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Health & Recreation

Guiding Principle
Every person deserves unrestricted access to high-quality physical, mental, and emotional wellness, including addiction treatment, primary care, and recreational activities.


Resident Priorities

  1. Drug addiction and trafficking

  2. Mental health

  3. Financial wellness

  4. Infant mortality

  5. Primary care

Statement of Need

With lower life expectancy, higher rates of chronic disease, and a substantial number of households more than a 10-minute walk from a park, the Hilltop focus area requires interventions to improve resident quality of life. These should include physical improvements to the built environment as well as policy and program steps that will lead to a healthier population, both physically and emotionally.

Goal 1: Improve conditions, amenities, programs, and access to parks and community centers.


While community centers and parks exist in the Hilltop focus area, there is an opportunity to better align programs and improve physical access and amenities in order to encourage residents to take advantage of these important assets.

Action Steps


Expand and standardize hours at recreation centers. Irregular hours throughout the week and across seasons can be confusing for residents. Consistency of programs and regular and extensive communication are critical to allowing Hilltoppers to make the best use of their community centers. From mid-August to early June, both Glenwood and Holton Community Centers are open only Monday through Friday, from 9am to 6pm. Without weekend hours, many in the neighborhood are left without safe and productive activities—and summer hours are even more abbreviated. Consideration should be given to offering some hours 7 days a week and aligning hours between the two community centers to the extent possible.


Improve Wrexham, Glenwood, and Holton Parks. The three primary parks north of Sullivant can become neighborhood gems, similar to Westgate Park. Wrexham is hidden from view, and changes should be made to increase visibility and public access. Vacant lots owned by the city along Belvidere and Lechner could be used to gain street visibility and add access points. Glenwood, as the gateway park occupying the Hilltop’s namesake bluff, requires substantial improvements to clear overgrowth. Holton, featuring the meandering Dry Run and scenic topography, has the potential to be a major draw for homebuyers north of Broad if water quality and safety are improved.


Increase access to programs. Provision of transportation to recreation centers should be considered to accommodate those who may lack a vehicle, are afraid of walking alone, or have mobility issues. For a growing senior population and disengaged youth, community centers are a lifeline to safety and socialization. 


 Options 7 days a week 

 More engaged youth 

 More connected seniors 

Goal 2: Address the impact of substance abuse on family and community.


Substance abuse affects more than just users. Friends, family, and community also experience the impacts of addiction. Programs and resources to address addiction and its repercussions should be offered.

Action Steps


Focus on addiction prevention, harm reduction, and treatment. Reduce the supply and availability of illicit drugs by continuing to target distribution, both on the street and in homes. Continue and expand harm reduction strategies, like needle exchanges, to prevent the spread of communicable diseases. Improve pipeline into inpatient treatment and availability of beds at nearby facilities. Current programs include SafePoint (a hybrid exchange program) and Columbus Public Health’s Operation Red Box syringe disposal locations.


Empower people to escape sex work and human trafficking. Increase grassroots street outreach and invest in on-the-ground organizations that are building relationships with victims. Offer supportive housing options to victims escaping trafficking.


Provide more support services for families who lose people to addiction, such as guardianship options for substance use disorder and intensive case management. Children who lose parents to substance abuse disorder may be left to relatives or enter the foster care system. In either case, resources should go to caring for the child. Financial resources should be directed to next-of-kin who are providing guardianship through kinship arrangements, along with support services and respite care that are offered to foster families. This will help ensure that children remain stable in kinship arrangements, preventing burnout and frustration for guardians that ultimately risks the interruption of the child’s placement once more.


 Less kids in foster care/kinship 

 Reduced prostitution 

Goal 3: Increase access to mental, physical, and financial wellness opportunities.


Many Hilltop residents experience difficult situations that can negatively impact aspects of their lives. Resources should be improved to help people address these obstacles.

Action Steps


Expand access to trauma and mental health treatment. Offer regular screenings for mental, behavioral, and emotional health for students and parents at schools in the focus area. Continue and expand mobile outreach at schools, libraries, and recreation centers to bring healthcare to more people.


