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The Athens Metropolitan Housing Authority on Hope Drive, Jan. 31, 2024, in Athens, Ohio.

Athens struggles to maintain affordable housing options

Athens Mayor Steve Patterson started renting a house in Athens when he was working as a professor at Ohio University in 1998. For the first nine years of living in the city, Patterson and his now-wife were looking to buy an affordable house. It wasn’t until 2007 that they found the perfect house to buy. 

Now, Patterson is working toward getting the city more affordable housing through tax increment financing, or TIF, and building on city-owned parcels of land. 

“I've recognized for longer than my being the mayor that there's a true, true need for affordable housing,” Patterson said. 

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, affordable housing is no more than 30% of a person's income. 

In 2019, Athens City Council passed an ordinance that considered developing affordable housing in the University Estates neighborhood which would have added 42 houses, Patterson said. However, the plan was shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic due to increased project costs. 

“Material costs went through the ceiling, and the supply chain became very difficult to try to get wood and drywall and all the materials to build,” he said. 

The estimated street infrastructure cost in 2019 was about $750,000, but the price had risen almost three times with the second estimate in 2023. 

“It no longer was feasible for them to be able to do it because there wasn't going to be enough revenue coming in from this TIF, this tax increment financing, to offset the costs,” Patterson said. 

The project is on hold until the city looks into additional TIFs — including single-family home tax credits — geared at helping first-time home buyers

Portions of The Ridges at Ohio University have been transferred to a new community authority, or NCA, for rehabilitation and development. The NCA will focus on creating affordable, smaller homes and townhouses, according to a university press release

Patterson said the Kirkbride buildings at the Ridges and the area around Dairy Lane Park are included in the NCA. 

A developer would have to take on the project at the Ridges, but the space has the potential for 700 new housing units, he said. Some units would be exclusive to people who are 55 years old or older, and the space would include senior services. 

The Athens Metropolitan Housing Authority, or AMHA, offers resources to people who are currently looking for affordable housing. 

“The mission of the Athens Metropolitan Housing Authority is to assist low to moderate-income families, including those who are elderly or disabled, with safe, decent and affordable housing opportunities as those families strive to achieve self-sufficiency and improve the quality of their lives,” Executive Director Zackary Dye wrote in a letter. 

The director of AMHA holds a seat on the city council’s affordable housing commission, along with the city planner and community members. 

Affordable Housing Commission member Shay Myers is looking into the zoning codes of the city. 

“Athens zoning code is actually written in a way that encourages, for instance, rooms to be rented out by the bedroom, which is something that unnecessarily drives up housing costs,” Myers said. 

A lot of homeowners rent out their property for students by the room, Myers said. That means a landlord can rent out a four-bedroom house for $500 a bedroom and receive $2,000 in rent from students, but if it was rented out to a family, rent would be half as much. 

According to Myers, if a person is working a full-time, minimum-wage job as the sole provider of the household, housing should only cost about $500 a month. 

“You’re not going to find that,” he said. 

Rewriting the zoning code would allow for more diverse and dense housing, Myers said. More housing could be built on lots, like a duplex or triplex, which would allow more people to live in one neighborhood.

Myers said the Ridges project could be a “massive asset” to the city, but it’s not going to solve the housing problem.

“We still need to be doing all of the other work that needs to be done to allow the rest of the city to flourish,” Myers said. 

Athens doesn’t have enough housing for people who come to the city, Myers said, and updating the zoning code to allow more housing to be built is a reasonable approach. 

“If we don't adapt our zoning codes in our city planning, then we're going to stop that growth,” Myers said. “We're going to put a cap on that vibrancy that Athens has; we're going to turn away people who otherwise would be great assets to the city because they don't have a place to live.”


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