MIXED-INCOME HOUSING | HOMEOWNERSHIP | HOUSING QUALITY
Historically, the Hilltop focus area contained housing for different income levels, though it was predominantly classified as a middle-class housing area.
In the 1930s, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) created a system of classifying residential areas that unfairly targeted minority and low-income neighborhoods and reduced access to mortgage financing. The HOLC was created by Congress in 1933 to refinance troubled mortgages to prevent foreclosures, and in 1935 “residential security maps” were created to indicate the safety level of real estate investment. Racially segregated, more affluent areas received the highest rating—green—while older and more racially integrated areas received the lowest rating—red. The red areas were considered the riskiest for mortgage support due to “inharmonious” inhabitants, which blocked many minorities and low-income borrowers from accessing home mortgages and business loans because the loans would not be guaranteed by the federal government. The term “redlining” refers to the practice of classifying certain areas as too risky for investment.
In a 1936 map, the Hilltop focus area contained three classifications of security risk: red (highest risk), yellow (declining), and blue (still desirable).
Comparative Historical Context. The Hilltop has historically been a working-class neighborhood, but residents previously earned living wages working in construction, plumbing, automotive technology, or manufacturing.
The median household income in the focus area was higher than the Franklin County average in each census until 1970. Thus, the 1960s were the last decade that the Hilltop’s median income surpassed the county average. Median income decreased significantly between 1970 and 1980 and continued to decline in the following decades.
The historic, sometimes stately, homes of the Hilltop were once of higher value than the county average, but that ended in 1960 and values swiftly began to decline. A large drop occurred between 1960 and 1970, as well as between 2010 and 2017. The chart to the right illustrates the price deviation of Hilltop owner-occupied homes from the county average from 1940 to 2017, adjusted for inflation. For example, the average price of a Hilltop home in 1940 was $4,328—compared to a county average of $4,179. Adjusted for inflation, $4,328 is about $79,000 today. The average Hilltop home in 1940 was selling for about 4% higher than the county average.
For more context, between 1960 and 1970 the median household income decreased and the poverty rate increased from 31% to 38%.
The Hilltop was a majority owner-occupied community through the 2010 U.S. Census. After that, rates of owner-occupied housing declined; today an average of 39% of households across the focus area are occupied by homeowners. While homeownership exceeds 50% in some census block groups, there are other areas where it is 30% or below. The street with the highest number of owner-occupied parcels in the focus area is Burgess, but the highest concentration of owner-occupied homes is in the far southwest of the focus area, in the Wilshire Heights subdivision. The area between Broad and Sullivant has a lower rate of owner-occupancy than north of Broad and south of Sullivant. Despite this, there are a number of owner-occupants between Broad and Sullivant, near Glenwood Park.
The Foreclosure Crisis
The foreclosure crisis hit the Hilltop hard as well. As one resident described the continuing fallout, “There’s a lot of dynamics going on… economy declined, middle class got slammed, mom lost job, dad got downsized, the spiral starts, there’s no way to catch up. Even now. … Tough for a lot of families. The fact that now it’s very difficult to get a loan… because you have to have money in the bank, good credit score.”
Source: Housing in the Hilltop: Creating a Baseline Typology to Guide Investment. Kirwan Institute Report. The Ohio State University. June 2015, Jason Reece, et al.
City Housing Programs. The City of Columbus’ Housing Division works to create decent, safe, and sanitary housing opportunities by collaborating with federal, state and local government housing agencies to target resources for neighborhood investment.
A thorough explanation of these programs can be found online:
Since 1995, Habitat for Humanity MidOhio has built about 40 homes in the Hilltop focus area. In addition, 17 residents have received home repair and rehabilitation services since 2015. Starting in 2021, Habitat is planning to construct a 12-home project in the focus area, enabling new families to call the Hilltop their home.
One of the Hilltop’s greatest assets is its historic housing stock, with 1929 as the average year a home was built. However, these historic homes also present challenges, especially for low-income residents. They can be expensive to maintain and can have components like lead paint and asbestos that are harmful to residents’ health and costly to remove. The median transfer year of 2007 indicates a high turnover rate for homes, where few have been owned long-term. An analysis of Franklin County Auditor transaction data found the average sale price of a single-family owner-occupied home to be about $55,000, after excluding values below $10,000. Renovated homes in the study area are on the market for much higher. Depending on the condition, homes on the upper end of the market may sell between $100,000 and $150,000. However, compared to the Columbus-area median home price of $220,000 in August 2019, homes in the Hilltop focus area are significantly less expensive.
