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Columbus Spends 6% Of Its Budget On Development. Here’s Where That Money Is Going

Out of the cities with the highest population increases, several of them are similar sizes to Columbus, ranging from just over 700,000 to 960,000 residents. Among those include Austin, Seattle and Denver. Seattle saw the biggest increase of the three at 15,354 new residents in 2018. Comparatively, Columbus increased by 10,770 new folks.

Despite the similarities in growth and population size, Columbus, Austin, Seattle and Denver spend varied amounts on development, ranging from $60 million to $282 million per year.

Seattle spends the most with a whopping $282 million going toward neighborhoods and development in the 2020 budget proposal, which is 4.5 times what Columbus spends. That includes $124 million for housing.

Seattle’s housing crisis has been years in the making. In 2015, the mayor declared a state of emergency for homelessness caused by rising housing costs. The next year, he increased funding for housing for the crisis.

In more recent years, the affordable housing crisis has moved beyond affecting mostly lower-income residents to now affecting middle-income residents as well. Last month, KUOW — an NPR station out of Seattle — reported that a woman making $57,000 a year can’t afford to live in Seattle anymore. That’s $5,000 more than Columbus’ median income for a one-person household. More than 40 percent of middle-income folks in Seattle reported that housing costs were a burden, according to KUOW, and the median home price was “well above $700,000.”

Facing similar issues, Austin spends more than Columbus, but only about half of what Seattle is spending. Austin’s 2020 budget includes $49 million for economic development and $65 million for development services, totaling $114 million.

Denver spends less than Columbus at $66.7 million in the budget for 2020 for both the City and County, which includes economic development and community planning and development. They budgeted $49.2 million for the Department of Housing Stability and $533,057 for code enforcement.

To compare, Columbus alone budgeted $60.8 million for development, neighborhoods and zoning, and Franklin County budgeted $33 million. (That doesn’t include the separate “finances city-wide” budget that houses some development tax incentives). Denver’s population is close to Columbus’ but quite a bit less at 716,492 compared to 892,533 for Columbus.

Stephanie Karayannis Adams, director of budget management for the City and County of Denver, said spending on development has increased in the last decade, with much of that increase going toward affordable housing as Denver’s housing prices began to skyrocket. The city and county increased spending in development by about 44% in the last 10 years.

Austin has had similar issues with housing affordability and demand, and Denver has seen drastic increases in rents and home prices.

A quick look at regional comparison cities

Although Columbus is the only city in the Midwest to make the list of highest population increase, the City spends around similar amounts on development when compared to other regional cities such as Indianapolis.

For the City and County of Indianapolis, officials budgeted $91.5 million. The total for Columbus and Franklin County is $93.8 million. Indianapolis isn’t growing like Columbus, but the populations are similar in size at 872,680 residents.

However, Columbus spends much more than other major Ohio cities. Cincinnati budgeted $6 million for 2020, and Cleveland budgeted $2.5 million.

A city’s budget is only one show of how it delivers on promises and priorities, but it’s a pretty big financial display. Putting dollars behind major issues like housing affordability and equitable development can make all the difference between paying lip service to grand ideas versus fully addressing root issues.

For Columbus, the results will be put on display even more as officials pull back the curtain on their priorities by putting those dollars to use throughout the rest of the year.

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