Affordable Housing, Ohio Legacy Cities, and the American Rescue Plan

Ohio doesn’t have enough affordable housing. No city in the state is exempt from this reality, though Ohio’s legacy cities—that is, post-industrial cities that have faced sustained population declines from peak historic levels and have higher than average poverty rates—face particular challenges. In most of these cities, housing stock is quite old and in need of many expensive repairs. In many cases, economic realities make it an unprofitable proposition to do needed repairs and build new affordable housing. In other words: the free market cannot solve this problem in OMA legacy cities such as Akron, Cleveland, Elyria, Lima, Lorain, Middletown, and Youngstown. This is where cities’ American Rescue Plan (ARP) dollars can have an immediate tangible impact.

Cleveland received over $500 million in American Rescue Plan funds, the 8th largest local fiscal recovery fund allocation in the nation, partly because poverty, historic inequity, and the age of the city’s housing stock all make the challenges facing Cleveland especially complex. In October 2022, Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb’s “Housing for All” plans began to take root when Cleveland City Council dedicated $50 million to home repairs, rehabilitation loan pools for developers, and a housing gap financing fund that will provide incentives for construction of new affordable housing.

Lima is one of the largest cities in the middle of western Ohio, a region that is largely rural and agricultural. The city’s needs are especially stark in comparison to the much smaller, less diverse villages and townships surrounding it. Mayor Sharetta Smith has developed plans to dedicate over $3 million of Lima’s ARP funding to developing new housing, painting existing housing, and repairing, preserving, and renewing existing housing.

The City of Akron has used ARP funds to create a home repair program that provides homeowners with up to $25,000 for home repairs. The program is focused on essential repairs that improve health, safety, and well-being of a household. The city prioritized homes in particularly under-resourced neighborhoods, applicants’ income, and the need for emergency repairs. 

According to the Greater Ohio Policy Center, weak real estate markets in many Ohio cities make investing in those cities risky for investors. Thus, improving the quality and value of existing homes is one key part of ensuring that more homes can be built. Home repair programs, incentives for contractors and developers, and city subsidizing of housing construction are all essential components of ensuring that all Ohioans will be able to find and afford safe housing now and in the future. These programs comprise additional examples of the many ways ARP funding is helping Ohio cities remain strong anchors for statewide growth and economic development.