Tue. Jul 16th, 2024

‘I Lost Everything I Had’: Faces of Columbus’ Housing Crisis

By meerna Jul11,2024
‘I Lost Everything I Had’: Faces of Columbus’ Housing Crisis

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — For many Columbus residents struggling to keep or keep a roof over their heads, help is coming too late.

City officials are calling it a crisis as more and more people are hunkered down in apartments and taking on second or third jobs to make ends meet.

NBC4 Investigates takes a closer look at the safety issues where some homeless people live and explains why some wait lists for affordable housing stretch for years.

The Community Shelter Board reported that rents rose 34 percent in Columbus between 2017 and 2022. Nationally, the increase was 29 percent. Vacancy rates were even worse: down 19 percent nationally, but in Columbus, they were more than twice as high.

These facts make it virtually impossible for some to find affordable housing, and funding from some programs is drying up.

“I guess I’m just stuck,” said Amanda King, who has been homeless for 10 years.

A decade ago, King never thought she’d be living in a motel, fearing returning to life in the woods in south Columbus. She had kids and a husband, and then everything changed.

“It was a huge collapse and it left us homeless,” King said.

Her husband died and she was left alone with the problem of how to get back on her feet.

She found the support group Heer to Serve, and after months of trying, program leaders were able to move 27 people living behind a south Columbus mobile home into a motel, thanks to funding from the Community Shelter Board.

“It’s a more expensive approach than a traditional shelter, but we really know that it’s an intervention that works best for people who, you know, don’t want to go to a traditional shelter,” said Steve Skovensky, chief program effectiveness officer at the Community Shelter Board. “We have such an immediate housing crisis in the community that, you know, there’s not a level of housing that meets the level of need that we’re seeing.”

But it wasn’t easy.

“Of course, you know, I’m very grateful,” King said. “It’s just been a gradual decline over the last few months. You’ve got more people, you know, fighting, stealing.”

The motel was visited by the municipal police.

“This particular hotel had multiple zoning violations, multiple zoning issues, which is basically the property around the building, but they had one area where there were exposed wires that we wrote a violation for,” said Columbus Deputy Director of Building and Zoning Services Anthony Celebrezze. “We’re in the business of trying to encourage landowners, property owners to maintain and take care of their property.”

Exposed wood, lights, and the fear of what will happen when the motel money runs out.

“You never know if one day you’re going to have to leave and have nothing,” said another woman who spoke to NBC4 Investigates.

This woman said medical bills cost her everything she had eight years ago.

“I broke my back,” she said.

She doesn’t want her family to know she’s homeless, so NBC4 agreed not to reveal her identity.

“I lost everything I had,” she said. “I had nowhere else to go, so I went there.”

CSB provided individuals participating in the motel program with a list of 20 places they could go for affordable housing.

The NBC4 Investigates crew also called every place on the list: One number was disconnected, one turned out to be a scam, two were only for people over 65, one didn’t even offer public housing, and almost every other place we contacted had a waiting list of at least six months.

“What’s the point of filing an application in two years? We already did it,” said the woman, who asked not to be named.

For some patients, the waiting time for an appointment was more than three years.

The motel program is evaluated monthly based on funding and people in the program. Many fear the program will end before they find a safe place to call home.

“I’m kind of in limbo because I don’t know if they’re going to let me stay here or throw me back out on the street,” King said.

King now faces an additional obstacle: pending court proceedings and an arrest warrant that has barred her from applying for housing programs.

“I literally overcame every obstacle and hoop that was thrown at me,” King said.

King has open drug cases. She says she went to treatment and has been clean for several months, but she still can’t get into a housing program.

“I’m still stuck in the same situation,” King said.

She says she’s trying, but with the Columbus real estate market getting more and more expensive, trying just isn’t enough for her or anyone else looking for an affordable place to live.

“It really shouldn’t be this hard for someone to own their own home and feel safe and live a normal life, but I guess I’m just stuck,” King said.

Columbus City Council and Mayor Andrew Ginther say providing affordable housing is a priority for the city.

Ginther has put $104 million into this year’s proposed capital budget, but that’s for the future. People who are currently homeless say it’s a hopeless feeling as beds fill up and there’s no immediate solution in sight.

“We’re running out of housing,” Skovensky said. “You know, we see demand going up. We know that homelessness is going to continue to go up based on the two things that we talked about, which is rents going up and vacancy rates going down. So we’re committed to building more housing, at all costs.”

By meerna

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