By Shahid Meighan, Columbus Dispatch

Members of two Columbus nonprofit groups on Wednesday night called on Columbus and Franklin County officials to use their remaining tens of millions of dollars in federal American Rescue Plan and Emergency Rescue Act funds to address the lack of affordable housing in the city and county.

More than three dozen members of both B.R.E.A.D., which stands for Building Responsibility, Equality and Dignity, and One ID Columbus gathered at Faith Mission in Columbus to urge Columbus City Council and Franklin County Commissioners to use those federal COVID release funds before they expire.

City Councilmember Shayla Favor, who also chairs the council’s Housing Committee, said in a prepared response to a Dispatch inquiry that affordable housing and homelessness continue to be a “top priority” for her and the city.

“City Council announced a 12-piece policy plan aimed at strengthening tenant protections and investing more in affordable housing. While these policies alone will not solve our housing crisis, they are effective tools that help prevent homelessness,” Favor said in the prepared response. “Additionally, Council continues to advocate for more dollars to address human services and homelessness in our community.”

B.R.E.A.D. and One ID Columbus say the city and county could best use their federal COVID funds by helping address the lack of affordable housing for Columbus residents, particularly for those who make $30,000 or less annually.

“They still have some of that money — use it for housing,” Noel Williams, who has been a member of B.R.E.A.D. for over 15 years, told The Dispatch during an interview at the event.

“We need to use those funds, and what better thing to use it for than for housing?” Williams said, reminding the city and county only have a limited amount of time to use the funds before they must return the money.

In September, the city had to return more than $1.1 million of a $26.8-million federal grant because they were unable to spend it all by December 2022.

According to data provided by the city, there currently remains $57.6 million of American Rescue Plan funds, while the Emergency Rescue Act pot has about $17.7 million remaining for a combined total of $75.3 million in federal relief funds.

“Our officials need to do what’s in the best interest of those that are in need,” Williams said. “We’re talking about people who are earning $30,000 or less. They’re using more than half of their paychecks for rent. That’s not sustainable for anybody.”

Since 2020, the city of Columbus reports it has spent $57.5 billion to address homelessness. Some of the allocations include:

  • $6.7 million annually to the Community Shelter Board
  • An $8 million Emergency Service Grant to operate socially distanced shelters
  • $12.5 million for renovations, expansions and repair projects at shelters, including Lutheran Social Services, CHOICES, ADAMH Crisis Center, Alvis House and The Refuge.

Franklin County officials said they have also spent millions on affordable housing and homelessness when contacted by The Dispatch.

The commissioners have annually allocated $17 million to address homelessness and affordable housing, and in 2019 they committed to an additional $65 million over the next 10 years. Other housing expenditures include:

  • $50 million to develop affordable housing and to assist families with mortgage and rental assistance
  • $4 million to the Affordable Housing Trust
  • $5 million in funding for the Emerging Developers Accelerating Program, a nonprofit lender that works with the public and private sector to develop affordable housing opportunities in Columbus.

In 2022, the commissioners advertised a request for proposals to solicit applications from qualified developers to help the county increase the availability of affordable housing in the county.

At their general session meeting scheduled on Tuesday, the commissioners are expected to approve allocating $1.35 million from the county’s Magnet Fund to help NRP Group LLC with the construction of an affordable housing project on Fornoff Road just off the east side of South High Street and just south of the Route 104 interchange on Columbus’ Far South Side.

However, Sarah Huelskoetter, a member of B.R.E.A.D. and a former social worker, said that the city needs to focus those federal funds on developing more affordable housing and creating a more sustainable model for those in need.

“We still don’t have any money dedicated toward building, preserving, and retaining our affordable housing,” said Huelskoetter. She also said that the condition of existing affordable housing units is bad, and that there needs to be greater enforcement when it comes to housing law.

B.R.E.A.D., and One ID Columbus also advocated for creation of a municipal identification program in Columbus to help relieve the burden for people trying to find employment and apply for subsidized housing.

Ed Hoffman, who is a member of the two groups, highlighted other cities that have enacted a similar program, including Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, and Washington.

View the original story here.