Halted affordable housing efforts prompt lawsuit

Plans to move forward with affordable housing in Bexley have stalled due to recent appeals prompting the discussion of housing accessibility within Bexley.

According to the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, the approval by the Bexley Board of Zoning and Planning (BZAP) for affordable housing developments has recently been reversed by Franklin Court of Common Pleas Judge Kim Brown.

Bexley resident Leah Turner, who owns property adjacent to the proposed development on Livingston Ave., argued that the development does not meet conditional use permit requirements, according to the Court of Common Pleas. Bexley Mayor Ben Kessler said the city of Bexley is appealing against Turner.

Kessler said the conditional use permit allows an establishment to be developed in an area upon further review of its proposed conditions. He explained that the case will be taken to the 10th District Court of Appeals, a higher court that reviews appeals from the Court of Common Pleas.

“It’s not unusual to have decisions from judges that we might not agree with, and to ask another court to review it,” he said. “I think that’s very reasonable.”

Kessler said the city of Bexley has a strong defense for the appeal against the BZAP’s conditional use permit grant.

“They basically said that the BZAP would never have been allowed to do a conditional use permit,” he said. “We stringently disagree with that.”

The lawsuit also prompts the attention of the current status of affordable housing in Bexley, he explained.

Executive director of the Affordable Housing Alliance of Central Ohio Carlie Boos said affordable housing is a home in which no more than 30% of one’s income is spent on the home’s expenses. She said that in current cases, people are spending more than 30% of their income, even 50% in some cases, on housing.

“It means that housing is eating up so much of your income, that almost by necessity, at the end of every month, you’re making life and death decisions,” she said.

Kessler said he is in full support of the development of quality, affordable housing in Bexley, which is currently not being provided.

“The most affordable housing in Bexley is being run by absentee landlords that don’t really care about the quality of living for the people in those units, and we are doing those residents a disservice,” he said.

To change that narrative, Kessler explained that he plans to suggest housing that is heavily managed by landlords who meet thorough standards. He said that these plans will follow the inclusion of affordable housing in Bexley.

“They have to put a minimum amount of investment in it,” Kessler said. “They have to have rigorous on-site management: it’s not like turning your back on a situation.”

Though creating more affordable housing has proven to be difficult due to limited space, the city still strives to maintain socioeconomic diversity, Kessler said.

“Our concern has been as we work to elevate the quality of housing, that we’re not displacing people, or demographics from the city,” he said.

Affordable housing, despite its challenges, has optimal effects on a community, Boos said.

“It’s about inclusivity, and about having a community that is for all of us,” she said. “We all need a place where we fit in.”

Marcelius Braxton, Bexley school district’s leader of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, said there are common misconceptions and fears surrounding the notion of affordable housing.

“There’s often this fear that people have that it’s going to ruin the suburb,” he said. “Oftentimes suburbs are planned communities that people create, and they want it to be a certain way.”

Kessler said that those opposed to affordable housing wrongfully dismiss the demographic of people who live in those homes.

“It’s veiled racism,” he said. “It’s not even veiled elitism.”

Braxton said these misconceptions regarding affordable housing, including the preconceived notions about the involved demographics, contribute to the collection of diversity in Bexley.

Similarly, Boos said there is a justice component of providing affordable housing.

“Housing for as long as I’ve been doing this work, and for generations before, has been one of the vehicles this country has used to achieve segregation,” she said.

Braxton said that these notions, and the discussion of affordable housing, provide an opportunity to question the stereotypes that arise with the topic.

Boos said that affordable housing also involves undoing repercussions that resulted from segregational housing.

She said misconceptions about the outcomes of affordable housing implementation in communities stem from exclusionary housing practices.

“Sometimes those misconceptions are either accidentally, or purposefully, used to advance a racial narrative,” Boos explained.

Kessler said that affordable housing has a role in shifting the narrative of elitism in Bexley, yet it is not the sole solution.

“It’s a piece of the puzzle; it’s not even remotely the puzzle,” he said.

Superintendent Dr. Jason Fine said he included the school district along with these attitudes, as an increase in housing could potentially involve future Bexley students.

“Our goal is to make sure we provide every child with the opportunity to be successful here at school,” he explained.

Braxton also commented on the schools’ involvement to welcome more students from different backgrounds compared to the majority of Bexley students and the positive impact that it would have.

“If we say that Bexley City Schools are great schools, and people enjoy it, then someone’s going to have affordable housing, access to a great school, and then be able to thrive in that way,” Braxton said. “Why wouldn’t we want other people to have that?”

Kessler said he thinks the inclusion of more racial and socioeconomic diversity in Bexley is crucial.

“It’s really beneficial to the community, because we’re exposed to new ideas, and new people from different backgrounds,” Kessler said. “I don’t think that’s a new part of Bexley’s story; I just think it’s in danger of becoming an extinct part of our story.”

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Kessler said that these other pieces include growing the collective attitude in regards to welcoming all into the community and putting forth a neighborly spirit.

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Sammie Ross
Sammie Ross is an Opinion Editor for The Torch. She spends her time in the theater in the cast and on crew, and is a member of Vocal Ensemble.