Home quality is difficult to judge without interior inspection, but a team of graduate students at Ohio State University used visual assessments to create an analysis tool to estimate the investment required to improve the appearance of Hilltop homes. As part of the community planning studio in the City & Regional Planning section at the Knowlton School of Architecture, students then worked with the planning team to select areas for analysis and devise a system that would be useful to guide future investment decisions.
While housing quality grades from the Franklin County Auditor’s Office are available, those assessments are performed infrequently and through inspection of photographs. The students explored the neighborhood on foot, evaluating each segment of roadway to get a detailed understanding of the physical condition of each property.
Each property was evaluated based on multiple criteria:
Siding and facade
Yard and fence
Drive or pathway
The results of each visual inspection were combined to create a rating of 1 through 4, with one being the highest quality. Each property was assigned a monetary value of estimated repairs based on each evaluation. The highest cost was a property on North Wayne, estimated at $22,850 to repair. Overall, the area with the highest quality rating was the Hauntz Park area, with an average rating of 1.14 and a per- structure repair cost of just $678.
Students used the True Cost Guide offered by HomeAdvisor.com to estimate project costs. The Guide uses real costs from real home projects, includes local and national cost data, and daily updated project costs. The average costs are based on projects reported in that zip code, bringing the Hilltop-level data as close as possible to true estimates.
Code Enforcement Requests. City of Columbus Code Enforcement is responsible for enforcing the Housing Code, the Zoning Code, the Nuisance Abatement Code, the Health, Sanitation, and Safety (Environmental) Codes, the Graphics Code. Six years of code enforcement data on the Hilltop illustrate a high concentration of requests coming from the area just south of Glenview Park and north of West Broad Street. Generally speaking, the north of Broad section received a higher number of requests over the period analyzed.
Housing Quality Ratings. The Franklin County Auditor uses alpha-numeric property grades for the application of an estimated new construction cost, indicating the quality of construction of a dwelling or commercial property. This rating has no bearing on a property’s condition, as that is a separate rating. At right shows a vast majority of properties rated “average,” followed by “below average.” The southwest corner of the focus area—Wilshire Heights—has many properties rated “above average.” There were no structures rated superior, excellent, outstanding, or very good in the focus area.
The Hilltop is considered one of the most affordable neighborhoods in Columbus, with a median gross rent of nearly
$100 less than the county average. In online rental listings for Hilltop properties, a three-bedroom house on Clarendon
Avenue was listed for $700/month in July 2019—but also offered no appliances and would not accept housing vouchers,
evictions within the past five years, or a history of violent felony convictions. Finding housing, as this demonstrates, is about more than simply being able to afford the rent.
Renters Spending >50% of Income on Housing
With few subsidized housing developments and a low rate of housing voucher use, most of the housing in the Hilltop is market-rate. Much of this market-rate housing could be considered “naturally occuring affordable housing,” or residential rental properties that maintain low rents without federal subsidy. Typically, naturally occurring affordable housing tends to be older, less well cared for, and/or not in the most desirable neighborhoods compared with the housing that is only accessible to higher income families . However, general trends toward urban living may impact affordability in the future. In a recent profile of “house flipping, “ the 43204 zip code—which includes parts of the Hilltop—was identified as an area with increasing activity .
1. Rachel Quednau, “17 Head-Scratcher Housing Terms.” Strong Towns, April 3, 2018.
2. Jim Weiker, "Tight central Ohio housing market fuels surge in property ‘flipping.’" Columbus Dispatch. June 29, 2019.
Median Gross Rent, 2017
Hilltop Focus Area
City of Columbus
Over the years, the sale price point of Hilltop homes in relation to the county average has declined substantially. When historic Hilltop homes were new, they sold for amounts that would attract middle to upper-middle class families. But as housing stock aged and new areas developed, the relative attractiveness of Hilltop homes began to decline. Trends of suburbanization, white flight, and concentrated poverty also took root in urban areas—leaving the neighborhood's property devalued.
