Columbus plans to beef up rental laws, improve affordable housing
The Columbus City Council on Thursday introduced a sweeping set of proposals designed to address the shortage of affordable housing in the city.
Among the proposals: requiring landlords to register and pay a fee for their rental properties; streamlining the zoning process to encourage more “tiny homes” next to existing homes; and tracking vacant homes and penalizing homeowners who leave them neglected.
While details of the proposals have yet to be worked out, they highlight the broad areas the City Council will focus on this year to help provide more housing, in addition to the passage of a $200 million housing bond package in the fall and rewriting the city’s zoning code.
“We are at a critical point in our city’s history. With the expected growth of Columbus, comes challenges, with housing being at the forefront,” Council member Shayla Favor said in a prepared statement. “The approaching housing crisis threatens the stabilization of families and more specifically families of low-income, and Black and brown families.”
The council’s efforts follow unprecedented demand for central Ohio homes in recent years, which has led to home prices jumping nearly 40% since 2019 and rents rising beyond what many can afford.
In a separate report released Thursday, the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio and the National Low Income Housing Coalition concluded that Ohio lacked an estimated 270,000 rental units that are affordable and available to the state’s 448,000 extremely low-income households.
According to the report, called the Gap report, the shortage of affordable housing has grown 6% over the past year.
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Favor, who chairs City Council’s Housing Committee, will oversee the council’s effort, which focuses on several goals, each led by one council member. Goals include making homeownership more accessible; creating a more “robust” fair housing council to protect renters and buyers against discrimination; and seeking to protect renters from predatory real-estate companies.
Some specific actions mentioned in a morning news conference include:
- Launching a pilot program to encourage “accessory dwelling units,” or tiny homes, built on lots that already contain homes. To build such homes today requires a string of zoning variances. Under a pilot program overseen by Councilmember Emmanuel Remy, the city hopes to encourage 20 to 30 tiny homes to help provide low-cost housing. “It’s an opportunity to create beautiful homes at a modest price,” Remy said.
- Requiring rental properties to be registered, and collecting fees on the properties which in turn will be used for rental assistance. This proposal will pair with Franklin County’s requirement that rental homes be registered, but will come with a fee paid by landlords that will be collected into a fund to help low-income residents afford housing, said Councilmember Nick Bankston, who will oversee the initiative.
- Creating a registry of vacant and foreclosed properties with the goal of holding property owners responsible for leaving abandoned properties in disrepair. Under the proposal, property owners would be fined if homes sit abandoned and neglected for a certain period of time, said Council President Pro Tem Rob Dorans.
- Expanding home-repair grants to homeowners to include roof repairs. Overseen by Councilmember Mitch Brown.
- Requiring landlords to accept payments from third-party sources for tenants. Overseen by Favor.
- Requiring that tenants receive at least a 180-day notice of rent increases upon lease renewal. Overseen by Favor.
- Requiring the registration of property “wholesalers,” who get properties into contract and then sell the contract. Overseen by Favor.
Council members said the initiatives will be introduced and discussed over the next 16 months before being adopted.