Tim Fulton  00:13

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the confluence cast presented by Columbus underground. We are a weekly Columbus centric podcast focusing on the civics, lifestyle, entertainment, and people of our city. I’m your host, Tim Fulton. This week as the Assistant Director of Housing strategies for the City of Columbus. Aaron Prosser wakes up every day thinking about housing in our city. In today’s episode, we discuss strategies for combating nimbyism before it takes hold the importance of non commercial partners when we think about housing, why housing should be thought of as infrastructure, and how we can right size our systems in order to align them with our priorities. As a bonus this week, we have an additional conversation with entrepreneur David who Nanea about one possible micro solution to density lease the law. You can get more information on what we discussed today in the show notes for this episode at the confluence cast.com. Also, the confluence cast is on Patreon. Find out how to support this podcast on our website, the confluence cast.com Or at patreon.com/confluence. The confluence cast is sponsored this week by the Mid Ohio Regional Planning Commission, or more proceed featuring stories about local and regional partners that envision and embrace innovative directions and economic prosperity, transportation, sustainability, and an inclusive Central Ohio. More proceeds transformative programming, innovative services and public policy initiatives are designed to promote and support the vitality and growth in the region. For more information, please visit more si.org Enjoy the interview. Sitting down here virtually with the Assistant Director of Housing strategies for the City of Columbus Aaron Prosser. Aaron, how are you?

Erin Prosser  02:07

I’m doing well. How are you doing, Tim?

Tim Fulton  02:09

I’m doing well. I’m doing well. First of all, Aaron, you are the city’s first ever Assistant Director of Housing strategies. Can you talk through what that role is? And what the vision for it set out by Mayor Gunther?

Erin Prosser  02:23

Yes, absolutely. So it was a position that was created last year, really looking at the changes that have been coming in are coming to our region around our population growth and the chronic under building that’s been happening over the last few years, understanding that we needed to take a comprehensive look at housing, across our the city departments across you know, with our jurisdictional partners, really looking at a high, broad level about what it takes to adjust our systems and our kind of ways of doing business to make sure that we are able to adequately accommodate the growth that’s coming and build the housing, we need to support our population.

Tim Fulton  03:08

Okay. And I want to step back and sort of say why are you in this role? I know you had a previous role with the university. And with Mk s. K. Can you sort of talk about your background and what you bring to the role?

Erin Prosser  03:26

Yes, absolutely. So I, my original background, I have a master’s in city and regional planning, and went into that field, really wanting to get into communities and into cities and be part of that growth of where we were seeing kind of that folks coming back into into cities and into urban spaces. And it was something that seemed really intriguing and exciting to me as a field. And I had the opportunity to start my career actually with Franklin County, in their planning office and really got the opportunity to spend some time. One of my first projects was out in the big Darby accord and working with the townships and suburban communities as well as Franklin County in the city of Columbus on a kind of cross jurisdictional planning effort out there. That was prior to the 2008 housing crisis that we saw, at that point, shifting gears from the county, I was able to go and work with MKS K, which is an urban design and planning firm here in Columbus. We had the opportunity to really work in a lot of different projects and a lot of different communities focused on a lot of different issues that communities were seeing. It was a really great opportunity to really understand the breadth of planning and what the opportunities there were.

Tim Fulton  04:46

And just so that folks understand that’s a national firm and so you’re dealing with projects that are all around the country, if not all around the world.

Erin Prosser  04:54

Yeah. And you know, certainly a lot of my work was focused here, but yes, it’s a firm that has a footprint especially now is even larger than when I was there. It certainly has a footprint in projects around the country. And was one that kind of again, I got that exposure to those different parts of planning and the different opportunities to influence city growth and how you know, communities collectively come together to address some of the issues they’re facing, and had the opportunity to work down in Cincinnati with three CDC, and really thinking about the work that they were doing specifically in over the Rhine. And it was an organization that I thought was really compelling, and the opportunity to take planning into kind of out off the shelf, so to speak, and really practically, think about the role of development and how planning could actually enter into the development space, and make an impact in communities through the actual construction and development of projects. And not just in the development of planning documents.

