Dealing with rising homelessness

Sadly, a recent front page headline in The Dispatch was not surprising, which makes it all the more a shame: “Local homelessness on rise.”

That a city as prosperous as Columbus cannot reverse the growth in number of people without a place to live is an attribute that cannot continue if we aspire to be a beacon of economic growth and well-being.

For 2019, there must be a firm resolution shared by city and county government officials as well as corporate and nonprofit leaders to turn the tide against homelessness in central Ohio.

The rising numbers witnessed to date are disturbing. Each of the past 10 years has seen the trend creep upward, rising from 1,341 homeless persons in Franklin County in 2008 to 1,807 in 2018.

This year’s 6.4 percent increase was far larger than the 0.3 percent increase nationally and the 1.5 percent increase in Ohio.

Twin problems of a lack of affordable housing and an unusually high eviction rate in Franklin County are contributing factors.

We have the disturbing distinction of having the most eviction cases filed here than in any county in the state — more than 18,000 a year.

And the need for more affordable housing has been well-established at some 54,000 units. The number threatens to increase with predictions for central Ohio to gain a million new residents by 2050. Or, if this challenge cannot be solved, the exciting new growth that is expected may not materialize after all.

Recent developments provide some hope for reducing homelessness in the area.

Columbus City Council has provided a new tool to help slow the rate of evictions by updating an ordinance barring retaliatory actions against tenants who complain to landlords about substandard conditions.

Taking effect in January, the new measure puts the burden on landlords to justify an eviction when tenants make a claim that they are being targeted. Without the law, and with the city’s affordable-housing shortage, it has been more of a landlord’s market, according to Melissa Benson, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Columbus.

More movement from other quarters to prevent eviction could also help resist continued growth in local homelessness.

In October, Mayor Andrew J. Ginther announced a new city partnership with the Columbus Apartment Association to create an emergency eviction-prevention fund to help people pay their rent when a temporary financial crisis arises. To be available in 2019, the fund will help with situations such as an unexpected medical issue or having to make an expensive car repair.

Legal help can also keep a roof over the heads of tenants facing unwarranted evictions. The Legal Aid Society created the Tenant Advocacy Project in March 2017. A study released in November showed it helps keep people in their homes 240 percent more often than for tenants with no legal help to fight eviction notices.

Recognizing needs in this area, City Attorney Zach Klein said a $50,000 settlement this month in the city’s largest-ever nuisance suit alleging code violations against a landlord will go toward eviction-prevention programs.

And look to nonprofit Homeport to continue providing more affordable housing, with new projects announced in December for Reynoldsburg and Franklinton.

Let’s make 2019 the year homelessness finally drops in Franklin County.

— The Columbus Dispatch, Dec. 31; Online: