B.R.E.A.D. protests in front of new soccer stadium for affordable housing

Bill Bush
The Columbus Dispatch
A bulldozer spreads one of the first loads of dirt moved into the new 20,000-seat Columbus Crew stadium under construction in downtown Columbus. Plans include a 225-foot by 360 foot natural grass field when the stadium opens later this summer.

Brenda Minor says she had "a beautiful house" she rented on the North Side for $595 a month when her landlord informed her last year that she had to move because it was being sold.

That launched a four-month scramble to try to find a new place that the 65-year-old supply clerk for an Ohio State University medical facility could afford. She eventually settled on a townhouse near Route 161 that cost $750 a month — $155 or 26% more.

"I didn't quite have finances then to, you know, pay to get in that," Minor said. "But God made a way and made a way.

"It wasn't quite in the price range, but like I said, it was in October and I needed something. It was starting to get cold outside. I settled."

Minor joined a group of about 20 members of the community-action ministry organization B.R.E.A.D. Wednesday in front of the bustling construction project for the new Downtown stadium for the Crew S.C. to demand that if Columbus and Franklin County can find the cash for that project, they could do more to address a lack of affordable housing.

"Although we're not against the Crew team, or the people of Columbus who support the Crew, we understand that's $200 million dollars," said Pastor Charles Leister of the New Beginning Christian Center on the Southeast Side. "And we have a housing crisis within the city of Columbus and Franklin County that we can't find the money to begin to put a dent in."

According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Consumer Price Index — the nation's benchmark for inflation — increased nationally 2.6% during the 12 months ending in March 2021. "Shelter" costs increased just 1.7% nationally, a statistic that seems thoroughly detached from central Ohio.

A Dispatch examination last month of more than 60 central Ohio cities and Columbus neighborhoods found the average home value in central Ohio climbed 11.3% in the 12 months ending February 2020. In some Columbus neighborhoods prices climbed far higher: In the South of Main neighborhood, home values rose 32%; in Driving Park, 34%; in Milo-Grogan, 28%; and in South Linden, 43%.

As landlords purchasing new homes try to cover their mortgages, those increases get passed to renters like Minor. The B.R.E.A.D. protesters held signs showing the average salaries of waitresses ($19,610), fast-food workers ($19,510) and customer service representative ($34,590) above the words "Can't afford housing."

The protesters called on the city to quickly spend the remaining $40 million in affordable-housing bond money out of $50 million approved by Columbus voters in 2019. "We feel it's critical that we have a definite plan for using that money," Leister said, adding that units set aside as "affordable" in return for tax abatements are still out of the price range of many residents.

Columbus City Council has already approved subsidies from the bond money to fund 129 units, and has firm commitments for over 300 more units, said city Development Director Michael Stevens. The city will continue to spend $10 million of the bond annually on projects over the next 4 years, he said. 

B.R.E.A.D. also called on the city and county to dedicate at least a third of an anticipated $400 million-plus federal windfall of coronavirus emergency aid coming to central Ohio for affordable housing projects.

"We are still awaiting guidance from US Treasury on the use of the (federal) ARP funds," Stevens said.

The Dispatch reported last year that the public contribution to keep the Crew in Columbus had topped $210 million, with more than half coming from the city, about a quarter from Franklin County, and the rest from the state and a new "community authority" that can issue bonds with property-tax dollars gained from a new mixed-use development adjacent to the Downtown stadium.

The city claims the public investment in the Arena District will lead to $1.04 billion in private development, 3,200 jobs and $6.5 million annually in city tax revenue.

The county has historically allocated almost $17 million each year to affordable housing, homelessness prevention, emergency sheltering, and general housing efforts, and in 2019 the commissioners pledged an additional $6.5 million yearly, said Tyler Lowry, spokesman for the commissioners. 

"That $23.5 million annual investment to affordable housing is nearly ten times the commissioners’ yearly commitment to economic development surrounding the Crew stadium project," Lowry said in an email. "The commissioners have also allocated additional millions to rental, mortgage, and shelter assistance over the past year due to the pandemic."