Tim Fulton  05:56

Can you give an example of that and maybe bring in a little bit of your philosophy, they’re just like, what does that mean?

Erin Prosser  06:04

Sure. And, you know, certainly as planners, you know, predominantly, we’re kind of trained in mostly in the regulatory space. And for the most part, we will find ourselves working for cities, counties, or you know, other municipalities or jurisdictions as that community voice in those conversations about physical development of the built environment, right. So that is really where you see things like zoning codes, you see things, housing regulations, and other components that allow us to sort of shape the built environment for us in our communities. And there was sort of this shift when I was working, thinking about not just sort of reacting to the plans that are brought to the community, but to actually initiate and develop and design some of those projects and bring them into the community in a much more direct way. And that was really what led me then to Ohio State and the opportunity to work with campus partners, which was as the real estate based affiliated entity for the Ohio State University, which was looking out into the communities around the university’s main campus university district, including the wildland Park neighborhood, and got the opportunity to shift gears and go over to the university and work on projects on behalf of the university and working with the communities to address some of the needs and issues facing the neighborhood outside the main campus for Ohio State.

Tim Fulton  07:29

And you were working as director of community development there. So to be clear, it truly was your portfolio was the stuff that was outside of the university.

Erin Prosser  07:41

Yes. So we focus primarily on the ways in which we especially thinking about the role of Ohio State as a neighbor, and as a stakeholder in the community, ways in which we could work with the community members and make be a positive influence and add projects and elements to the community that would really support making, you know, one of the things I always said to campus partners is, you know, if you, being a neighbor of The Ohio State University should be a benefit. And it should be a good part of your life. And so that was really what that opportunity was to look at the neighborhoods around main campus and identify the needs and figure out how we could interject projects help support the goals the community had,

Tim Fulton  08:22

I want to stick with the university just a little bit. Maybe selfishly, because I grew up there. Can you talk about sort of what you view, that neighborhood, the university district, maybe you know, North Campus, specifically, of how that’s evolved over time? And what are the contributing factors? First of all, I want to note, this is not just a What did you do, but much more to have a philosophical understanding of how a neighborhood evolves, like North Campus specifically, and then how the positive influence in wildland Park has changed that neighborhood.