The three examples shown here illustrate the journey of these homes from sales in the 1960s to their most recent sales. The sale price is considered in relation to the median income of the Hilltop area in both time periods. The results demonstrate that these houses' values once significantly exceeded the median income. Even though median income was relatively higher then than it is now, the houses were worth much more. Two of the houses sold in 2017 for only a fraction of their 1960s selling price, whereas the one on North Oakley Avenue actually sold for more.
For the examples on Lechner and Woodbury, however, the inflation-adjusted cost of the homes in 2019 is more than the 2017 sale price, showing that the value of some Hilltop homes has not kept up with inflation—indicating they would not have been a good tool to build equity and generational wealth, as housing can often be.
While the Hilltop may have housing options affordable to a range of incomes and median rents below the city and county averages, that does not necessarily mean that everyone in the neighborhood has stable housing. According to the Affordable Housing Alliance of Central Ohio, a worker in 2017 in Franklin County would have to earn $17.04 an hour to afford the market rent of $886 for a two-bedroom apartment— more than double the minimum wage. The burden of housing cost is disproportionately in households with lower incomes. Just 2 of the 10 most common jobs in Ohio pay enough for a worker to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment .
Low wages are just one factor in a tenant’s inability to pay rent, which can lead to eviction. Within the Hilltop focus area, there were 1,011 evictions filed in 2017 alone. Out of 4,205 renter-occupied households in the focus area, 25% experienced eviction in one year .
1. Rita Price, "Report: Most-common Ohio jobs don’t pay enough to cover rent." Columbus Dispatch. June 13, 2018.
2. Stephanie Casey Pierce, doctoral student, Glenn College, Ohio State University, 2019.
Homelessness. According to data from the Community Shelter Board, the Hilltop area zip codes have a high representation in emergency shelter provided by the organization. The figures increased significantly between 2014 and 2016 for these zip codes, indicating that housing insecurity is likely a major problem in the focus area.
CURRENT TENANT SUPPORT PROGRAMS & RESOURCES
Each day in Franklin County about 75 families face eviction and 30-40 come to court needing legal advice or representation—indicating a critical need for eviction prevention and legal representation. There are two primary sources of assistance for tenants facing eviction, in addition to informational resources. First are financial resources from government entities. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) offers the Prevention Retention Contingency (PRC) program to households receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits. The PRC program offers services like one-time emergency rental funds and security deposit assistance, and gives tenants a county representative at court. The second primary option for assistance is from the nonprofit sector. Community Mediation Services is a nonprofit providing landlord–tenant mediation both inside and outside of the courthouse. Additionally, the Legal Aid Society of Columbus provides legal services to tenants and offers a daily onsite clinic outside the eviction courtroom through the Tenant Advocacy Program (TAP). The TAP program is staffed by two attorneys and supplemented by non-lawyer volunteers.
Without providing direct legal representation, the Coalition on Housing and Homelessness in Ohio offers tenant advocacy and information on tenant–landlord law for people across the state. Their informational services help tenants understand the process for retrieving security deposits, filing rent in escrow, and going through the small claims court process.
The Columbus Women’s Commission is focusing efforts on improving the judicial eviction process in Franklin County and is interested in making changes such as requiring landlords to be present for hearings and coordinating the eviction prevention response across agencies.
The Columbus Urban League (CUL) Financial Services program improves asset-building options by providing housing counseling and financial capability services. As a HUD–approved housing agency, CUL provides counseling and mediation between landlords and tenants to resolve conflicts and prevent homelessness; fair housing education; and the investigation of potential housing discrimination complaints. In addition, individuals in need of emergency assistance can submit a PRC application on site, which is then submitted to ODJFS.
With funding from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency and others, CelebrateOne developed the Healthy Beginnings at Home (HBAH) pilot, a partnership between the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority, CelebrateOne, and the Homeless Families Foundation. HBAH provides rental assistance and wrap-around services to 50 Medicaid-enrolled pregnant women in unstable housing situations, with the goal of improving perinatal outcomes among women experiencing housing instability.