Increase access to primary care and physical wellness options. Increase evening and weekend hours for primary care physicians. Encourage urgent care centers to open in the Hilltop focus area. Consider incentives or partnerships with healthcare organizations to improve availability in low-income neighborhoods like the Hilltop. Urgent care centers are typically located in higher-income areas.


Offer financial coaching, savings incentives, and credit score assistance. Financial instability can be highly detrimental to families. Making coaching services more widely available could help individuals get back on track. Using an incentive system, classes and education can simultaneously increase financial understanding and capacity. Franklinton Urban Empowerment Lab (FUEL) offers a paid money management class for residents of zip codes 43222, 43223, and 43204. Residents can earn up to $252 from taking the six-week class. Programs like this can also offer Individual Savings Accounts which can provide additional funds with partnerships from contributing institutions. Programs should be offered in the Hilltop focus area at central locations during accessible hours.


The Columbus CARE Coalition goes door-to-door after shootings, a practice that should continue and expand. The group knocks on doors to see if residents need to be connected to therapy or other resources.


 Improved credit scores 

 Less emergency room visits 


 Case Study 

In Baltimore, a mobile van offers medication-assisted treatment options for people addicted to opioids.

Since November 2017, clients of the Behavioral Health Leadership Institute’s Buprenorphine Van have been able to walk in, unscheduled, and get started on medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction. The van, funded by private foundations, does not require ID or any insurance. Connecting people to care and subsequent long-term treatment through other providers is the primary goal. Because addiction treatment centers still cannot meet demand in Baltimore, the van meets people in their own neighborhoods to provide care.

Treatment centers frequently tie specific requirements to their services — like invasive tests, group therapy, or arduous zero-tolerance rules — due to either their own rules or government regulations. Even the stabilization center funded by the City of Baltimore, which is supposed to expand access to care, doesn’t allow walk-ins.

And unlike many treatment centers, clients who relapse aren’t kicked out of care at the Buprenorphine Van. Instead, they are offered support to get through the backslide without requirements for specific therapies in addition to the medication-assisted treatment. This approach is called “low-threshold” — a philosophy that makes it easy for people to receive the necessary treatment.

“There are plenty of high-threshold options, but not enough low-threshold options,” one healthcare professional said about Baltimore. “If you had a functioning system, it would be very low-threshold.”

Source: German Lopez. “The opioid epidemic is increasingly killing black Americans. Baltimore is ground zero.” Vox Media. April 1, 2019. 


 Recent Initiative 

Columbus Awarded Competitive Grant to Create Financial Empowerment Strategy for Women and Families

The City of Columbus wants to provide women and families a pathway out of poverty. In July 2019, the City received a $20,000 CityStart grant from the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund (CFE Fund) to create a sustainable roadmap for financial stability and empowerment. Columbus is one of seven cities selected for the intensive 6-9 month technical assistance engagement using an approach that combines local priorities, community input, and industry insight to craft an action plan or “blueprint.” It draws on CFE’s extensive work with government leaders in more than 80 cities. The goal is to connect on-the-ground insight about the impact of financial instability on Columbus’s communities and municipal budget with strategies to improve families’ financial lives.

With the support of the CFE Fund, Columbus will craft its municipal financial blueprint and identify implementation steps based on resident needs, key city priorities, and partnership opportunities. Plan development will be based on briefings with key stakeholders and a boot camp that brings together key local constituencies. Previous CFE Fund cities have created blueprints outlining their vision for integrating financial empowerment efforts within local government.

“Cities control a host of policies, programs, and funding streams that can transform the lives of residents with low incomes on a large scale. Across the nation, more and more city leaders are turning to innovative financial empowerment strategies to improve the financial stability of their residents,” said Jonathan Mintz, president and CEO of the CFE Fund. CityStart cities have historically leveraged their engagement with CFE to further their commitment to this work.

Learn more online at

Visionary Concepts


Increase funding for immediate stabilization of victims, including transitional housing options.

In Baltimore, a mobile van offers medication-assisted treatment options for people addicted to opioids.