Erin Prosser  09:04

Yeah, and I think, you know, what we were really dealing with in the 80s and 90s. In a neighborhood like the university district was we were seeing, especially our student population at Ohio State choosing not to live in the nearby neighborhoods, they were choosing to live much further away, and commute back into the university district for to go to class. And you know, where we had, you know, let’s say in the late 80s, early 90s, we were looking at, you know, around 15,000 students that lived in the nearby neighborhoods. As we move as we move forward into the 90s. We really saw that precipitously drop into more of the 889 1000 student range. It was not a neighborhood of choice that was attractive to students. It certainly wasn’t attractive to faculty, and staff and was one where we were seeing that disinvestment, which was not unique to the university district, certainly around the country. That disinvestment had been happening for a number of decades. It was an you know, an important area and an important community. That was a place that could be brought back and be an attractive place to be. It was just a matter of identifying what was keeping those folks from choosing, choosing the community. And I think, certainly, you know, as we look back, you know, part of what also coincided with that disinvestment was also very large. I’m gonna go down to the south side of the university district, because I think it helps explain some of the other issues in the district. But, you know, when you look down in the wildland Park neighborhood, we had, in the 70s, you had a section, a portfolio that was being developed through the new program under the federal government, and there was a lot of housing in Menlo Park because it was the original streetcar suburb where you had a really housing that by the 70s, was really conducive to project based at the time and Section Eight Housing Choice Voucher Program. And those units were acquired and put into that that project by a group of folks that ultimately created the nation’s largest project based section a portfolio and at the time was called the Brasserie portfolio, it was not well managed, the properties were not being invested in those property owners were getting revenue off of those buildings by but not having to necessarily invest or manage the properties in any meaningful way. And so those folks that could that that the folks that could get out of it portfolio, they got out of Brasserie portfolio, and the folks that were left behind, were up to no good and they were interested in the lackadaisical management of the company. And that coinciding just nationally with the crack and cocaine epidemic creates a perfect storm in wildland park that leads us to them shorter and pase. And you really find a group of folks that coalesce geographically around wildland Park, and the opportunity to create that, which I think Steven still to this day is the city’s largest and most violent gang that we saw, they were largely located within the wildland Park neighborhood. So that created, again, just not a neighborhood of choice if people were not going to choose to live in that community. And then you saw some of the public safety issues spreading out into the community and into the especially the northern part of the district. And so you start to see a lot of things that are we’re seeing nationally in cities, but certainly in a microcosm of university districts. And because of a certain a couple factors, it certainly became an exacerbated issue for the community. And so there was a lot of folks looking at the issues being faced by the university district, and really looking at how to dismantle and undermine the short run policy and their kind of hold on the Highland Park neighborhood. And there was an opportunity in the early 2000s, through HUD, a project called mark to market. And it was really where there had been an assumed increase in value on the properties that were put into these portfolios in the 70s. And by the early 2000s, what we know is that that increase in value wasn’t occurring, what we were really seeing was the really disinvestment in those communities. And so HUD said, you know, as we have this contract with 30 years as they’re coming due, we’re going to take a look at really where we are in the market for these properties. And that was an opportunity for the university through campus partners to really engage with a couple of really key folks to say, let’s see if we can get these properties into a different type of management, a nonprofit management model, with wraparound services and support for the residents. And that process was initiated in about 2003. With the creation of what is now community properties of Ohio, they were able to take possession of the portfolio, they were able to invest pretty significant dollars into the renovation of the units and allow folks to stay in those units and in in Wineland Park. It still remains today the highest concentration and project based section eight and the city is still located in Woodland Park because of that sort of preservation of that affordability in the community as part of that marked market shift out of Bradstreet and into CBO. And so when you start to stabilize that property in that portfolio, you start to see that desirability of the neighborhood, coinciding with the fact that, you know, certainly our younger faculty and staff and younger folks and professionals were interested in living in urban neighborhoods, they were interested in lifestyles and involved walking to work. It became sort of a place where it was again a neighborhood of choice and people were deciding to come into the community and I think we see that throughout the university district as we get to see some of those improvements, especially on the public safety side. And what we knew as we started to really deal with Brasserie portfolio and shift that management, we had a finite amount of time to lock down as much affordability as we could in the wildland Park neighborhood prior to essentially the market taking over right and it really being a neighborhood of choice. And so during that time, we were able to create a fund where we were partnering with Columbus foundation and JP Morgan Chase founded I want to put together money that we could acquire and lock down affordability in Woodland Park. We had partners like what is now Thrive company, which is the wagon Brenners at the time, other folks, private public philanthropic, all came together. And you know, to some degree to look at the bricks and sticks and how we build in that affordability. But we had great partners like Cardinal Health and a Wexner Medical Center and other folks that came to really think through some of the other issues that the residents were also facing, and how we could create a really comprehensive neighborhood investment plan that could address a lot of the different issues. Now my particular role in that process was really focused on bricks and sticks. A couple of things I think are really important about the Woodland Park work is that we did build in affordability. And we did add units, as well as preserve, but we did it in a way that was very much focused on high quality architecture. So as you drive through Highland Park today, you might not recognize some of the affordable products that we added as being affordable. And that was intentional, right? I don’t, you know, we weren’t looking to create a circumstance where it was very clear what the income of the person who lived behind a particular door right, and that was very intentional, I think at times, it is seen as a neighborhood that just changed entirely, and that that affordability is completely gone. And it’s sort of a victim of our own success on being able to blend those affordable units into the fabric in a way that’s not as obvious to folks. And I think that’s really where that that work in weighing on Park was really the foundation for, you know, thinking deeply about housing in general. And, you know, thinking about this, this new role and the opportunity to kind of take that experience and translate it to the bigger the bigger city as well.