An analysis of Franklin County Municipal Court eviction filings shows that the Hilltop focus area is a major hot spot in the county for evictions. In fact, of the geographies analyzed, it showed the highest rate when compared to selected area commission boundaries. The extent and frequency of eviction in the focus area illustrate the impact of housing instability and reflect the state of crisis in which many families exist.
In the year 2000, the focus area had just 493 evictions, there was a major increase from 2000 to 2017. Unsurprisingly, the map of evictions filed in Franklin County illustrates that neighborhoods with higher rates of crime, poorly-rated schools, vacant homes, lower educational attainment, and lower median income also show higher rates of eviction. These neighborhoods include the Hilltop, Linden, the Near East Side, and the South Side.
Unlike other Columbus neighborhoods, the Hilltop did not historically have public housing or neighborhoods classified as “slums” during the urban renewal era of the 1960s. In recent decades, however, subsidized housing has moved toward a voucher system and away from directly providing shelter. Selected recipients may apply a voucher to their housing costs if the unit is approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and if the property owner chooses to accept payment by voucher. An analysis of Housing Choice Vouchers (the most common type of voucher) shows that 9% of rental housing in the Hilltop focus area is paid for using the voucher, compared to 19% in South Linden and 14% on the Near East Side.
Other subsidized housing includes projects that receive tax credits for development. One major program for home construction was the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, and another is the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC). In the Hilltop, projects funded with these tools have been scattered throughout the neighborhood in the form of smaller apartment buildings and single-family houses. One exception is the new Wheatland Crossing building and additional planned construction at the site on the east side of Wheatland Avenue north of Broad Street. Scattered-site homes have been constructed by non profit organizations like Homeport, Habitat for Humanity, and Homes on the Hill. These homes come with income restrictions for buyers and may eventually return to the open real estate market.
In the map above, data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development shows the rate of Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV) used in each census tract, with the most recent data being December 2018. The HCV program is the federal government’s chief program for assisting very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market. Since housing assistance is provided on behalf of the voucher recipient, participants find their own housing, including single-family homes, townhouses, and apartments. Participants are free to choose any housing that meets the requirements of the program and is not limited to units located in subsidized housing projects, but property owners are also free to reject tenants using a HCV. This leads to a concentration of HCV use in areas where landlords choose to allow voucher occupants.
The HCV location map shows that many areas have less than 10 vouchers. But certain tracts show a much higher rate of voucher use—like the Deshler Park area near Alum Creek Drive. The Hilltop focus area shows rates from below 5% up to 20%, with higher rates between Broad and Sullivant. Affordable housing developments are also shown in red circles, using location data from the National Housing Preservation Database. This inventory of federally assisted rental housing in the U.S. is one of the only comprehensive sources of federally subsidized housing data. The largest concentration of projects can be observed on the Near East Side, between I-670 and I-70, just east of I-71. The Hilltop focus area has been the recipient of just a handful of federally-subsidized housing projects, according to the data.
The map below shows the rate of households waiting to receive housing vouchers from the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) as of May 2019 by zip code. One Hilltop focus area zip code, 43223, shows a rate of 15% to 25%, indicating a high need for housing support.
REAL ESTATE CONDITIONS
The real estate market in the Hilltop focus area is distressed, but not inactive. An analysis of 268 dwellings sold in the focus area from June through August 2019 shows that 47 were single-family owner-occupied parcels with transaction amounts above $0). Of these 47 parcels, 16 are now owned by limited liability corporations (LLCs). The parcels with the five highest sale prices are shown in the table below. Four of these are south of Broad, while one is north. In general, home prices for owner-occupied structures in the focus area have been higher north of Broad and south of Sullivant.
Rental Registration: Residential rental property, except for hotels or college dormitories, must be registered with the Franklin County Auditor as required by Ohio Revised Code Section 5323.02. The owner(s) of residential rental property must file their name, address, and phone number with the county auditor within 60 days of property transfer or property tax bill receipt, or when any information changes. An owner outside Ohio must designate an individual who resides in the state as a contact. Failure to comply with the initial filing or updating of the information is considered a violation of the law, and each property is then subject to fines of $150 per tax year.