Hilltop residents dealing with substance use disorder should be able to quickly connect with treatment somewhere accessible. On the South Side, Maryhaven opened the Addiction Stabilization Center (MASC) for opioid addiction. The secure treatment facility is open 24 hours a day and accepts anyone from Franklin County following an overdose, without requiring insurance or ability to pay. Five of the 57 beds are for people who have recently suffered an overdose, while others are set aside for the detox and treatment phases. In Franklin County, 10 to 15 people overdose on opioids daily. Maryhaven worked with the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County and other supporters to develop the $7 million project. In the first nine months after opening, MASC admitted 30 pregnant women who had no previous medical care; in total it saw over 1,100 people—of whom about 1,000 received treatment. 

Creating a facility similar to MASC on the west side in close proximity to the Hilltop focus area would be beneficial for treating substance use disorder and facilitating detox. The facility could be coupled with intensive case management services for the whole family unit, not just the patient. After being released from the facility, those without safe housing circumstances should be provided with options for temporary shelter.



Leverage the meandering Dry Run stream to feature the Hilltop’s natural amenities and offer educational programs.

Municipal investments in the flow of Dry Run will occur in 2020 with a new pipe installation near where the stream crosses Hague Avenue. With improved water quality from this infrastructure project, the stream can become a focal point of the Hilltop. Supported by programming from local institutions, an interpretive exhibit trail could feature the ecology of the stream and encourage youth to explore nature. The creek extends for over a mile from the Village of Valleyview to I-70, through state land and Rhodes Park. A portion of the stream could become a guided trail with signage and exhibits illustrating flora and fauna of the creek and Scioto watershed and highlighting the flow of waterways. Infrastructure could include boardwalks, benches, lighting, and signage. Children in school or after-school programs could explore the site as part of experiential learning opportunities.

Education & Schools

Guiding Principle

All pre–K to high school aged children will be prepared for living wage jobs in diverse opportunities by integrating workforce development with academic and vocational experience. 


Resident Priorities

  1. Parent engagement

  2. High school graduation

  3. Vocational training

  4. Kindergarten readiness

  5. Divided school boundaries

Statement of Need

Residents of the Hilltop focus area have lower rates of educational attainment than the Franklin County average—and socioeconomic barriers contribute to this high figure. Strategies should help lower these barriers by offering stabilizing wraparound services, increasing the rate of Hilltop children in high-quality childcare, and improving K–12 educational completion.

Goal 4: Position schools as community hubs and expand on-site wraparound services.


In distressed neighborhoods like the Hilltop, children need more than just education. Resources must be directed to addressing out-of-school problems that prevent children from learning and advancing while in school. Resources for parents and families are also critical, using a holistic approach that respects the family unit.

Action Steps


Offer support services for parents and adults. To effectively support their children, parents may also need support and direction. If schools offer programs to parents and adults like high school completion and workforce skill-building, it would give parents another reason to ensure children arrive at school on-time and ready for the day. An on-site laundry facility can give parents another reason to come to school. Adult education and resources for the entire family can help position the school as central to life on the Hilltop, not simply a place for children.


Host and facilitate community events that build trust and relationships between school and community. Ease the distinction between school and neighborhood by removing barriers to using school buildings for events, like fees and bureaucracy. Public schools should be open and accessible to neighbors by hosting special events to help support students and build community pride.


Offer clinical resources for mental and physical health, including dental and vision. While clinics may be present in other parts of the neighborhood, locating clinics inside schools can have a profound impact on access for students. By co-locating critical services on a school campus, the transportation barrier is removed for families to receive important care. Immediate issues that students face, like not being able to see the board without glasses, can be corrected on-site to have instant resolution rather than potentially weeks later—or never—if left unsupported.


Offer a comprehensive program for parent engagement. Many parents or guardians need support in order to fully support their children. Professional navigators should be made available to schools, perhaps a social worker, to connect parents to resources. This role would improve the quality of life for students by stabilizing their home lives and families, and connecting them to all resources and programs for which they are eligible. Parents can also be engaged through mobile apps and incentive programs that encourage school and teacher interaction. 


 Improved student health 

 More events in schools 

Goal 5: Increase pre-K enrollment and improve childcare quality.


In distressed neighborhoods like the Hilltop, children need more than just education. Resources must be directed to addressing out-of-school problems that prevent children from learning and advancing while in school. Resources for parents and families are also critical, using a holistic approach that respects the family unit.