Tim Fulton  16:57

And do you think that philosophy of bringing in housing stock that, as you said it doesn’t, it doesn’t look like affordable housing? I think that that’s twofold, one, that it gives people a sense of pride in the place in which they live, regardless of the circumstances that brought them to that need. Additionally, I would hope that it counters a little bit of the nimbyism, we see in certainly in our suburban areas of I don’t want affordable housing here. Because that will lower the cost of my home. Or, frankly, that will bring in a quote unquote, unwanted element to my home to my community where I live.

Erin Prosser  17:49

Yeah, and I think a lot of times our notions about what affordable housing is are rooted in very long ago types of arrangements of how public housing particularly was done in the 60s and 70s. The ways in which those programs sort of created a bias against what you know, big A affordable housing and the opportunity to make sure that there’s housing available at price points, that quite frankly, the market just isn’t going to deliver. And that’s really the distinction. And that’s, to me the primary distinction, right? I mean, the folks that are in these affordable units, our workforce, and they are working at restaurants, they are working in our hospitals, they are teaching in our schools, their aides in our schools, these folks have our have wages, but they are not enough to afford the market rent because of what new construction costs. And so when we look at kind of the big A affordable in the in the development of what we see a lot of around the city with partners like home port, and national church residences and quota and the folks that are really diving into the big A affordable, it’s really about bringing units online, that the market is just not going to deliver and making sure that those are located throughout the city, so that those opportunities to have that affordability are present in all our neighborhoods. But I think you know, certainly in the Woodland Park example, I think you’d be hard pressed to walk the streets and be able to identify what the income is of who’s buying which door. And I think that’s really where we’ve come a long way in affordable housing, and where we’ve, it has changed significantly. And it’s not always what people immediately think of, and it’s sometimes still back in those those, you know, kind of public housing days where the honestly the system just wasn’t fully prepared to bring that housing in a way that was meaningful and it ended up creating some, you know, belief that that is not desirable housing.

Tim Fulton  19:51

I want to go back to how you convene those partners in order to create a holistic approach to affordable housing, but Maybe that’s for another episode. But now with the City of Columbus, you’re tasked with putting together a framework for housing strategy. You’re working on that now, correct me if I’m wrong, we have a framework. Tell me about that framework.

Erin Prosser  20:13

So the framework, you know, kind of the high level overarching strategy is that we’re going to build the housing infrastructure needed to support our growing region to ensure that no resident pays more than 30% of their monthly income to live in the neighborhood of their choice. Okay, so there’s a lot to unpack there. I think when we talk about affordable housing, I would really like to talk about housing affordability, or everyone in our community, right. So the goal is that you are not housing cost burdened. And the way that we define that is that you do not pay more than 30% of your income for your household expenses. So that would include your mortgage or rent payment, as well as your utilities. Okay? What that means is that you spend, you have dollars leftover to maintain reliable transportation to pay for high quality childcare, to save to buy a house, if you’re a renter, it allows you that remaining 70% of your income to put good food on the table and healthy food choices. All of those things are reliant on not being housing cost burden. And so when we look at this, you know, Columbus region, I think we there’s kind of two truths that are both present that are sometimes challenging to reconcile and the one is, we do have an impending housing crisis. We are under building we are seeing rents going up, we are seeing housing prices go up. We’re seeing we’re now the city with the shortest time how spends on the market in the nation. So then Denver’s right behind us, right. And so we are flipping houses quickly, people are choosing to come to this community. That is true. And then the second truth that we have right now in this moment is that we technically have an affordable housing market, right? We are we are affordable relative to our peer cities, it is still possible to rent a unit it is still possible to buy a house with a reasonable income and remain on not and not be housing cost burdened. We are in this sweet spot. So as we talk about building the housing infrastructure, right, so we want to look at, we’re growing, right we are we’ve talked about it, everyone I’m sure I can. Everyone’s heard a lot of these statistics. But the one that always sticks with me is the in the last decade 2010 to 2020, we added the equivalent in a region of the city of Pickerington every single year. We, on average pre pandemic added 20,000 jobs a year this year, we’re on track to add 30,000 jobs. And that does not include Intel. We are adding boatloads of jobs, which is fantastic. If we do not build the housing commensurate with that job creation, we are going to back ourselves into the exact problem that is being dealt with now by Nashville and Austin, and cities like that, where they’re trying to dig their way out of the circumstance. And so really what the mayor’s creation of this position was for someone to start to take, I think the initial directive was for me to wake up every morning thinking about housing, and thinking about how we right size all of our systems, right? How do we look across the ways that the city has worked for the last 50 6070 years. And we can’t rely on those systems to build the housing infrastructure we need in the 2020s and in the 2030s, and ended throwing 40. So we’re just going to have to take a look at all these different pieces and parts to make sure that we the City of Columbus can accelerate residential construction and bring the units we need into the city of Columbus. And then also spending time with our suburban partners and others in the region, including the business community to start to talk about how we regionally build the housing infrastructure, right? Because there’s just there’s physically not enough room in the city of Columbus to support all the growth. We need our suburban partners to be with us in this conversation.

Tim Fulton  24:04

So what are those disparate systems that you referenced that have an impact on housing, I assume zoning, I assume any sort of public aid that’s being brought to bear? Yeah.

Erin Prosser  24:17

So we start, we’re going to start in the next couple of months to revamp our zoning code. First comprehensive look at the zoning code and 70 years. And you think about the types of policies and priorities we had 70 years ago, are quite different than where we are today. And so our zoning code needs to reflect the priorities and needs that we have today, which it does not right.

Tim Fulton  24:41

So we hear that a lot. Can you give an example of something that’s misaligned?

Erin Prosser  24:48

I had the opportunity before I took the job at the city I worked. I was able to serve as a commissioner on the Historic Resources Commission for the City of Columbus. And we regularly have buildings that I think all of Westwood, really recognized as being really amazing parts of our fabric and they were built prior to zoning. zoning code is now in place and has been for quite some time. And we would regularly see folks coming in to bring those buildings back to life and really be part of that back into the into the community. And they would be saddled with getting zoning variances. Use changes, maybe full on rezonings, just to make sure that they could were compliant. Because the great fabric we have in the way that we think of zoning doesn’t doning would not create your village today, right? Zoning is fundamental? Yeah, zoning is the great places we have wouldn’t be created by zoning. Right it is, it is about the separation of uses, which is not something that we value right now, right, we’re looking at just way more mixed use projects that are coming online, right, where we’ve mixing office with residential or retail on the ground floor of residential, and we’re all enjoying those, you know, kind of more urban environments, but the zoning code does not allow that to happen. You have to go through a process of permissions and changes in order to facilitate something that feels like it is the fabric that we’re looking for that separation of uses kind of very specific character development standards, that would be very in line with some of our Suburban character, but may not facilitate some of the environments we’re looking to do, especially as we grow, and we need to add density, the zoning code is not equipped to deal with that right now.

Tim Fulton  26:40

Got it? What else in terms of what else needs to be looked at in order to have a comprehensive strategy?

Erin Prosser  26:48

You know, again, I think there is a lot of one thing about housing is it’s there is I don’t believe a department at the City of Columbus that doesn’t, at some point influence or impact housing one way or another, right? So we look at how we service utilities, we look at the requirements that we have in our public service department and how we are, you know, really making sure that we can facilitate residential development while keeping and maintaining the other priorities we have, you know, right, it’s on. I mean, I suppose in my position, I’d like for housing to be the number one priority, but in fact, the city has a number of priorities. And so working with those other departments to make sure that we are putting our regulations and our other funding in our programs that can help boost all of our priorities, and not at the expense of one another. But it’s going to take that coordination, and really looking across the departments to make sure that you know, we’re all right, sizing all of our systems again, so we are meeting the needs and priorities that we have in this century, as opposed to where we were at last century.

