CINCINNATI — Like many parts of the country, Cincinnati has seen a real estate boom in recent years. With low interest rates and limited housing supply, prices have skyrocketed.
What do you want to know
- The Port purchased vacant properties in Mount Auburn in order to build new homes at market prices in the neighborhood; they will use these funds to build affordable housing in the same neighborhood
- The six new Loth Street townhouses are part of an innovative housing strategy the Port plans to use in other neighborhoods and communities across Hamilton County
- The asking price for the townhouses at market price is $440,000, more than double the expected price of the affordable homes they will build
- Leaders of The Port, Mount Auburn believe mixed-income housing options are key to a neighborhood’s success
Although it remains a seller’s market, it has become more difficult for middle and low income buyers and renters. There is also a lack of affordable and mixed rate housing in the area.
To help solve this problem, the Port stepped in, working with several community organizations to brainstorm an imaginative solution. This is a development agency that aims to be a trusted partner in addressing the county’s complex real estate challenges.
They see it as a new way to build thriving mixed-income neighborhoods without having to wait for a grant or tax credit.
The port recently joined community partners to cut the ribbon for the first phase of construction: six new townhouses on Loth Street in Mount Auburn.
The hillside site offers sweeping views of downtown Cincinnati, which is just over a mile from the heart of the city.
Despite its historic appeal and proximity to the central business district, Loth Street has struggled in recent years. abandoned and worn properties line much of the street.
“A year and a half ago it was a pile of dirt and now it’s the site of beautiful homes,” said Carol Gibbs, president of the Mount Auburn Community Development Corporation (CDC).
Laura Brunner, president of The Port, thanked Gibbs for her leadership and passion for the project and the well-being of her neighborhood.
Gibbs held The Port to a “very high standard,” Brunner said.
“If anyone knows Carol, she’s tough…so making her happy is always a good day,” Brunner said with a smile. “The community is very lucky to have him.”
The Port has worked with Gibbs and Mount Auburn on several projects over the years.
Among these projects is the redevelopment of the historic Flatiron Building, an iconic Sycamore Street landmark and gateway to the neighborhood. It started in 2018 after long conversations with Gibbs.
More and more properties on Loth Street became vacant and divestment became more prevalent in the area. Only a few owners remain, and their property values are suffering from the condition of neighboring properties, Gibbs said.
The new townhouse site went unattended for years, largely because there was no plan or money to fix it. The properties were previously owned by the Homesteading and Urban Redevelopment Corporation (HURC) and The Landbank.
“When we took over management of HURC about six years ago, there were 13 cents in the bank account,” Brunner said. “The Landbank bought this land from HURC to give HURC working capital to get it started. The properties have been in the HURC for at least 20 years and then in the Landbank for the last five or six.
The port presented the townhouse plan to the Mount Auburn Community Council. The pitch was to transform vacant and dilapidated residential properties on Loth Street into safe, high quality single family homes.
Beyond increasing home ownership in the neighborhood, they see it as a way to protect surrounding property values. It also offers potential residents a range of prices to choose from when looking for accommodation.
“It is with great relief that we are finally returning them to productive service,” Brunner said. “We are so excited about this model of building homes at market price that we can sell at a profit that we can then reinvest in affordable housing.”
How it works
Each of the townhouses has three stories and an open concept layout. They all have three bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms and a garage. The port described the finishes as “Class A”.
New townhouses are on the market for around $440,000. There haven’t been any offers yet, but there have already been some showings. They officially hit the market on Saturday.
Matthew Gilliam, an existing Loth Street resident, told the Port early in the process that prices for new homes seemed “a little high” for him. “But if it’s balanced with other types of mixed-income areas, I like that idea.”
“My dream for Mount Auburn is to improve areas that have been neglected for decades,” Gibbs said. “It’s taking all the derelict buildings and restoring them, making them vital, and making families want to come and move to Mount Auburn to have more kids in our schools.”
The port used capital from the Cincinnati Development Fund (CDF) to build the townhouses. As the sale proceeds, the port will repay the CDF loan, and anything over that amount will subsidize the construction of affordable units on the street.
The more profit they make, the less the port can sell the affordable units. At present, the organization estimates the figure will be between $150,000 and $200,000.
The port chose that number based on the area’s median income, or AMI, a common measure used to determine housing affordability.
Affordable housing generally ranges between 30% and 100% AMI. The Port opts for 100% AMI with the townhouses.
“Affordable housing has many different prices depending on the neighborhood,” said Yasmin Chilton, spokesperson for The Port. “We are looking at all types of approaches to create more affordable housing stock in the area.”
The present harbor focal point in Mount Auburn is Loth Street. Affordable townhouses are in the planning stage as market priced townhouses are for sale. No construction schedule is in place.
The organization hopes to recreate this model of development in other neighborhoods, at their request, throughout Hamilton County. Several have already reached out to discuss it, according to The Port. Mount Auburn will serve as a proof of concept.
“The healthiest neighborhoods have a mix of incomes, diverse residents and multiple housing options to choose from,” said Liz Eddy, director of residential development. “We are proud to partner with the community of Mount Auburn to continue the revitalization of this historic neighborhood.”
For Gibbs, she’s just excited about the future.
“Let’s put these houses up for sale,” she said.
Port invests in Hamilton County communities
The port recently spent $14.5 million to purchase 194 single-family homes in Hamilton County from an out-of-town landlord. This is the largest home purchase in the organization’s history.
Tenants occupied most of the houses, but a handful were vacant.
The purpose of the port is to prevent properties from falling into disrepair or having to be demolished. They aim to provide immediate relief to current tenants and also create a future path to home ownership.
“We are facing a real home ownership challenge in our area and the Port came up with two solutions within a few months to create mixed-income communities to create communities that allow for amenities like grocery stores and cafes” , said Reggie, a member of the city council. Harris. “It really is a remarkable way forward.”
In the past, developers often relied on City of Cincinnati grants or low-income housing tax credits as supplemental funding to cover the cost of building affordable housing. But this “innovative approach” gives a new approach.
“Now we have two tools that can then help bring affordable units to our area in our city and encourage mixed-income development,” Harris said.
Brunner believes this affordable housing solution shows that thinking outside the box is key to solving the housing problem.
“It’s not just about grants,” she said. “In this case, we had to borrow money – through the Cincinnati Development Fund – to build them, but we were confident the market would be there and so we could reinvest the proceeds into our affordable units.”
“Our neighborhoods are growing in popularity. What we want to do is maximize that, capture some of that market rate and, at the same time, invest in affordability,” Brunner added. “We can do both. We need more housing at all levels of our community.