In the Hilltop focus area, there are 1,347 unique phone numbers of rental registration contacts. Phone numbers are used as a proxy for names due to formatting discrepencies in names. The data also show 3,439 registered rental units, with the average parcel being constructed in 1929 and having a quality rating of Average (C-1) out of 31 possible ratings from Superior to Poor by the county auditor.
Building Permit Activity: One way to assess investment in the residential real estate market is by analyzing permits filed by property owners to make interior and exterior alterations to structures. Remodeling and routine maintenance of systems like electrical and plumbing require permits, which include an estimated cost of the work that is to be done. The Non-Demolition Residential Permit map above illustrates substantial investment in focus area properties by owners in 2017 and 2018. The map does not show a specific geographic area of focus, potentially demonstrating that investment is relatively even throughout the neighborhood.
Residential demolition permits, however, show somewhat of a concentration between Broad and Sullivant, though not an overwhelming one. Data for five years illustrates the scale of demolition experienced in the focus area. In fact, the area has one of the highest number of homes demolished in the city between 2014 and 2018.
The median price of a home in Central Ohio rose to a record $220,000 in August 2019, up from $205,000 in August 2018 and a full $50,000 above the median price in July 2015. Typical homes sold after just 23 days on the market and sold for more than 98% of their asking prices. 
“Falling mortgage rates are improving housing affordability and nudging buyers into the market,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist with the National Association of Realtors. However, he added that the supply of affordable housing is severely low. “The shortage of lower-priced homes has markedly pushed up home prices" .
Housing Supply: Despite the Hilltop being primarily a neighborhood of single-family homes, well over half of the households in the Hilltop focus area are renters, and the proportion of renter-occupied units continues to increase, indicating that a single-family rental home is, in many ways, its own housing typology. Given affordability challenges for many existing residents, maintaining a quality rental home supply will be a major component to any future housing strategy. In addition to the single-family housing stock, there are also a number of market-rate and affordable apartment properties as well as rental townhomes. Though site capacity is limited for new multi-family construction in the focus area, maintaining the existing supply will further support the housing needs of low- and moderate-income households as well as those seeking quality market-rate rental options that are still affordable to working households.
Part of the challenge with the existing housing stock is its age—approximately 85% was built before 1960—and the fact that many properties have accumulated considerable deferred maintenance or have reached obsolescence. This is especially challenging in low-income areas where owners do not have the incomes to adequately maintain their properties. Developing programs to invest in the existing stock will be critical.
The Larger Columbus Housing Market. Zillow, a real estate and rental marketplace based in Seattle, offers recent housing data for the Columbus market. According to Zillow data, the median home value in Columbus is $157,900 (August 2019). Home values in the city have gone up 7.3% over the past year, and Zillow predicts they will rise 3.6% within the next year. The median listing price per square foot in the City of Columbus is $133, which is lower than the Columbus Metropolitan Area average of $137. The median price of homes currently listed in the city is $189,900 while the median price of homes that sold is $161,100. The median rent price in the city is $1,295, which is lower than the Columbus Metropolitan Area median of $1,350. According to the most recent U.S. Census data, the median gross rent in the Hilltop focus area is $809 per month.
Foreclosure Crisis. The Hilltop (as well as the nation) experienced a rapid decline in homeownership and increase in rentership as a result of the Great Recession and the foreclosure crisis. While both owner-occupied and renter-occupied housing play important roles in people’s lives, neighborhoods, and our economy, a strong base of engaged and committed homeowners is an asset for a neighborhood’s stability. This is perhaps especially true of a neighborhood like the focus area, which is dominated by single-family housing (85% of all units).
With the closure of major nearby employers, the Hilltop had been in a state of decline prior to the Great Recession, which was further exacerbated by the foreclosure crisis. From 2010 to 2012, the Hilltop had a foreclosure rate of 13%, far exceeding the county rate (6%), and a high-cost mortgage rate of 56%, which further displaced residents, leaving hundreds of homes vacant or abandoned. This also led to a drastic change in the rate of homeownership in the focus area, dropping from 56% in 2010 to 46% in 2017, a loss of more than 1,000 owner-occupied units.
