Op-ed: Spend the $33M on housing instead of a soccer stadium

Photo: Liz Dufour/The Enquirer

(Originally published in the Cincinnati Enquirer, 04/11/2018)

Days before Councilmen P.G. Sittenfeld and David Mann announced a deal including $33.9 million of public funds for the proposed Futbol Club Cincinnati stadium in West End, leaders of resident councils representing 3,500 of West End’s 6,000 residents issued a statement opposing the project to City Council and the Cincinnati Board of Education.

Despite this opposition, including votes against the project in the community councils of West End and Over-the-Rhine, negotiations proceeded behind closed doors, demonstrating FC Cincinnati General Manager Jeff Berding and city politicians’ paternalistic attitude toward West End residents.

This sentiment was reflected in a recent piece by Enquirer columnist Jason Williams, who wrote that development in the neighborhood is “probably not going to get any better than this” and residents should cheerfully accept “Santa Berding” and his “bag full of goodies.”

Berding has insisted that the stadium will not displace anyone from the neighborhood – but working people in our city know better.

This collective memory begins with the “slum clearance” demolitions of thousands of units of low-cost housing to make way for highway development in the black neighborhood formerly known as Kenyon-Barr just south of West End in the 1940s.

After the 2001 riots, Over-the-Rhine’s “revitalization” was carried out by an organization of banks and corporations known as Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. with the support of Mayors Charlie Luken and Mark Mallory and successive City Councils that commanded a regime of police sweeps, criminalization of the homeless, and the removal of affordable housing and social services to facilitate development. For decades, city government and private interests have starved black neighborhoods of investment in favor of profitable development elsewhere.

FC Cincinnati was only able to set its sights on West End after Over-the-Rhine had been re-engineered by 3CDC to attract upper-middle-class professionals to the center city and generate profits for the banks and corporations that the “nonprofit” organization represents.

Sittenfeld and Mann’s promise to invest a combined $54 million in minority- and women-owned businesses in West End is not meant to serve working people in the neighborhood with a median income of $13,000 a year.

To support FC’s plan and generate profits, private developers and the city must cater toward upper-middle-class professionals to establish a “stable” outpost for further development.

Working people recognize that this monstrous stadium project will exacerbate already skyrocketing rents, high rates of eviction and the inflation of property values that are fueling the citywide affordable housing crisis. Since 2000, the number of households living in poverty in Hamilton County has increased by 40 percent, with an estimated gap of 40,000 units of affordable housing for those making less than $14,678 a year. More than 7,500 households in Cincinnati and Hamilton County experience some form of homelessness every year.

Instead of dumping $33.9 million of public funds into a stadium that will make the housing crisis worse, City Council should spend $33.9 million on affordable housing. Working people throughout our city should rally with West End residents against this stadium and demand a robust community benefits agreement that includes expanded funding for affordable housing and development catered toward longtime residents, such as a grocery store or a laundromat.

In the spirit of striking teachers in Kentucky and Oklahoma and students walking out against inaction on the mass shooting epidemic, teachers and working families should call on the Board of Education to accept nothing less than FCC’s fair share of property taxes – not a one-time lump sum of $25 million or the abated 25 percent rate of $2 million a year according to the city’s “Tax Exemption Agreement” for big corporations, but the estimated $7 million a year that is owed to Cincinnati Public Schools for this $200 million development.

Residents of West End have a right to determine their future and working people throughout our city will bear the costs of this disastrous development in rising rents if it is not stopped.

Griffin Ritze is a member of Socialist Alternative and an Urban Studies student in the School of Planning at the University of Cincinnati.