Tim Fulton  27:59

Got it. Part of what I picked up on from the if no one could tell, I will reveal that you read out like this is the city’s goal of 30% of income to live in and what I picked up on his live in the neighborhood of your choice. There’s a philosophy issue there. Right, that it’s not a defaults of transit, it falls to like eight other things. Right. And I guess I’m curious what, from a philosophical standpoint, how do you guarantee that? How do you bring it to bear? And what what sort of lens? Do you need to be looking at individual decisions through?

Erin Prosser  28:44

Oh, yes, it’s very, it’s, you know, part of that inclusivity is really looking back at the way our system is really created, economically and racially segregated cities, you know, again, talking about the zoning code and other mechanisms that that was the result, right. And in central Ohio, the region, you know, the study out of the University of Toronto, identified as the second most economically segregated region in the nation, second only to Austin, that economic segregation, we have to be really deliberate about unwinding it, it is not something that will naturally happen. We have to be investing and making sure that we’re including all of our residents. So

Tim Fulton  29:28

when we do want to dumb that down just a little bit for a second, because I think people think of segregation, and they’re like, it only means one thing. From an economic standpoint, all you’re saying is these are rich neighborhoods, and these are poor neighborhoods, and never the two shall meet.

Erin Prosser  29:43

Correct. Okay, you know, and that’s, that’s the circumstance we have as a region. You know, there are 43 separate jurisdictions in Franklin County alone. Those are in fact 43 Different zoning codes. Those are 43 different development review processes. There’s our 47 or, you know, those are ways in which 43 different practices of how housing gets built. And those practices have created wealthier areas and less wealthy areas. And that’s where

Tim Fulton  30:14

that what that’s interesting to me. So that’s what you would put that towards, of these, the standards in one neighborhood are different than the standards in another and hence, you’re gonna end up with disparate situations. Yes. Okay. Okay, I just never heard that.

Erin Prosser  30:32

Yeah, I think the regulatory framework, and again, it is, it is a balance, right. And there is community character that each of our neighborhoods within the city of Columbus have. And that’s deeply important to being a great city and having the character of our different neighborhoods that we have. But understanding how we facilitate the inclusion of everyone into those, each of those communities and how that gets done is really, really important. And we have to be deliberate about folding those folks into our communities, and making sure that we are regulations, again, looking at things like the zoning code, that we are making sure that there’s a place for everybody in all our communities. And so that is really that a lot of work and conversation with our regional partners around that, you know, where we’re looking at our job centers, you know, when we think about including everyone in each of these communities, and folks being able to live in the neighborhood of their choice, you look at some of the other cities around the country, where they may be building units that they’re building really far out. So where those folks are, then you know, you’re trading your housing cost burden, then for your transportation cost burden, which falls on the individual family, certainly, but it also falls on us as you know, system wide as we look at additional traffic congestion, right? Each one of those folks who lives further out is going to have to drive more miles on our roads to get to where the opportunities are. So that ability for folks to live near work or identify the priority they have also affects just globally are bigger infrastructure systems, and how they are able to hold all of this population growth and so that proximity and the ability to have housing available to nearby these opportunity areas is really important also, just for the broader system.

Tim Fulton  32:26

How do you bring the the different regional partners together and get sort of a consensus on how things get built in their in, in admittedly an area where they have autonomy in how things get built.

