Columbus Dispatch, May 21, 2008: Too few homes for low-income renters

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The foreclosure mess gripping central Ohio affects not only homeowners but renters, too.

People losing their homes end up in apartments and other rental units, leaving less space for low-income renters.

So it was under that cloud that two buses left yesterday for a tour of affordable housing that the Columbus Housing Partnership has built or renovated in Franklin County.

The point: It can be done.

The warning: The city needs a whole lot more of it.

“There’s a huge gap between the number of affordable housing units and the need,” said Amy Klaben, the Housing Partnership’s president, who says the county needs 17,000 more units for families making less than $15,000 a year.

Poor people often spend 55 percent of their income on housing, Klaben said.

The nonprofit partnership has been taking government officials, lenders, board members and others on similar tours the past few years. But this tour was designed to also drive by boarded-up, foreclosed homes on the way to partnership sites.

Those on the buses saw the partnership’s 34 rent-to-own homes in Franklinton and a $10 million redevelopment of the Bending Brook apartments in Urbancrest, a subsidized-housing complex once plagued by drugs and crime but now described as safe and livable.

“Our children can go outside and play,” said Abdukadir Matan, 55, a native of Somalia who has lived in Bending Brook with his wife and three children for four years after living in a homeless shelter in Hartford, Conn.

Klaben estimated that foreclosures have affected at least 100,000 people in Franklin County owner-occupied and rental units since 2004.

Those in rental units are hit especially hard because the law allows landlords being foreclosed on to give tenants just three days’ notice to evict them, said Bill Faith, executive director of the Coalition on Housing and Homelessness in Ohio.

Foreclosures in Franklin County increased to a record 2,639 during the first three months of this year, Klaben said. Vacancy rates have dropped in Franklin County, to around 6 percent, compared with the national average of 6.6 percent, said Jay Scott, executive director of the Columbus Apartment Association.

Though he can’t specifically point to foreclosures as the reason, Scott said people are deciding to rent rather than buy.

Before the foreclosure crisis, the area had a glut of rental housing, Faith said. “Landlords were offering incentives for people to move in.”

Meanwhile, the city continues with its Home Again program that aims to put 1,000 vacant properties back into use as homes by 2012.

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