed acquisition to complete the “Backstage Entertainment District”. It is a home. While 3CDC and all other stakeholders may say that they care about the tenants and will try to relocate them, relocation is simply out of the question for the representatives of MTA. In fact, when surveyed about why the Metropole is good for them, every single respondent cited the centralized location of the building.

When asked, “What can be done?”, one MTA member replied without hesitation, “Stay.”

Throughout the meeting, the Metropole Tenants Association made their strength and resolve abundantly clear. When asked for a couple of sentences detailing their position on 3CDC’s proposed conversion of their homes, the response was unanimous: “Look Elsewhere. We want to stay.”

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Will Columbus go the way of Cincinnati? Not if we can help it.

September 27, 2009
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Cincinnati has demolished a great deal of its public housing in recent years, with pretty terrible results. As the city moved tenants to subsidized private housing in farther-flung areas, the neighborhoods poised to receive them began fighting tooth and nail to keep them out. Then the city started to cut subsidies, leaving former public housing residents high and dry, unable to afford shelter in already hostile neighborhoods. (As they say, it is a lot easier to eliminate a line item on a budget than tear down a building).

Many in Columbus are worried that this is the dark road our city will be headed down if it goes forward with plans to demolish or sell 6 of its public housing complexes. (As we already reported, Sawyer Towers and Lincoln Park are now in the hands of high end condo developers).

As the most recent events in Cinci attest, we can’t even assume that privately built projects in valuable downtown areas will stick around to house those who lost their public housing.

The Metropole building, a 230 unit complex in downtown Cincinnati that caters to residents on subsidy, is now talking with developer 3CDC to turn the building into a boutique hotel.

As Councilman Chris Boraz notes in Thursday’s Cincinnati Enquirer, the building is:

“very outdated, the units are very small and you have shared bathrooms for tenants,” Bortz said. “We can do a better job of providing affordable housing in our community,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of positive activity in that area, and this building is another piece, if it can be recaptured and put to a better use. That is, of course, presupposing you can effectively relocate those tenants that are currently there.”

We’ll set aside the awful conflation of “providing better affordable housing in the community” with moving residents out to revamp their current housing for luxury use…. The story goes on to note that no public offer has been made, and that the sale would still require a consult by HUD. But overall, things continue to look grim for low income folks in Cincinnati. And housing development decisions continue to be made on the basis of profitability first, with the interests of current residents being an afterthought.

Does Columbus really want to go this route?

We don’t think so. Let’s support better plans for housing our low income residents, like saving Poindexter Village.

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Obama allocates HUD funds for public housing re-hab, rentals

September 24, 2009
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From the Boston Globe, Aug 16 2009:

The Obama administration, in a major shift on housing policy, is abandoning George W. Bush’s vision of creating an “ownership society’’ and instead plans to pump $4.25 billion of economic stimulus money into creating tens of thousands of federally subsidized rental units in American cities.

The idea is to pay for the construction of low-rise rental apartment buildings and town houses, as well as the purchase of foreclosed homes that can be refurbished and rented to low- and moderate- income families at affordable rates.

The $4.25 billion set aside for the creation of rental housing will come from $14 billion that HUD has received from the federal economic stimulus package. Another $4 billion of the money will be used to fix up the nation’s existing public housing stock of 1.2 million units.

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Supporters storm foreclosed Minneapolis home

August 10, 2009
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After a long battle, Rosemary Williams, 60, was evicted from her Minneapolis home, but protesters quickly moved in to reclaim it.

Authorities moved Friday to evict a Minneapolis woman who staged a months-long, public fight to stay in her foreclosed home. Rosemary Williams, 60, was ordered to leave the house by several Hennepin County sheriff’s deputies. They changed the locks and locked the doors. But soon after they left, a group of activists broke into the house and opened it back up. Dozens of activists descended on the house, in the 3100 block of Clinton Avenue, to protest the eviction and help Williams move her belongings. They lugged suitcases, bags of clothes and a television set to their cars.

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Fighting Foreclosure around the world

August 10, 2009
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“while our actions may seem like a demand for welfare couched in a demand for houses, social grants and water, they are actually a demand to end the commodification of things that cannot be commodified: land, labour and money. We take action to get land and houses and also to prevent banks from stealing our land and houses.”

Read the rest of the story here:

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Buyer found for two Columbus Public Housing Projects

July 31, 2009
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VTT Management has stepped up as a buyer for two Columbus public housing projects: Sawyer Towers and Lincoln Park.

Here is an excpert, but you can read the full article at the Dispatch:

Theodorakos is offering $2 million for the twin high-rise Sawyer Towers just east of Downtown and $2.2 million for Lincoln Park on the South Side, said CMHA Executive Director Dennis Guest.

According to the company’s Web site, VTT “specializes in the acquisition, revitalization and management of undervalued and distressed real estate.”

But Theodorakos apparently isn’t looking for subsidies, Guest said. His understanding is that the apartments would be renovated and offered at market rates.

If that’s the case, then any sale likely would not affect CMHA’s plan to empty the complexes and give residents Section 8 vouchers so that they can rent privately owned places. Sawyer Tower residents already are in the process of moving.

You can also investigate VTT Management online at their website.

“Our Mission: To Eliminate Urban Blight, One City at a Time!”

In practice, this means moving the public housing residents out, re-vamping the buildings into “exclusive residences” (language from VTT website), and selling them at market rates to folks following the trend towards a downtown lifestyle. Gentrification in process….

Sawyer Towers

Sawyer Towers

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