Action Steps


Build a pre-K center on the Hilltop. Work with partners to construct an integrated hub for education and wraparound services near Highland Elementary. Research shows that money invested in pre–K education produces many more jobs than spending the same amount on business tax incentives [1].


Co-locate and coordinate wraparound services for families. The education focus group was adamant that external factors students face significantly impact their ability to learn in the classroom. Wraparound services address these barriers so students can effectively participate in the learning process. Similarly, support services for parents and families can improve the home environment, creating more stability and safety at home that will benefit students and their ability to perform in the classroom. Examples of wraparound services include: laundry facilities, counseling, medical care (including vision/dental), and social work case management.


Engage, educate, and inform parents. According to the education providers interviewed, connecting with parents can be a challenge on the Hilltop. With changing phone numbers, variable work schedules, and often multiple adults caring for children, knowing who to contact about student achievements or challenges can be difficult. Improving this communication channel is critical to student success. Efforts to strengthen community should occur in tandem with parent education and information about other services offered by the school or partner groups.


Released in 2017, the Hilltop Early Childhood Partnership report offered five primary recommendations: (1) Simplify the message, (2) Launch a public awareness campaign, (3) Launch a parents-as-teachers initiative, (4) Facilitate Step Up To Quality ratings for providers, and (5) Create a hub to increase pre-K capacity. See appendix for more details.


 More children in pre-K 

 More events in schools 

Goal 6: Improve college and career readiness.


Preparing youth for their next steps after high school is paramount to community stability and economic mobility. Increasing graduation rates and focusing on skill-building help students prepare for a range of careers.

Action Steps


Align after-school and summer programming with academic experiences. Programs that offer academic enrichment after school during the school year and throughout the summer should work carefully to align curricula with what children are learning in Columbus City Schools classrooms. This will help ensure consistency for children and reduce confusion.


Increase 4-year high school graduation rate. Census data shows that about 3,500 adults older than 25 have not completed high school in the Hilltop focus area. Students with attendance problems in their freshman year should be addressed immediately with wraparound support to students and families. Use summer for academic remediation with incentives for completion.


Reduce high school dropouts. Current data shows there are 122 students between the ages of 16 and 19 who are not enrolled in high school in the focus area, which classifies them as having dropped out. If students are dropping out to pursue employment to financially support families, they could potentially complete high school non-traditionally with after-hours classes. Support and wraparound services could be more concentrated around dropouts to stabilize lives and encourage high school completion.


Columbus City Schools works to ensure that each student is highly educated, prepared for leadership and service, and empowered for success as a citizen in a global community.


 Increased graduation rate 

 Less dropouts 

 Higher participation in summer programming 


 Case Study 

The Oyler School, a Cincinnati Public School, offers more than just education to its students. A slate of wraparound services help ensure that children are prepared to learn.

The Oyler School is a facility in the Cincinnati Public School District serving pre-school through high school. It was founded in 1901 in the Lower Price Hill neighborhood, an area with a strong Appalachian heritage. Lower Price Hill currently experiences high levels of poverty (over half of families are below the federal poverty line), drug abuse, and gun violence. As a result, the high school graduation rate was below 36% in 2010. To combat issues facing the Lower Price Hill community, the Oyler School became a community learning center (CLC) in 2012—complete with a $21 million renovation. Community Learning Centers acknowledge the vital link between schools and communities by serving as hubs for community services. Oyler provides a system of integrated partnerships that promote academic excellence and offer recreational, educational, social, health, civic, and cultural opportunities for students, families, and the community. The Oyler School is considered a one-stop shop and offers services from 5:30am to 10:30pm. These services include a vision clinic, medical clinic, food services, childcare services, and services to help combat homelessness. Since Oyler became a CLC there has been an increase in test scores, school attendance, and the four-year graduation rate. During the 2006-2007 school year, before Oyler became a CLC, it received a designation of academic emergency. Zero of 24 standards were met and the performance index was 63%. In its first year as a CLC three of the 24 standards were met, attendance rose to 96%, and the performance index was 84%. In 2019, Oyler received the prestigious AdvancED Accreditation Distinction, an award based on examining a school’s programs, high school student performance data, attendance, and community engagement.