In the Hilltop focus area, there were 1,190 parcels classified as tax delinquent as of August 2019. Of these, 123 parcels have tax delinquencies from before 2016. This amounts to about $1.8 million in tax delinquency in the focus area.
Tax Delinquency. The Ohio Revised Code permits the Franklin County Treasurer to collect delinquent real property taxes by selling tax-lien certificates in exchange for payment of the entire delinquency. All eligible tax-lien certificates are bundled together and sold as part of a single portfolio. The Treasurer’s liens are transferred to the purchaser, who is entitled to recover the purchase price and accruing interest. All properties with delinquent taxes are eligible to be sold at the tax-lien certificate sale, but the property may not already be set for a sheriff sale, be in bankruptcy, already have a tax contract, be tax exempt, or have a pending tax exemption application. In the Hilltop focus area, nearly 1,200 parcels are tax delinquent. The average parcel tax delinquency amount is $1,556. Of the delinquent parcels, 89 are receiving a homestead exemption, a tax reduction program restricted to lower-income seniors and disabled veterans.
Regional Context. Much like many regions, cities, and neighborhoods with a workforce reliant on well-paying manufacturing jobs, the closure of major employers can leave workers with little to no formal education without access to comparable opportunities. The closure of the White-Westinghouse Plant in the late 1990s and the Delphi Plant in the late 2000s represented a loss of thousands of jobs, many of which had been held by Hilltop residents. Coupled with the decline of Westland Mall, this led to several decades of population loss.
The socioeconomic conditions of the existing community present significant housing-related challenges, since many households face considerable barriers to economic opportunity. The weak housing market and deteriorating neighborhood conditions are functions of the limited income potential of many existing households. Many households can only afford subsidized or substandard housing, and many property owners do not have the incomes (or cannot charge high enough rents) to adequately maintain their properties.
Comparing the Hilltop to the peer neighborhoods of Southern Orchards, Franklinton, Downtown, and Linden demonstrates the distress of the Hilltop housing market in context.
The median household income for the focus area is considerably lower than the medians for the city and region. Nearly one-third of focus area households earn less than $25,000 annually, which severely limits housing choice. Many of these households live in substandard housing; this is often the only affordable option.
Hilltop’s median income is lower than the city average, but is generally positioned above other peer neighborhoods, including Franklinton, Downtown, Linden, and Southern Orchards. However, based on recent sales and housing value projections, the Hilltop is trailing its peer neighborhoods, indicating that other neighborhoods are in higher demand (or have better perceived trajectories for homebuyers).
Housing Demand. Demand for housing in a given neighborhood often comes from a number of “demand segments,” which consist of existing residents and new residents moving to the area. Generally, the needs of these segments are different—many existing residents need access to quality affordable housing, while new residents expect efforts to vastly improve the conditions and marketability of the neighborhood as a whole. For the Hilltop to be successful and economically sustainable, it will need to address the housing needs of both segments.
Though years of population losses have created excess capacity in the focus area, given the socioeconomic challenges of the community, across-the-board investments are needed in people, places, and housing. Considering the needs of existing residents on the Hilltop is critical. From a housing perspective, quantifying the number of households by affordability levels can inform the market prices needed to address existing demand. Meeting demand for most households will require some level of subsidy, and understanding the number of households by affordability range can help inform the potential amount of subsidy needed.
With approximately 1,900 vacant units and more than 170 vacant lots in the focus area, there is also capacity and need to attract new residents. Who are the potential new residents? Using segmentation data that combines consumer and neighborhood preferences with demographic data, household profiles were identified for potential demand. These groups were identified as working-class and middle-class family households. However, without significant improvements related to crime, neighborhood conditions, and housing stock, many households would likely not seek out housing options in the focus area. In other words, in the near or even mid-term future, these groups were deemed too aspirational to be a viable demand pool.
The segmentation analysis was further expanded to include potential “urban pioneer” households that are younger, prefer urban neighborhoods, and would be willing to take a risk and purchase starter homes in the focus area. It was determined that the Hilltop is still behind other emerging neighborhoods in terms of desirability. As other urban core neighborhoods continue to evolve and property values increase, creating more barriers to entry, only then will the Hilltop become “the next” neighborhood. Therefore, this segment of demand would only be viable in the long-term.