The Akron Beacon Journal, May 19
Mike DeWine and Larry Householder have won deserved applause for two-year state budget proposals that put a high priority on the needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged children. For instance, the governor and the speaker would route additional funds to programs for neglected and abused children, plus students living in severe poverty. Yet amid the advances, something is missing — an increased commitment to the Ohio Housing Trust Fund.
A modest increase in resources would permit this nearly three-decade-old success story to expand its reach and improve the lives of many Ohioans and their children. The hope is the state Senate will see its way to bolstering the trust fund as it puts together its version of the state budget.
Research affirms the crucial role that stable housing plays in bettering lives. The state commission on infant mortality identified housing as a key element in improved outcomes, Ohio with one of the country’s worst rates of infants dying before age 1. Studies show that a steady place to call home raises the performance of children in the classroom.
So Ohio has good reason to focus attention on housing, especially when data from the federal government show a slight increase in homelessness here in 2018. The Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio notes a striking increase in homeless children, up 25 percent the past five years, children now nearly one-third of the 70,000 homeless across the state.
Ohio voters set in motion the Housing Trust Fund in 1991 when they approved a constitutional amendment making housing a public purpose. The trust fund offers a range of services to those with low incomes, including affordable housing development and emergency assistance to the homeless. That has translated to helping nearly 1 million Ohioans. The trust fund not only has a competitive application process. It has generated an impressive rate of return.
For every dollar the trust fund invests, it leverages an additional $8 in private and federal money. The trust fund points out that in 2016, its $42 million investment resulted in nearly $590 million in overall economy activity.
The concern is that the trust fund has faced a decline in its funding stream. It receives a share of the fee collected by county recorders on real property and mortgage transactions. From a peak of $73 million in 2005, the trust fund lately has collected around $45 million a year. That means doing less for the needy. For instance, as the number of people accessing homeless services increased 12 percent from 2013 to 2017, the amount of trust fund money directed to homeless services declined 19 percent.
Trust fund projects involving affordable housing development and rehabilitation fell from 42 in 2012 to 23 five years later.
When some 400,000 Ohioans currently spend more than half their income on rent, it is reasonable for state lawmakers to ask: What can we do to help? The logical answer is: Deliver more resources to the program created for just this purpose. Vulnerable and disadvantaged Ohioans would benefit from a relatively modest increase for the Housing Trust Fund, say, an additional $20 million a year from the state general revenue fund or through an adjustment to the recorder’s fee.
This is something for state senators to keep top of mind — along with the importance of stable housing to the lives of children.