 Research Shows 

Certain indicators can help identify students at risk of not graduating high school. With community support, schools can take steps to help improve graduation rates.

1. Make use of proven early-warning indicators. Freshmen who are on track to graduate—earning no more than one F in a core course per semester and accumulating sufficient credits to advance to sophomore year—are four times more likely to graduate than students who are off-track.

2. Focus on attendance data. Attendance is the precursor to engagement, learning, academic success, and graduation. The consortium found that each week of absence per semester in 9th grade is associated with a more than 20 percentage-point decline in the probability of graduating from high school.

3. Embrace collective responsibility for academic success. At the K-12 University of Chicago Charter School, which in 2015-2016 had an attendance rate of 97%  at one campus, educators created charts of attendance and highlighted attendance’s importance at assemblies and announcements.

4. Raise the bar to “Bs or better.” Ninety-five percent of students who earn Bs or better and have a GPA of 3.0 in 9th grade go on to graduate from high school. With a C average, however, the rate slips to 72 percent.

5. Foster supportive relationships to ease transitions. The transition from middle grades to high school can be tough. In high school, it’s easier to skip class and harder to figure out how to get help with coursework.

6. Assess and refine disciplinary practices. African-American students, students with low test scores, and vulnerable students with a history of abuse and neglect receive out-of-school suspensions at higher rates than their peers.

Source: John Gomperts & Jenny Nagaoka. “Six Ways to Improve High School Graduation Rates. March 27, 2017.

Visionary Concepts


The new pre-K center on the Hilltop will bring high-quality early childhood education and wraparound services to the neighborhood.

Research confirms that high-quality pre-kindergarten is highly beneficial to children, but many low-income children don’t have access to programs. The federal government spends $10 billion yearly on the Head Start program to provide early-childhood education for poorer families, but that covers just 33% of eligible children.1 One study in New Jersey found that expanding pre-K access reduced the achievement gap for disadvantaged students by as much as 40% if they went for two years. At the 2017 State of the City Address, Mayor Ginther announced the creation of the Hilltop Early Childhood Partnership to double the number of Hilltop children enrolled in quality early learning programs by 2020. One of the recommendations was to develop an early learning facility on the Hilltop to increase the capacity of quality programs. To make this a reality, the City of Columbus will be investing over $14 million to build a state-of-the-art pre-K center.2 Additionally, Borror Companies CEO Doug Borror’s family foundation has committed $1 million to an operating endowment to ensure the center’s sustainability. More money will be raised through a partnership with Michael Redd, managing partner at Wave Innovation Group. The collaboration, which includes the Boys & Girls Club of Central Ohio and Columbus City Schools, will result in work beginning on this new facility in 2020.  This new early learning center will be built in the middle of the Hilltop—directly adjacent to Highland Elementary and the J. Ashburn Boys & Girls Club—to provide early education and wraparound services to approximately 240 children. This unique partnership will create an educational campus, allowing all three organizations to share space and resources and collaborate on programs and services. Based on input from various Hilltop groups and residents, current plans for the facility include 12 classrooms, a pediatric medical suite, a kitchen and dining area, indoor and outdoor play space, a courtyard, activity and sensory rooms, multi-purpose rooms for community use, and offices and space for crucial student-centered services including social work, speech therapy, and health screenings. 


Rick Rouan. “Private sources join Columbus, school district to build Hilltop preschool.” Columbus Dispatch. Oct 23, 2018. 


Train high school students with industry credentials for living wages.

Earning an industry credential allows students to learn about a particular skill and demonstrate mastery, while learning workplace expectations and “soft” skills. Programs can also teach career pathways and what the labor market looks like. Students can earn industry credentials through comprehensive career-technical education programs, programs dedicated specifically to credentials for students in their senior year, or existing courses that integrate the content needed to successfully obtain the credential. Focus should be put on connecting employers and trade groups with high schools to create seamless transitions from graduation to employment. Computer science, coding, IT, construction, plumbing, electrical work, and other skills can command high wages in Columbus’ growing region. Equipping students at West and Briggs High Schools with these skills and credentials can help set them up for success as adults. One successful program is Building Futures, where graduates land jobs paying an average $17/hour to start, with some earning upwards of $27 an hour.1 The 12-week pre-apprenticeship program was started in late 2017 by the county, the Columbus/Central Ohio Building and Construction Trades Council, and the Columbus Urban League.

