Is Columbus doing enough for affordable housing?

Updated: Dec 13, 2021

By Carlos Iñiguez

The winners of the Next Home 2021 Design Competition demonstrate forward-thinking solutions that can address a need for affordable, sustainable housing in our region. After all, Columbus boasts of a growing population and increased presence in the cultural landscape of the Midwest and even at a national level. With that growth, building affordable housing cannot be a reactionary process. The participants of this competition developed strategies to stay ahead of the curve as the demand for inclusive housing increases. Why is it important for our future growth to build affordable housing? Are we providing enough affordable housing for our current residents?

What is “affordable housing” anyway? The US Department of Housing and Urban Development defines affordable housing as a dwelling where “the occupant is paying no more than 30% of gross income for housing costs, including utilities”(1). Across the country, over 10.8 million families are classified as “extremely low income,” with 70% of them spending more than half their income on rent(2). As wages remain stagnant and housing costs increase, fewer people find affordable rents, let alone achieve home ownership. Without new affordable housing, cities are actively neglecting the needs of their own citizens. Cities leave families to stave off evictions and foreclosures instead of encouraging self-fulfillment and refining the city’s growing culture.

What does the Census say about changes in affordable housing in our region and in competing regions? In Columbus, 6.7% of the metro area’s 902,082 housing units were vacant as of Census Day 2020. This represents a decrease in vacancies compared to 2010, when that number was 8.7%. The Indianapolis and Kansas City metro areas showed similar trends, while Charlotte’s vacancies increased despite this number decreasing as a percentage of all housing units(3,4).

Affordable housing in Indianapolis, the winning Next Home 2021 proposal, and affordable housing in Kansas City. Via Affordable Housing Online, Next Home, and Kansas City Star

The rate of new housing unit constructions across the country was half of what we saw in the decade before(4). We shouldn’t be surprised that new units are not built at the same rate as the previous decade—remember the housing bubble and burst? But a look across our metro region will show you plenty of new mixed-use developments and single-family homes sprouting on our blocks. Who are those homes for?

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development frequently releases Comprehensive Housing Market Analysis reports for each metro area in the nation. These analyses describe each metro area’s housing landscape and include three-year forecasts that predict the number of units needed to satisfy a city’s housing demand. In Indianapolis, 2,750 new multi-family units were permitted, with 3,800 under construction by October 2019 for a city forecasted to need just over 10,000 new units(5). The average rent for all units: $992. In Columbus, the average rent sits at $1,011(5,6). Kansas C