Time to End the Economic Apartheid in Cincinnati

Utterly disgusting but not surprising. Jeff Pastor was arrested for selling his votes to developers. The second time in a year Cincinnati residents have seen their democratically elected leaders involved in Federal investigations because of their choice to put enrichment of themselves and their donors before the needs of the working class.

DSA of Metro Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky unequivocally stand against the brazen self-serving actions of City Councilman Jeff Pastor, as well as ex-Councilwoman Tamaya Dennard. We want to also make it clear that these are features, not bugs of the function of our local government and its reckless indifference to the working people of our City.

Let us be very clear: Cincinnati is owned, ran by, and controlled by private corporations, not the least of which is real estate development.

The clearest recent example has been the construction of the new West End Stadium. Before the stadium had even been confirmed to be built in the West End, real estate speculators had targeted the historically Black neighborhood of the West End and purchased housing & property at astonishingly cheap rates – FC Cincinnati being one of the main purchasers. This inevitably led to residents in the buildings, like 99-year-old Mary Page, being given one month to vacate her long-time home. What did our City do to address this? They awarded FC Cincinnati $33 million in subsidies for infrastructure around the stadium.

When City Council member Chris Seelbach proposed that the billionaire Carl Lindner (who owns FCC and whose family has donated generously to both current & former Republican and Democratic city council members such as Seelbach as well as to John Cranley) refund the public subsidy they received, City Council overwhelmingly voted down the measure with  councilman P.G. Sittenfeld suggesting that the billionaire owners can “donate the money back if they want.”

Another egregious example of public funds being siphoned into private pockets is Mike Brown who has received almost his entire net worth in public subsidies from Hamilton County Taxpayers, around $1Billion, for a sub-par NFL stadium that his equally sub-par team gets to call home. And when hundreds of people experiencing homelessness set up camp across from the stadium on 3rd street in 2018, what was the city’s response? To claim that the camp was a drug-infested, public health hazard and used our already budget-bloated police to tear the camps down.

But 3 years earlier in 2015 when the Drop-Inn center was moved from the centralized location of Washington Park to Queensgate in order to “clean up” the area, the project under Homeless to Homes initiative received a measly $200,000 from City Council. The city could have allocated some of it’s bloated “public safety budget” to creating and maintaining the 40,000 units that sit vacant in Cincinnati but bowing to developers who see the unhoused as “eyesores” they decided to punt this population to a much less affluent neighborhood.

This has been a feature of Cincinnati politics for a while. It’s not a recent phenomenon. In the early 2000’s “Operation Vortex” as it was called, used aggressive and overtly racist police tactics to round up and arrest residents in the West End and OTR area. It was later revealed that this operation primarily targeted poor people of color who were committing petty level crimes in order to “clean the area up” for developers to come in and purchase dirt cheap properties.

This summer saw the biggest uprising of civil protest since the 1960s in response to the killing of George Flloyd and Breonna Taylor. No irony was lost as protesters marched through the street demanding justice in Over-the-Rhine, a prime example of the city’s war on the poor. “Black Lives Matters” signs donned the windows of gentrified apartments that just a few years earlier housed the city’s most disenfranchised, predominantly Black residents.

A study by the Over the Rhine Community Council showed that between 2002 and 2015 OTR has seen a decline of roughly 70% of its affordable housing and that large numbers of households that had to spend more than 30% of their annual income on housing were forced to leave.

Meanwhile, private developers in the Cincinnati area get to enjoy tax breaks in the form of Tax Abatements, Tax Increment Financing (known as TIF’s), and the recent Trump administration policy known as Opportunity Zones. Through these several different incentives, developers are able to receive generous tax breaks and/or public funding to develop “mixed-income” space, leaving residents who don’t have proper legal or elected representation to deal with the consequences of higher rent, increased property taxes, and an influx of boutique shops and restaurants that don’t address the communities primary needs.

Despite what our leaders tell us, homeless and poverty are not conclusions of personal failings, but rather political choices. Every day our city leaders will use their bully pulpit to espouse the need for affordable housing then do an about-face to cut deals with private developers.

While we want to recognize a few efforts made by the City to increase access to affordable housing, this small bandaid is wholly insufficient. Blotting a few units around the city while not changing the underlying profit motive of the developers the city is beholden to will only put a small gauze on an ever festering wound.

DSA of Metro Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky demand that our city leaders listen to its constituents and not it’s wealthy donors.

We demand that housing be considered a human right and not treated as a commodity.

We demand that City leaders immediately cut off all funding sources to private developers and immediately reverse these disastrous policies.

We demand that our city’s most susceptible to homelessness be immediately housed: this list includes but is not limited to sex workers, LGBTQ youth, undocumented immigrants, individuals struggling with drug addiction or mental health, and victims of domestic violence.

We demand that our bloated police budget be defunded and shifted towards efforts to keep individuals housed, clothed, and fed.

We demand that our elected leaders use their bully pulpit to advocate for rent control within the Cincinnati area.

We demand that our elected leaders fight for a fair, livable wage so that families aren’t required to work 2-3 jobs in order to survive.

We demand that the city create a public housing initiative aimed at providing ample and affordable housing for ALL of its residents.

As activists years prior have said, it’s time to End the Economic Apartheid in Cincinnati.