Source: Marc Kovac. “Training partnership links low-income residents with jobs in the building trades.” Columbus Dispatch. Sept. 29, 2019.

Employment & Income

Guiding Principle

Opportunities and assistance for living- wage employment will be accessible, achievable, retainable, and include the ability for career progress. 


Resident Priorities

  1. Living-wage jobs and training

  2. Transportation

  3. "Soft-skills" development

  4. Wealth-building programs

  5. Shared equity businesses

Statement of Need

In the Hilltop focus area, a high rate of adults are not in the labor force and unemployment is higher than the county average. Connecting people to living wage employment requires early preparation and targeted efforts that align training with future jobs. Objectives include focusing on vocational training, working toward higher wages, and including workers in the shared prosperity of businesses.

Goal 7: Use education and training programs to prepare people for employment.


Preparing youth and adults for meaningful living-wage employment is critical to stabilizing families and community. Programs that offer skilled trade development and soft-skill development will help Hilltop residents compete for living-wage jobs. 

Action Steps


Reduce employment barriers for restored citizens. The IRS offers a Work Opportunity Tax Credit1 to encourage hiring people who have consistently faced barriers to employment, including SNAP recipients and ex-felons.  A restored citizen is eligible if hired within a year of prison release. The city or county could augment this federal tax credit with a match or supplement. Extending the WOTC hiring date past one year after release could dramatically increase the utility of the tax credit for business owners. Additionally, programs to “ban the box” have been passed in 35 states and over 150 cities and counties. This means that employers consider a job candidate’s qualifications first—without the stigma of a conviction or arrest record.2  The program embraces the concept that offenders pay their debt through prison time, and shouldn’t be marked by the offense throughout their lives.


Provide construction training and employment to young adults. Programs exist currently to train people for careers in skilled trades, like plumbing, masonry, and electrical work. For example, the Columbus Building & Construction Trades Council and affiliated unions provide free apprenticeship training and journeymen upgrade training courses. At training centers, certified instructors teach a continuously updated curriculum, containing the latest in industry and safety technology. Participants in programs may need support services or remedial education, which could be provided through partnerships with philanthropic or government funding.


Provide housing assistance to low-income heads of household working to reach educational milestones. Aligning housing assistance with supportive services (e.g., affordable daycare) can help parents stay in school while also supporting their families. Funding should be directed to programs that simultaneously support family stability and invest in economic mobility for the head of household. See the Scholar House example in the Case Studies below.


 Higher employment rate 

 More training opportunities 

 Increased educational attainment 

Goal 8: Incentivize higher wages and offer more robust employee benefits.


In the U.S. since 1973, there has been productivity growth of 73%, yet the compensation of a typical worker grew far less, just 9% [1]. Higher wages are key to economic stability, as are benefits that help increase the quality of life for employees and their families.

Action Steps


Continue using tax abatements to negotiate higher wages. When companies want to open new offices or add jobs, they often seek tax breaks from the City of Columbus. In return, the City has leverage to negotiate specific terms—to a certain extent. In the past some of these terms have included minimum average wages for employees. This practice should continue, with special attention to encouraging higher wages for the lowest-paid employees, local hiring requirements, targeting businesses with economic multiplier effects, and setting metrics to measure business’ impact [2].


Consider benefits agreements with businesses to offer non-wage benefits. In addition to living wages, employees should be offered  benefits that improve their quality of life. Offerings like subsidized childcare and free transit passes can attract employees and increase net earnings by offsetting other costs.


Reduce impact of the “benefits cliff.” Called the “benefits cliff” by professionals, the challenge of individuals and families losing public benefits with increased pay can create perverse incentives to leave jobs with positive trajectories. Some benefits currently offer step plans that aim to correct this effect, but the concept should be extended to more benefits. People on fixed incomes may also experience this issue. For example, if someone’s monthly social security payment increases by a few dollars, that could substantially reduce their SNAP amount by pushing them into the next bracket.


