| JM Rayburn
IN 2003, the Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing (OCCH), a local nonprofit corporation, acquired the largest portfolio of project-based Section 8 (government-subsidized) rental housing in the nation. The portfolio contained 250 buildings across seven inner city Columbus neighborhoods. In partnership with a number of community organizations, and with the active support of federal, state and local government, OCCH implemented a $133 million initiative to plan the redevelopment and rehabilitation of over 1,000 units of affordable housing. It then created the nonprofit Community Properties of Ohio (CPO) to serve as a mission-driven property management firm.
As full disclosure, I work for CPO as a property manager for the portfolio mentioned above. I manage 320 affordable housing units across 63 buildings in the King-Lincoln District, Olde Town East and Franklin Park neighborhoods. I was drawn to CPO in 2011 when CPO's Chief Operating Officer, Chad Ketler, gave my graduate course in urban housing a presentation on how the company manages affordable housing differently from competitors. As CPO’s President and Chief Executive Officer Isabel Toth loves to remind staff, “It’s not what we do, but it’s how we do it.” CPO’s “how” is by an innovative, results-driven culture. The company has piloted a number of affordable housing models tailored to the unique challenges faced by low-income and no-income populations.
One pilot program in particular, The Columbus Scholar House, deserves recognition because it serves as friction against multi-generational poverty: the program involves setting aside some units of subsidized, affordable housing to meet the needs of student parents who want to attend college. The program launched in August 2012 with ten units in The Charles Building on N. 17th Street in the King-Lincoln District. Residents of The Columbus Scholar House must be enrolled full-time in an accredited
Ohio college or university and maintain a minimum 2.5 GPA. The current residents collectively maintain a 3.3 GPA. As the Director of Property Management, Denise Liston, puts it, “These residents have jobs, are raising kids and attend college full-time. They do it all.” Currently, The Columbus Scholar House residents attend OSU or Columbus State Community College.
To make this program work, the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) provide Section 8 vouchers. The scholars pay 30 percent of their adjusted gross income in rent, and utilities are included. CPO partners with two local universities’ early childhood education programs to provide educational enrichment for scholars’ children. CPO also assists these young parents in getting their kids into summer camps or other special enrichment opportunities.
The Scholar House is at full capacity. Families eager to take advantage of the opportunities offered through the program are on a waiting list; therefore, CPO has been given the green light to expand the program with an additional 28 scholar units. There are nine different colleges located within four miles of The Columbus Scholar House, and several have approached CPO to play a role in the expanded program.
“We’re really serving two generations,” Toth says. “The Scholars are earning their degrees, and their children are receiving enrichment programs and are watching their mom or dad make education a priority.”
Affordable housing serves an important role in neighborhood stability and economic empowerment. As members of the community we ought to support The Columbus Scholars House and everything it stands for — self-improvement, accountability and momentum to move beyond poverty.