From the Field: 18 Days in June: How 600 Advocates Saved the Ohio Housing Trust Fund

Over the course of 18 days in June, the Coalition on Housing and Homelessness in Ohio (COHHIO), an NLIHC State Coalition Partner, and advocates across the state successfully mobilized to save the Ohio Housing Trust Fund (OHTF). The victory comes after a budget amendment was introduced in the Ohio State Senate that would have restructured the OHTF to send half of all funds directly to county-level administrators who have little or no experience in housing.

The OHTF was created with strong bipartisan support in 1990 following passage of a constitutional amendment making housing a public purpose. Funding for the OHTF is based on a Housing Trust Fund Fee on all documents filed with county recorders. Prior to establishing the fee in 2003, the OHTF received funds from the state general fund.

COHHIO first became aware of the recent threat to the OHTF on June 8, the day before the Senate Finance Committee passed its biennium budget bill that included the amendment from Senator Bill Coley (R) that would radically restructure the OHTF. The amendment called for half of all Housing Trust Fund Fees to be retained and administered at the county level. Under this proposal, the county auditor, recorder, and a county commissioner would determine, with little oversight, how the funds would be used “for the purpose of housing.”

According to Bill Faith, Executive Director of COHHIO, “Two of the worst ideas were suddenly sandwiched into one amendment: The Trust Fund was cut in half, along with its ability to significantly leverage public and private dollars, and the job of allocating housing dollars was put into the hands of people with little, if any, housing administration experience. It was a train wreck of an amendment that would have dismantled – for no good reason – an effective policy that had been serving critical housing needs across Ohio for nearly 25 years.”

Using its communications, field, and lobbying assets, COHHIO rapidly mobilized a full-spectrum advocacy campaign to save the OHTF. While Senator Coley’s amendment successfully passed with the Senate budget, the House budget did not include the proposal. As a result, COHHIO shifted its advocacy efforts to supporting the House version of the budget in Conference.  

Using traditional and social media strategies, COHHIO and its allies generated hundreds of phone calls, letters, and emails to dozens of members of the General Assembly as COHHIO staff and members simultaneously met with key legislators. In addition, COHHIO prepared a veto letter signed by 600 organizations for Governor John Kasich (R).  

The Conference committee adopted a budget using the House language for the OHTF, a victory for COHHIO and its partners. The House language also included an amendment that created a $15 million Trust Fund Reserve to be used when revenue falls far short of the Trust Fund’s $50M cap. The budget passed by the Conference committee included $100 million for the OHTF in the FY16-17 biennium. Governor Kasich signed the budget on June 30.

OHTF funds can be used for rental and homeownership activities, including predevelopment costs, new construction, rehabilitation, rental assistance, and housing counseling. All uses of OHTF must benefit households with income less than 80% of the area median income (AMI), although the majority is targeted to households with income less than 50% AMI. In FY13, the latest data available, only 5.1% of the funds went to households with income between 50% and 80% AMI. All remaining funding was targeted to households with income less than 50% AMI. There is an overall preference for projects serving those below 35% AMI; in FY14, 54% ($30.4 million) was used for projects in that category.

The OHTF has significantly contributed to housing security for Ohio’s most vulnerable residents, and has bolstered the state economy. Since its inception, the OHTF has funded:

  • emergency shelter for more than 133,000 households
  • the construction, rehabilitation, or repair of more than 58,000 rental and homeowner units
  • supportive services and resident services for more than 105,000 households
  • homeowner counseling and assistance to more than 28,000 households
  • training and technical assistance for more than 45,000 households

A study conducted in 2011 by Vogt Santer Insights determined that between FY06 and FY09, the impact of the OHTF on Ohio’s economy totaled more than $2.6 billion, with associated earnings of more than $829 million for almost 32,000 workers.  

Following this victory, COHHIO is educating legislators in the General Assembly about the importance of the OHTF for Ohio’s most vulnerable residents and the broader economy. Cathy Johnston, Advocacy Director at COHHIO, states, “Mobilizing support for our veto letter showed us that 600 partner organizations understand the importance of the Trust Fund in their communities and to the economy. Now it’s our job to get those organizations sharing that story with their elected officials.”

For more information, contact Bill Faith, Executive Director of COHHIO, at [email protected]