Why not raise the minimum wage? Because of Senate Bill 331 law passed by the Ohio General Assembly in 2016, cities in Ohio are banned from instituting minimum wages in excess of the state minimum wage. Ohio’s minimum wage was last raised on Jan. 1, 2019, to $8.55 per hour for non-tipped employees and $4.30 for tipped employees.


 Higher employment rate 

 More training opportunities 

 Increased educational attainment 

1. Economic Policy Institute, BLS and Bureau of Economic Analysis data. 2015.
2. Bartik and Austin. “Most business incentives don’t work. Here’s how to fix them.” Brookings Institute Blog, The Avenue. November 4, 2019. 

Goal 9: Consider wealth-building opportunities for Hilltop residents.


Over half of Hilltop focus area households have less than $15,000 in net worth. Programs that help increase the wealth of Hilltop families can begin to address the widening gap between low-income and high-income families and increase economic mobility.

Action Steps


Offer IDAs, bonds, and savings incentives for training completion. Individual development accounts (IDAs) help low-income families save by matching their personal savings for specific investments, such as a first home, business capitalization, or higher education and training. They can be offered as part of financial education or independently for a focused group or geography with assistance from city or philanthropic dollars. A 2009 study found that graduates of an IDA program reported higher annual household income, more likely full-time employment, and more likely ownership of an investment account [1]. People that obtain IDAs are also more stable in homeownership and less likely to have a foreclosure [2].


Fund and support start-ups and local entrepreneurs with technical assistance and micro-lending. Help entrepreneurs formulate business plans and marketing strategies, learn accounting and financial analysis, find capital financing, identify new markets, and expand their operations. Rely on recommendations from the Small Business Ecosystem Assessment, a component of Mayor Ginther’s Reimagining Small Business Initiative. Connect entrepreneurs to small grant funding through organizations like Ascent Microfinance, Kiva, and ECDI.


Invest in educational achievement incentives for public school students. With municipal and philanthropic support, savings accounts for Hilltop students in Columbus City Schools could help incentivize milestones by depositing money for incremental progress, like passing state tests or finishing high school. Upon graduation, students may access funds for education or business capital, for example. Additional funds could help incentivize parent engagement.


 More cash savings for residents 


 Case Study #1 

Columbus Works, Inc., a local nonprofit, offers job training and connects workers to approved employer partners that offer fair wages and benefits.

Columbus Works, Inc. is a nonprofit serving two clients: (1) Job seekers who desire to work their way out of poverty, and (2) Employer partners who pay fair wages and offer benefits. The organization offers job readiness training and removes barriers to employment. By addressing multiple concerns and needs of both Members and Employer Partners, Columbus Works helps eliminate barriers to successful and sustained employment. To remove barriers to success Columbus Works offers job readiness training in a classroom setting, as well as individual one-on-one coaching, a support system, an employment and life coach, behavioral healthcare, financial literacy, chaplain services, and legal assistance. In addition, help with resources such as daycare, affordable food, interview clothing, and transportation is offered. The curriculum also teaches resume building, interview preparation, and job application skills.

  • 76% of active members are earning an average of $12.39/hour

  • 56% of employed members are retaining employment 1 year and more

  • 8% of members are from zip codes 43222, 43223, and 43204

  • 50% of members are previously justice-involved


With a low rate of representation from Hilltop focus area zip codes, there seems to be room for the program to serve more West Side residents in the future. As of November 2019, Columbus Works has employer partners in the north Hilltop neighborhood and throughout the West Side. The organization also has a relationship with Hilltop YMCA and The Refuge, and the main office is located on West Broad Street in Franklinton.


 Case Study #2 

At the Scholar House, students have an affordable place to call home and can receive critical resources to support their academic journey, like on-site childcare.

