Housing and affordability are hot topics at MORPC and throughout the region. In December, MORPC hosted a mini-insight2050 Academy on the complexities of affordable housing, and held the first session of a winter speaker series on housing-related issues.

The mini-academy was held as a primer on regional affordable-housing issues for a broad range of planners, architects, government officials, advocates, and civic leaders. Each installment of the speaker series will target a different audience, depending on the topic.

These initiatives are in addition to the Regional Housing Strategy led by MORPC, together with a consultant team. Because housing and affordability are regional issues, MORPC is taking a lead role on the strategy, which has extensive public, private, and non-profit support. The comprehensive study includes supply and demand for different housing types; the role of transportation; local policies such as zoning and evictions; and best practices from around the country. A report and recommendations will be released in late spring.

More than 60 people attended the mini-academy on December 10 to hear Rachel Kleit – the OSU Knowlton School associate dean for faculty affairs in the City and Regional Planning Section – address the multifaceted and complex question, “What is affordable housing?” (Slide 58) – which MORPC combined with other presentations in a single document.

Her economic, political, and philosophical answers set the stage for Leah Evans, vice president for real estate development at Homeport, to show how her non-profit development organization addresses those same issues on the ground. Then Emily Lundgard, state & local policy program director in the Cleveland office of Enterprise Community Partners, shared a policy perspective and best practices from around the country.

Many attendees were particularly struck by Kleit’s illustration of the many housing types, policies, income levels and needs that affect what is commonly lumped together as “affordable housing.”

On December 13, MORPC kicked off its speaker series with a focus on the role of policy in shaping communities. The short documentary film Segregated by Design set the stage for this event. Michael Wilkos, senior vice president of United Way of Central Ohio, followed with a discussion on the relationships between Central Ohio’s increasing housing costs and relatively slower growth of household incomes in neighborhoods across the region. Christie Angel, president & CEO of YWCA Columbus, tied these important topics together and invited audience discussion, which ranged from questions around displacement to leveraging partnerships in order to solve some housing challenges.

Other topics likely to be covered in the speaker series this winter and spring include: eviction policy and practice, and their effect on housing access; and how schools are affected by housing instability among households with young children.

In addition, MORPC is planning an insight2050 Spring 2020 Academy on The Role of Design in Affordable Housing, which will take place April 3, 10, and 17. Jointly presented by the OSU Knowlton School Alumni Society, the academy is aimed at architects and other design practitioners, and will culminate in design projects created by teams of participants.

The issues of housing and affordability are on many other local agendas as well. In 2019, Franklin County and the City of Columbus, together with partners, designated a $100 million action fund to address the need for more affordable housing, while Columbus voters approved an additional $50 million bond fund. Employers and organizations are also recognizing a need to address housing affordability through ongoing dialogue and support. The OSU Center for Real Estate, for example, recently hosted a forum on the topic. And both the YMCA of Central Ohio and YWCA Columbus have prioritized housing on their advocacy and engagement agendas.