Mayor Andrew Ginther announced a $3.8M land trust and emphasized his commitment to improving Columbus’ neighborhoods at East High School during his fourth State of the City address on the evening of January 30.
This year, he reverted to a more traditional format and held one 60-minute speech that touched on several major issues, prominently including development. The mayor shook things up a bit last year, by holding five “neighborhood conversations” throughout the city, each focusing on a different topic.
East High School’s auditorium was packed during the address, the number of attendants quadrupling the current student body. In 2009, a $30 million renovation of the school was approved based on the idea “if you build it, they will come,” according to a Dispatch article from May 2018. But they didn’t come, and currently East High is three hundred students short of a financially efficient student body.
The mayor also discussed several other major issues in Columbus, such as the opioid epidemic, the infant mortality rate and the homicide rate, but much of his address focused on the city’s development — be it transportation, Columbus as a “Smart City,” affordable housing or neighborhood revitalization.
Here are some of the most noteworthy things he had to say about development, what they mean and why they matter:
Ginther announces $3.8M commitment to land trust project
“A land trust will allow our neighborhoods to preserve affordability on a property permanently – allowing seniors and other residents to stay in their homes. This evening I am excited to announce that the city is committing $3.8 million– in addition to bond money — for a pilot project that the land trust will be undertaking in four areas of Columbus: Franklinton, South Side, the Near East and Weinland Park.Mayor Andrew Ginther, State of the City, January 30, 2019
Mayor Ginther focused heavily on ways the city was promoting affordable housing, and the biggest news was the city’s switch from a land bank system to a land trust. The Central Ohio Community Land Trust has been created to undergo a pilot project that will establish affordable housing in opportunity zones across the city. A couple weeks ago, Mayor Ginther proposed $50 million be allocated for affordable housing as part of a $1.03 billion bond package that will be on the May ballot. Then, during his address, he announced that Columbus would be pledging $3.8 million, plus bond funds, to fund a land trust that will build 30 affordable homes in Franklinton, the South Side, Weinland Park, and the Near East Side. This initiative has also piqued the interest of investors, with the mayor claiming that the “funding will leverage more than $7.2 million in private investment.”
Under the previous land bank model, homes and lots are sold at low prices, with the condition that the buyer invests in the property quickly. However, when the investment leads to an increase in nearby property values, the land bank home will not stay affordable.
But the land trust model operates by letting the investors or homeowners own the homes, while the land it’s built on belongs to the trust. That means the land is subject to restrictions that can keep the property value at a fixed rate, allowing the homes to be bought and sold at a price set by the city. This keeps the investors from turning a large profit off of modest homes and also secures a modest price for buyers far into the future.
One Linden: An intensive plan for a neighborhood in need
“Between 1960 and 2010, the population of Linden decreased from 26,000 to 18,000. The median household income is less today than it was two decades ago. And infant mortality rates were twice as high in Linden as anywhere else in Franklin County. Linden is a proud community with a rich history, but we knew that revitalizing this great neighborhood would not be simple. And we knew that we could not restore this community to greatness without the help of all Linden residents.”Mayor Andrew Ginther, State of the City, January 30, 2019
During the speech, Ginther advertised the “One Linden” plan as a holistic approach that includes creating a “downtown Linden” on Cleveland Avenue with incentives and subsidies for new businesses. The public and private collaboration also
Mayor Ginther highlighted the declining median household income, which is less than half of the city average, to emphasize the need for reinvestment in the northeastern neighborhood as well as the disturbing reality of infant mortality rates. A baby born in Linden has the worst chance of reaching their first birthday in comparison to any other neighborhood in Columbus, according to the Kirwan Institute.
Back in October, Ginther made it clear during a Columbus Metropolitan Club luncheon that Linden was a top priority, calling the reinvestment project “personal.” He also stressed the fact that while the neighborhood was in dire straits, it also has a great opportunity to be rebuilt and redeveloped, including that the population size could double and no residents would be in danger of being displaced.
Two years in, how “smart” is Columbus really?
“Last year, we released the Smart Columbus Operating System – the backbone of all of the work we are doing. And we moved into the Smart Columbus Experience Center along the Scioto Mile to show residents and visitors what a smart and connected city can look like.Mayor Andrew Ginther, State of the City, January 30, 2019
Our efforts to boost consumer adoption of electric vehicles is also paying off. Since 2017, electric vehicle registration has increased 65% — outpacing the Midwest and the nation.”
Columbus was awarded the Smart City grant from the Department of Transportation in 2015. Since then, they’ve developed multiple approaches to improve Columbus’ transportation, including using autonomous vehicles and ride sharing to stitch a ride together. Some critics are skeptical of the plan, claiming that Smart Columbus is missing the mark on what’s really needed in Columbus.
“Such connections are vital, but Columbus leadership seems to be missing the bigger picture on what’s important,” Jon Seymour wrote for Columbus Navigator. “You can’t have a last-mile autonomous system without transit to that last mile. You certainly can’t have one with a technology that is still years away from being practical on a large scale.”
With Smart Columbus, One Linden and now funds for a land trust project, the future of Columbus development — according to the mayor — is bright.
“I see an affordable city with dynamic, inclusive growth, mixed income neighborhoods that support family stability and mobility that provides equity and improves the quality of life for all of our residents,” he said.