A collaborative initiative of the nonprofit Community Properties of Ohio (CPO), the Scholar House provides affordable housing and childcare to 38 student parents, as of September 2019. At-risk student parents, who otherwise face barriers in completing their degree, receive support for their education and have housing services. Qualified participants attend an accredited college or university full-time while residing in the Scholar House. Student parents receive supportive services through the OSU ACCESS Collaborative program to help them stay in school and maintain their grades while also providing for their children. Students must attend school full-time while residing at the newly constructed Charles Building in Columbus’s Near East Side. The program has graduated 23 students so far; graduates must move out of the house with 6 months to allow new student-parents to move in. Services are focused on issues like academic performance; financial management; navigating higher education; goal-setting; accessing childcare; parenting skills; and transitioning from school to work. The tax-credit-supported project included the construction of 18 garden-style apartments and 10 townhomes, as well as the acquisition of 10 NSP3 units. The rent is based on 30% of adjusted annual income. Units range from 2 to 3 bedrooms, with square feet between 970 and 1,145. The City of Columbus selected Scholar House as a local development priority, and the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority provided project-based Section 8 vouchers for all families in the project. The project was developed by CMHA using Low-Income Housing Tax Credits and Housing Development Loan Funding through the Ohio Housing Finance Agency.

Visionary Concepts


Support a pilot program to address the “benefits cliff.”

There are numerous federal and state assistance programs that provide various forms of aid with the goal of putting the beneficiary on a path to self-sufficiency and success. Eligibility for these benefits is based on family income, as defined by the federal government. As lower-income workers move up the income scale, however, they may fall outside the eligibility range for some benefits and lose access to those support programs. In some cases, the effects are severe: taking just a small wage increase or working a few hours of overtime can put an individual over the threshold for eligibility, costing hundreds or even thousands of dollars in assistance. This situation is known as the “benefits cliff” and can make employees feel trapped by the public benefit system because any attempt to improve their financial condition instead results in their becoming more impoverished. A pilot program in Lima, Ohio, has offered assistance to those who are  TANF-eligible, have income below 200% of the federal poverty level, work full-time for less than $16 per hour, have a child, and are already helped by an OhioMeansJobs Program.1 While up-front costs of the program are about $4,000 per person, it is expected to yield long-term savings as more people transition from public assistance into higher-paying jobs. The goal is for participants to earn about $17/hour by the end of the 18-month program, based on salaries offered by local manufacturers. A similar pilot program in Franklin County could leverage philanthropic dollars for a limited geography, like the Hilltop focus area. Another important aspect is equipping service providers and employers with a deeper understanding of the benefits cliff. Supportive strategies include predictable shifts/schedules, flexible start/end times for people using public transit, removal of reimbursement models for training and tuition programs, paid time off for personal needs (including childcare), low deductible healthcare plans, and employee education about maintaining public benefits.*

Sources: Mackenzi Klemann. “Bridging the ‘benefits cliff’: Allen County program could help people leave public assistance.” The Lima News. August 26, 2019.
*Special thanks to Sarah Lenkay at the South Side Thrive Collaborative.


Allow Hilltop residents to connect with employment training and job opportunities in the neighborhood.

While resources exist in Columbus to connect job seekers with training and employment, offering a physical space for these services in the Hilltop focus area would be a transformational step to bring opportunity within reach. Workforce development efforts should focus on concentrating opportunities in specific neighborhoods experiencing poverty, not citywide. Overall employment increases in Central Ohio do not automatically affect places with low unemployment or labor market participation. A job center offering one-stop services could include local labor market guidance, job listings, and counseling to help people find new employment, as well as job training. Staff may connect customers to other programs such as unemployment insurance, veterans’ programs, and vocational rehabilitation services. They could also help coordinate access to multiple work supports, such as cash assistance, food assistance, and subsidized child care, because many people have more than one barrier to employment.

The physical space could be shared with other organizations not exclusively dedicated to workforce development. By aligning education and training providers’ training programs with employers’ needs, the workforce center on the Hilltop would address multiple issues facing those not in the labor force. The center should focus on providing marketable credentials for growing employment sectors in Central Ohio, like logistics, information technology, and healthcare. The City of Columbus is offering Construction Industry, Apprenticeship and the Building Trades career sessions as part of a Community Benefits Agreement. The information sessions are oriented to potential employees interested in the construction industry and building trades. Two were hosted in Linden in Fall 2019, and one is planned for Glenwood Recreation Center on the Hilltop for January 2020.

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