Where Central Ohioans Reside Affects Region’s Economic Success

Authors: Amy Klaben and Rachel Kleit
Opinion Column from: Columbus Business First, March 2016

Central Ohio has become a region with some places offering many opportunities – jobs; quality, healthy homes; and high-performing schools – while other areas have few opportunities. The resulting economic and racial segregation are detrimental to the long-term business growth and economic vitality of our region.

How and where we develop housing creates the community of the future. So the question is: What kind of community generates the most beneficial environment for business?

Zoning rules, public and private land use restrictions, lending regulations and business desires have created economic and racial residential segregation that has persisted for roughly 80 years in Franklin County, particularly for African-Americans.

For example, land use restrictions and lending rules made it extremely difficult for African-Americans to buy homes, especially in neighborhoods that would later benefit from appreciation. However, home ownership has been the primary means for families to build wealth. Families with houses in areas where prices have appreciated have been able to use this wealth to finance higher education, start businesses and enhance the lives of the next generation.

The impact of such segregation in housing is that some families live in areas with few economic opportunities and are unable to fully participate in the work force. Imagine living in an old, neglected house with lead, faulty wiring and plumbing, and appliances that aren’t fully functional. The home is in a neighborhood with higher rates of violence and where there are few quality grocery stores carrying fresh fruits and vegetables.

This matters. The result is that children do not go to school ready to learn. A recent study in Cleveland found that children in these circumstances had estimated literacy scores 15 percent lower than those living in the best housing conditions. Families’ physical and mental health also will suffer. Employers need a healthy, educated workforce to increase their bottom line.

Studies show communities are more prosperous when opportunity is broadly extended. Businesses perform better when employees can find safe, affordable and healthy living options near their jobs. We rely every day on lower-wage workers in our work and personal lives. The more they succeed, the more everyone does.

There is another reason that where we live matters to the business community. The U.S. is quickly becoming a majority-minority nation. Businesses have diverse work forces and serve diverse clientele. When families live in proximity to others not like themselves and children attend schools that are economically and racially inclusive, they will be prepared to fully participate in our current and future work force.

Residential development in Central Ohio continues to follow old housing patterns of economic – and racial – segregation. This must change. All new residential developments must be mixed-income, with 20 percent of the homes affordable for those earning less than 80 percent of the area median income. Tax incentives are widely being used in our community but not to incentivize the creation of mixed-income development. Rather, the benefits accrue to those with higher incomes and to developers.

Many cities and counties throughout the U.S. are requiring or considering proposals for inclusive growth. Some are requiring that all development on land previously owned by governmental entities include affordable housing. Some local governments have created or participated in low-interest loan funds to enable single- or multi-family housing to be purchased in areas of higher opportunity to create mixed-income, inclusive neighborhoods.

Some communities are investing in land trusts to ensure that new development does not result in just gentrification but results in a welcoming community for people of all incomes. These are ways to revitalize neighborhoods while developing mixed-income, inclusive neighborhoods where everyone thrives.

With Central Ohio expecting 1 million new residents by 2050 (its population is 2 million), now is the time for us to create a caring community where everyone prospers and has equal access to opportunity. The business community must speak up and address these issues. Their employees will benefit; so will their bottom lines.

Amy Klaben is a lawyer and principal of Strategic Opportunities LLC in Columbus. Rachel Kleit is a professor and heads the City and Regional Planning Section for the Austin Knowlton School of Architecture at Ohio State University.


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