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The League of Women Voters of Metropolitan Columbus


Housing forum tackles tough issues of poverty, race

Wednesday, Mar. 22, 2017

There were no easy answers or "silver bullets" offered at last night's forum on housing, poverty and race, but it provided a fascinating history of discrimination in Columbus' real estate market.

Klaben, Reece, Hightower, Hykes

The connection between that history and today's current homelessness crisis was clearly drawn for more than 40 people who attended the forum at the Woman's Club in Clintonville.

Moderated by consultant and former Homeport CEO Amy Klaben, the panel included Jason Reece, assistant professor of city and regional planning at OSU's Knowlton School of Architecture, and Stephanie Hightower, president and CEO of the Columbus Urban League. Klaben, who has presented previously at League forums, is currently principal at Strategic Opportunities LLC.

They presented startling statistics about how homelessness in Columbus is on the rise, even as it declines in other cities across the country, how families headed by African-American women make up a highly disproportionate share of that population and how Columbus ranks as one of the most economically segregated cities in the country. Historically, redlining in Columbus neighborhoods and covenants in its suburbs throughout the 20th century left African Americans in particular with few housing options, both lower in quality and higher in borrowing rates. Subprime mortgage lending schemes further preyed on these families, and when the housing bust and Great Recession followed in 2008, homelessness began to soar.

The Urban League, with a history stretching back even further than the League's, works to address these disparities by providing wraparound services to families. Initiatives include helping individuals find housing and employment, improve their credit scores, and settle landlord/tenant disputes.

The forum left time for audience questions and discussion that focused on solutions. The lack of affordable housing and mixed-income housing in Columbus was the chief source of concern, bolstered by exclusionary tax abatement programs that benefit developers with no expectation that they "give back."

Panelists and audience members alike recommended further reading, including this week's Columbus Dispatch series on economic segregation and wage disparity, Matthew Desmond's Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, and J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy.

Read more: Dispatch Special Report: Dividing Lines