Skip to:
  1. Main navigation
  2. Main content
  3. Footer
Notes from the Field

Regional Efforts Increase Affordable Housing in Central Ohio

This Columbus-area organization is leveraging public and private dollars to successfully stabilize and expand affordable housing in Columbus, Franklin County, and beyond.

The views expressed in this report are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland or the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

Recently, while having dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, I had an interesting conversation with my server. After some small talk, he and I began to talk about housing and the seemingly impossible feat of finding a place that is appropriate and affordable. This young man has a four-year-old son, and, until recently, he rented a room in a campus apartment for less than $500 a month. While the space provided a roof at an affordable amount, it was not the ideal situation for him or his son. After a change in his personal life added a second income, he and his partner were able to move to a better apartment in a more convenient location. They are now exploring their housing options but are stalled in their current rental. About his situation, he told me, “We can’t even look at buying a house within the next five years. How can we save for a down payment when we’re trying to pay rent on a decent, safe place? It’s just not doable.”

I share this story because it humanizes the very real struggle of many in our community. We know that our neighbors are challenged with locating safe, suitable, and affordable housing. You need only look at the data to confirm.

According to the US Census Bureau, Franklin County, Ohio, which includes the capital city of Columbus and its suburbs, had a population of 1.3 million in 2021. With a 12 percent growth rate between 2010 and 2020, it’s one of the fastest-growing counties in Ohio and was named “the nation’s hottest real estate market” by in 2019. The county also had a higher poverty rate than Columbus metro area and the state in 2021 according to the Census Reporter. This combination of rapid population growth and higher poverty rates severely decreases the availability of affordable housing for lower-income and working-class families. Increasing demand results in increasing rents, property values, and property taxes.

According to the Analysis of Housing Need for the Columbus Region, the area must build nearly 19,000 housing units per year to accommodate the projected population growth. However, in recent years, Central Ohio has added only approximately 8,000 housing units each year. In 2022, even with an estimated 12,000 housing permits issued, the area still lagged optimal building numbers. The underbuilding has resulted in very unfortunate consequences. In a 2017 report, the Affordable Housing Alliance of Central Ohio found that there was only one affordable rental unit for every three renters in poverty in Franklin County. The Ohio Housing Finance Agency (OHFA) reported that roughly half of all Ohioans were housing-cost burdened (that is, spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing).

In 2022, Columbus was one of the nation's 10 most popular metro areas for investors. A record high of almost 25 percent of home purchases in the Columbus area were made by investors in the first quarter of 2022, compared to just 16 percent in the previous year. Because investors are less sensitive to interest rate increases and can generally make more competitive offers than individual home buyers, this trend further reduces the availability of affordable homes for purchase, keeping more lower-income residents in rental housing. In addition, when rental properties are purchased by investors, owners often increase rent and institute more aggressive eviction practices, further reducing the supply of affordable housing and increasing housing instability for residents.

The statistics can be grim. Yet I remain optimistic about housing in Central Ohio for a few reasons. The main reason is that I have never seen the attention given to housing that I am seeing right now. Everyone—politicians at all levels of government, business executives, everyday citizens—is looking at our housing crisis and talking about it. And with the discussions about the housing crisis come solutions.

At the state level, proposed remedies include a state Low Income Housing Tax Credit and a Single Family Housing Tax Credit. These credits will stimulate the construction of more—desperately needed—affordable housing units, from large, multifamily developments to single-family, owner-occupied units.

Regionally, we are seeing collaboration like we’ve never seen around housing. The reality is that Central Ohio is growing rapidly. Based on the most recent data from the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, the 15-county Central Ohio region is expected to grow to 3.15 million people by 2050. With this rapid regional grown, we must actively work together as a region to resolve our lack of housing. The progress is encouraging: We are analyzing funding, problem solving, and coalition building at the regional level.

I am proud to join this important effort as one of the lead conveners of the regional housing coalition, a group dedicated to identifying and implementing actions that address the area’s core housing needs. The tools already at our disposal will need to be expanded and upgraded so that we can collectively address key housing issues and provide access to opportunities across the region. If the region is to remain economically competitive, we must make inroads into this housing crisis, establishing equitable policies that ensure safe and affordable housing for all existing and new residents in the Central Ohio region.

The mission of Affordable Housing Trust for Columbus and Franklin County (AHT) is to create and preserve adequate and affordable housing and to stabilize local neighborhoods. AHT accomplishes this mission by making low-interest-rate loans to developers who construct affordable housing in Columbus and the Franklin County area. Additionally, in order to expand its impact, AHT plans to make its resources available to developers of affordable housing at the regional level by developing a regional investment fund, similar to our existing Housing Action Fund, that makes loans for affordable housing in Franklin County only.

The fund will provide a flexible source of financing that will expand the resources available for investment in affordable housing development to the region—those counties contiguous to Franklin County plus Knox County. As with our current capital, the new Regional Impact Fund will provide below-market loans to developers who commit to the fund’s affordability criteria. This will preserve (and increase) the number of affordable rental homes in the fund’s market area. This innovative financing mechanism provides a creative way to leverage public and private dollars to successfully stabilize and expand housing regionally.

The ultimate objective is to further the successes of affordable housing initiatives in Columbus, Franklin County, and beyond. During our 20+ year history, we’ve loaned more than $300 million and created or preserved more than 14,000 affordable housing units. Our existing Housing Action Fund has experienced similar success. In its brief three-year history, the fund has deployed more than $70 million and created or preserved more than 2,000 units. We must now repeat this success in our entire region. To do so, it is imperative that we engage housing solutions with a comprehensive and holistic approach. The affordable housing ecosystem is constantly evolving, and organizations must adapt and think more broadly as the community strives to find solutions for the housing challenges we face.

This article is written by guest author Lark Mallory, President and CEO of Affordable Housing Trust. She serves as a Community Advisory Council (CAC) member for the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. CAC members are thought leaders and experts who are able to represent issues of concern for low- and moderate-income (LMI) communities and underserved individuals. This summer, an online application will be opened for new members to join CAC. Learn more about the Bank’s Community Advisory Council and research on housing.