As Ohio confronts an $8-10 billion deficit in its 2011-2012 biannual budget, the Ohio Housing Trust Fund (OHTF) faces an unprecedented funding threat. To protect it, the Coalition on Housing and Homelessness in Ohio (COHHIO), an NLIHC state partner, has launched a campaign to educate legislators on the trust fund’s successes over the past 20 years, and urge them to keep its budget intact. Governor John Kasich will introduce his budget in March.
The severity of the state’s budget woes came into sharp focus last year. As legislators vowed to leave no stone unturned to close the budget gap, COHHIO immediately mounted a multilayered strategy to ensure that OHTF’s dedicated funding source – document recording fees – is not targeted. The organization has developed information on the budget crisis’ potential threat to OHTF funding and facts about the trust fund’s impact in each state district.
Given the significant shift in power from Democrats to Republicans in the Ohio legislature, COHHIO is supporting advocates as they urge newly elected legislators and key leaders to support OHTF. For example, COHHIO is circulating template letters that advocates can use to welcome new legislators and inform them the trust fund has the ability to create jobs, place money in local communities’ hands, positively affect every county, and support rural housing.
In September, COHHIO held training for advocates in partnership with the Ohio Association of Area Agencies on Aging, Ohio Association for Community Action Agencies, Habitat for Humanity of Ohio and the Ohio CDC Association. It featured a workshop conducted by NLIHC Board member Mary Brooks and Michael Anderson, both staff at the Center for Community Change. The event highlighted effective state trust fund advocacy efforts, provided talking points for legislative meetings, and offered strategies to convey messages effectively.
COHHIO also hosted a December webinar that prepared advocates to meet with lawmakers. It provided historical information on OHTF, facts on the budget crisis and details on the legislature’s new leadership. Using a media approach to support advocates’ work, COHHIO is working to generate positive news coverage for trust fund projects, as well. For example, a recent newspaper article showcased WSOS Community Action, a local organization serving Wood, Sandusky, Ottawa and Seneca counties, which received $476,000 to serve homeless residents.
Advocates believe that keeping OHTF funding intact is more critical than ever as recent reports show a rise in homelessness and housing needs across Ohio. Miami Valley’s primary family shelter saw a 35% increase in occupancy during the first two weeks of November 2010, compared to the same period in 2009. In September, 275 men with no prior experience with homelessness entered Cuyahoga County’s largest shelter. And, the waiting lists for Section 8 housing vouchers have swelled to 1,631 applicants in Cincinnati, 2,905 in Cleveland and 7,601 in Columbus. Waiting lists are now closed to new applicants in all three cities.
COHHIO is working with corporate, nonprofit, advocacy and
faith-based groups statewide that may not have direct ties to the trust
fund but have an interest in protecting homeless and affordable
housing initiatives. Advocates hope the two-pronged approach of
educating lawmakers on the program’s positive impact and supporting a
balanced approach to state budgeting will preserve the OHTF budget.
“The priority of the OHTF has always been to direct funds to those most in need,” said Bill Faith, COOHIO’s executive director. “It’s a unique funding source that becomes even more important when social service safety net programs are cut to the bone. It’s worth everything we’ve got to protect it.”
For more information: Cathy Johnston, COHHIO, firstname.lastname@example.org