Renovating student housing photo

Cincinnati’s median income per household is $38,542. The national average is $60,293.

As part of legislation by the Cincinnati City Council to prevent evictions, a new initiative is coming to CUF – the city’s largest student enclave – in hopes of renovating poor housing conditions for student residents.

Passed by Cincinnati City Council late October 2019, the eight-part legislation seeks a preemptive approach in lowering the city’s high eviction rate, with an ordinance of the law zeroing in on CUF, East Price Hill and Avondale to manage and resolve health and safety code violations in rented residential properties there.

Citing low-income and rising housing costs, Councilman Greg Landsman – who proposed the legislation – says that stable housing is necessary to better the well-being of all Cincinnati families, with a focus on those in marginalized communities.

“The ability to access quality affordable housing is a huge part of whether or not we can say that all of our children and families are doing well,” he said.

Cincinnati’s eviction rate sits at 4.7% – approximately two percentage points higher than the national average, according to the most recent data by Princeton University’s Eviction Lab.

There are several factors that contribute to the city’s current eviction rate such as high levels of poverty and inequality, said Elaina Johns-Wolfe, a Ph.D. student at the University of Cincinnati who studies eviction in the city.

“A lot of people view Cincinnati as a very affordable city to live in,” she said. “The cost of living might be low, but so are people’s incomes.”

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Cincinnati’s median household income is $38,542 – that’s compared to $60,293 nationally. The city’s poverty rate of 27% more than doubles the national average.

“A lot of times we like to think that ‘Oh, people are being evicted because they’re a bad tenant,’” said Johns-Wolfe, adding that evictions generally follow socioeconomic patterns of race, class and gender, with women of color often most effected.

“Eviction also needs to be understood as a cause of poverty,” she said, noting that evictions often compound other issues of poverty. “Once someone experiences one eviction, they’re more likely to experience evictions after that as well.”

Although CUF is on the low end of eviction filings in Cincinnati, the neighborhood ranks fifth for number of new code enforcement cases opened over a three year period, following East & West Price Hill, Westwood and Avondale – neighborhoods with high rates of eviction filings, according to city data.

As the responsibility of reporting violations falls squarely on tenants, those who report may face retaliation from landlords in the form of eviction, said Landsman – a practice prohibited under Ohio law.

Though he blames only a handful of nonlocal property owners for persistent violations and that local landlords are more attentive to their property’s safety and upkeep, said Landsman.

“They care about their city and their neighborhoods,” he said.

Going into effect May 1, an ordinance of the legislation is introducing the Residential Rental Property Inspection Pilot Program in CUF, Avondale and East Price Hill in effort to tackle these persistent health and safety violations, while also serving to reduce the frequency of “preventable” evictions in the neighborhood.

Only those properties with persistent, unresolved health and safety code violations or with delinquent property taxes will be subject to the program.

Those subject to inspection will then have to apply for a Rental Inspection Certificate with the city, otherwise a search warrant will be obtained.

If found compliant, the property owner will not have to reapply for a certificate for four years. Noncompliant properties, however, will face monthly reinspection until found compliant and will be subject to annual reinspection following compliance.

All properties subjected to the program will pay an initial fee of $100 per unit with additional fees up to $280 per unit for subsequent reinspection.

“[The program] takes the burden off the renter and puts it on [the city] and the landlord so that we can resolve the issues without somebody being evicted unnecessarily,” said Landsman.

Although some have expressed concerns about the scope of the program, it received bipartisan support during the legislation’s passage in October, according to reporting by the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Landsman noted the legislation was a culmination of a year’s worth of collaborating with local stakeholders to ensure that it was done right, and that only “problematic” properties will be impacted by the program.

“We’re going to be very careful as this thing gets implemented to only sweep up those properties that are truly problematic,” he said.

The way things stand in CUF health and safety codes have not been sufficiently enforced, said Nathan Hess, local landlord and president of the CUF Neighborhood Association.

As a landlord, Hess views the program as being of potential benefit to the neighborhood but expressed some concern as to how it may affect landlords with older properties.

“Most of our homes and buildings were built in the 1920s and ‘30s; the codes that exist today were not in existence then,” he said, adding that the program might create uncertainty as to what kind of work needs to be done to properties and how much it will cost.

Acknowledging the state of housing for CUF’s student population, Hess says that student rental properties in the area suffer from poor maintenance.

“I think the neighborhood would welcome a little more scrutiny and higher standards for some of those properties,” he said, “Whether we’re long-term residents or student residents, having assurances of greater safety is in everyone’s benefit.”

Considering the high volume of student residents in CUF, Johns-Wolfe agrees that the program could also go a long way toward bettering student housing in the area.

According to university data collected in 2018, nearly 86% of UC students lived off campus in and the most recent census estimates show about half of CUF’s 17,000 residents are enrolled in college – approximately 18% of the university’s student population.

Poor housing is often characteristic of student-rented properties largely due to high tenant turnover and a low standard of maintenance by both tenant and student. This can lead to negative health outcomes for student renters if left unresolved, research shows.

Speaking from her own experience searching for apartments near the university when she moved to Cincinnati in 2014, Johns-Wolfe said that quality housing in CUF is sorely lacking.

“The quality of it is not that great unless you’re willing to spend a lot of money,” she said of rental properties near the university.

“I was appalled at the quality of housing around campus and what they were charging for rent,” she said. “Students would be really excited to have better quality housing.”