Plan moves kids into suburbs

LOW-INCOME STUDENT OPPORTUNITIES

By Mark Ferenchik and Jim Weiker The Columbus Dispatch

A group of affordable-housing advocates is raising money for a $5 million pilot program that will move 100 inner-city families into suburban school districts in an attempt to give them more opportunities.

The Move to PROSPER project will give low-income families with children 13 or younger a chance to live in more upscale neighborhoods.

A 2013 nationwide study by economists from Harvard University and the University of California at Berkeley found that low-income children in metro Columbus had just a 5.1 percent chance of reaching the top fifth of household income by age 30, making Columbus one of the least-promising areas in the country for kids who start near the bottom to climb the financial ladder.

The transplanted families will be placed in apartments in the Hilliard, Dublin, Westerville, Gahanna and Olentangy school districts, said Amy Klaben, former CEO of the nonprofit affordable-housing developer Homeport and now a private consultant.

Klaben, the project’s facilitator, said the families — all single-parent households — will be able to send their kids to higher-performing schools, live closer to jobs and grocery stores and have better access to transportation.

PROSPER stands for Providing Relocation Opportunities to Stable Positive Environments.

“It’s based on the belief that inclusion is beneficial for everyone in the region,” Klaben said. “A person’s ZIP code profoundly affects people’s lives. We want to give people choice.”

“Dividing Lines,” a three-day Dispatch series that ran in March, highlighted how wealth and poverty are becoming more concentrated in separate Columbus and suburban neighborhoods. In the meantime, average rents in the Columbus area have increased more than 4 percent in each of the past two years and are forecast to rise an additional 4.2 percent this year to $898 a month.

Courtney Joe, a single mother of three who works full time in a low-paying job, said she is very interested in the program.

Joe, 29, said she and her children have been living with family and friends since January 2016 because she couldn’t afford to pay rent at her Westerville townhouse. She said she earns $20,000 a year as a resident assistant at a nonprofit group home for human-trafficking victims.

“It’s been extremely stressful, especially on the kids” said Joe, who has a 9-year-old son and 4-year-old twins, a boy and a girl. She wants to live somewhere that’s “affordable and safe.”

Three developers and property owners — the Kelley Companies, the Robert Weiler Company and Casto — have agreed to participate in the pilot project.

“They see a need for affordable housing,” said Rachel Kleit, who leads the city and regional-planning section at Ohio State University’s Knowlton School of Architecture, as well as Move to PROSPER’s steering committee.

The families will pay a lower, fixed rent for three years — perhaps $100 less a month — and also use rent subsidies that would lower their costs to $500 or $600 a month, Kleit said.

Michael Kelley, a principal with the Kelley Companies and treasurer of the effort’s steering committee, said developers are aware of the growing need for affordable housing, as well as the rising costs of new construction and zoning restrictions in suburban communities that make it difficult to build it.

“We have these apartment communities in high-opportunity areas set aside for the working poor,” Kelley said. “It may have a dramatic effect on the life of a person.”

Homeport also is exploring ways to develop housing for workers who might struggle to afford to live near their jobs in pockets of Columbus where rents are rising. Such projects can’t be funded by tax credits because they are limited to residents who earn less than 60 percent of the area’s median income. More needs to be done to create workforce housing for those who earn more.

“One of the things we’re looking at, pretty seriously, is how can we also finance deals in a nonsubsidized type of way?” said Bruce Luecke, Homeport’s president and CEO.

“On the private side, we’ve had lots of discussion with potential funders to create a private pool of funding at a cost level that would allow us to make these work,” he said. “We need to make sure the people who work in those neighborhoods can afford to live somewhere reasonably close.”

Klaben cited the large number of evictions every year in Franklin County — 19,000 — with many tenants kicked out because they can’t afford the rent.

“We need additional rent support in our community,” she said. The Affordable Housing Alliance of Central Ohio has said 54,000 low-income households in the Columbus area need such safe, decent housing.

One person behind the effort is Ron McGuire, deputy district director for U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Jefferson Township.

McGuire, now 68, grew up in public housing in Dayton and his family had no program like this. But he said his father worked two jobs and his mother another one to be able to afford to move to Dayton’s Westwood neighborhood, where there were better schools and more opportunities. McGuire was

“Racism was so tough in those days,” McGuire, who is African-American, said of the 1950s. But he said his family had good neighbors.

“If not for moving out, I don’t know what my life would have been like,” McGuire said. “It just made a difference in our lives.”

So far, grant applications for the Move to PROSPER effort have been sent to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Mott Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Kresge Foundation and six others, Klaben said.

Partners include Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the Columbus Foundation, the Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing, NeighborWorks America, Ohio State University and the Columbus Jewish Foundation.

“Everyone has to pull together,” Kelley said. mferench@dispatch.com @MarkFerenchik jweiker@dispatch.com @jimweiker

Prosper Project