We live in a racially segregated city. National studies have rated Cincinnati to be among the most-segregated cities in the United States. But our eyes, as well, tell us that Cincinnati is deeply segregated.
The Eastern Caucasian neighborhoods of Hyde Park, Mount Lookout, Columbia-Tusculum, Oakley and Mount Adams are almost exclusively white. Neighborhoods that adjoin them − Evanston, Avondale, Bond Hill and Roselawn − are overwhelming Black. And it's not just race that differentiates these neighborhoods − it's property values, livability and growth.
Property values in the Hyde Park neighborhood have risen steadily over the years. This growth has been aided by the city's tax abatement program, which forgives the homeowner who builds a new house or does qualified renovations from paying property taxes for a number of years. What would otherwise be paid in taxes goes into these homeowners' bank accounts. In addition, the value of their tax-abated property rises.
The total to date of tax abatements to just Hyde Park has been $149.3 million for 443 tax abatements. By contrast, the total for Avondale has been $8.5 million for 53 abatements.
Tax abatements to a number of homeowners in a neighborhood have the capacity to raise the property values for a whole neighborhood, and that is happening in the Caucasian neighborhoods. Property values in the African American neighborhoods, on the other hand, with only minimal tax abatements have remained stagnant over the years. Without the opportunity to gain equity in the homes, these African American homeowners have no ability to "buy up," if they choose, or use their equity for the education of their children. They have limited social mobility − surmounting the barrier of higher-priced neighborhoods is beyond their means.
It is now widely acknowledged that the tax abatement program has had a segregating effect on the residency pattern in Cincinnati. Certainly, there have been other factors causing housing segregation − highway construction, restrictive zoning, redlining, urban renewal and public housing policies. But tax abatements have been oil on these troubled waters.
Now Mayor Aftab Pureval has proposed a revision of the tax abatement program that will only worsen the segregated residency pattern in Cincinnati. Here is how that will happen.
Hyde Park neighborhoods will likely continue to obtain abatements at the rate and average amounts that they have gotten over the years. African American homeowners, by contrast, with lesser property values and lesser incomes will only be able to do lesser renovation and new construction. In other words, the tax abatement disparity will certainly continue, and likely worsen. Growing disparity in abatements means growing disparity in property values and wealth accumulation. The mayor's proposed revision promises more racial segregation in Cincinnati.
Cincinnati City Council should amend the mayor's tax abatement proposal to provide incentives for tax abatements in the neglected neighborhoods with longer terms for tax abatements, interest free and forgivable home improvement loans, and a staff that assists homeowners in the abatement process. Hyde Park and similar neighborhoods do not need any more abatements, except for affordable housing. It now time for Hyde Park homeowners to pay their own property taxes. The city also shouldn't neglect those elderly homeowners in gentrifying neighborhoods who are facing displacement because of being surrounded by high-end, tax-abated development.
It is our civic duty to promote fair housing and not go backwards in this national commitment. Racial segregation in housing must be buried in our history, and not be our future.
Robert Newman, a Cincinnati attorney, lives in Hyde Park.
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Opinion: Mayor's tax abatement proposal will only worsen racial segregation