Erin Prosser  32:46

And I think it is a big regional conversation, we started it in a really meaningful way with more axes regional housing strategy that was completed in 21. That was a strategy that was funded by not only the city of Congress, but our suburban partners as well. Really all coming together, acknowledging that we need to start to collectively look at where we are as region and the systems we all have in our individual communities and how we can start to move the needle. I think the Recovery and Resiliency plan that the city of Columbus completed, I think, in December of last year, really called and really acknowledged the fact that we needed to have a regional strategy for just unit construction. And that we would need to have a regional collective conversation about what that production number is and how we can achieve it. As we look at those opportunity areas, you know, and I talked earlier about job creation versus housing construction. And if you look back and kind of the last economic cycle, call it 2009 to 20 2019. You know, post 2008 and pre pandemic. Yeah, we were building one house for every two and a half jobs we were bringing into the community regionwide. And that is not sustainable. The Sustainable ratio is probably closer to one house for every 1.5 jobs. Okay, considering we do have obviously there are two income households, but you know, certainly when you the population includes folks that are not working like children and the elderly, and we’d have some single family or single income households. So you really want to be at a 1.5. So when we look at our peers, peer cities, they’re closer into that 1.5 Austin belt 40,000 units last year. We we built we had a pretty good year, last year, the year before it 12,000 a year, but you know, Austin’s building 40,000 Charlotte’s bringing in 25,000. Those units are being constructed that are much more commensurate with their job creation. And when you pull it back even further and really start to look at where we’re creating jobs versus where we’re constructing houses, you really start to see that distinction widen. Yeah, and that’s where we need that. That’s the question of not just Volume, but proximity to the job centers as well. And making sure that we are looking not just for the big number, but also making sure that we are being thoughtful about where that housing construction happens and that we’re not over, you know, adding jobs in a way that’s, you know, really great for the region in a particular area, but not having housing to support that those jobs, as I for me really far away.

Tim Fulton  35:24

Absolutely. What else needs to happen for obviously, you need to, you know, there’s some conversation about incentives for getting housing to be built. I don’t think the city wants to be in the job of actually building things or even sub contracting to build things. What in addition to those incentives, what else needs to happen, in order for us to build more homes.

Erin Prosser  35:55

And I think, you know, the building more homes, the market is going to bring housing at a certain price point, right. And construction is expensive, it keeps getting more expensive. And that construction has to be, you know, for them to get financing to build the building and needs to have revenue that can offset that debt. So the markets only going to bring housing to a certain level certain number of price points right at a certain level. Below that, we’re going to have to make deliberate public investment in those projects to make sure that we have units that are priced, again, kind of in that workforce, housing space, where we’ve got resources through the federal government through the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, Franklin County has a Magnet Fund, we’ve got the 2019 housing bond that was passed by the voters was used to support those projects and leverage those other funds. And we ended up with about 1300 of those units constructed with that 50 million, leveraging an additional 300 million in other funding brought to the table by those developers. So we have those 1300 units that are priced below market, and in those communities and brought by that $50 million bond and the success of that and the great work our partners did and the other jurisdictions that brought funding to the table to bring those units online is created a clear idea that this was a really important tool that we could utilize. Again, going back to the idea of housing as infrastructure bond packages are typically focused on things like utilities and roadways, and what we traditionally think of as infrastructure. And this shift of really thinking of our housing as being equally important to the livability of our community. And so that bond package in November right now, we’re looking at 150 million of it being dedicated again, to supporting those of big A affordable projects, bringing in those units that the markets not going to naturally provide, and doing it in a deliberate way that we’re making a public investment in that particular part of the infrastructure that the mark is just not going to bring to us on its own. And so looking at the outcomes that we would get out of that 150 million as well to bring another round of those units into the community, again, working with our partners like Franklin County, and Ohio Housing Finance Agency and our opportunities with low income housing tax credits. So you bring all of those pieces together, you know, if we’re able to support those projects, we can actually bring these units into the community. And that’s, that takes that deliberate public investment that we we saw the success of after the $50 million

Tim Fulton  38:34

bond. And that’s the role of government right is to sort of fill the gaps that the market doesn’t provide for itself.

Erin Prosser  38:40

Correct. And I think that’s, again, looking at our infrastructure, you know, certainly that is a piece that is really critical, and going to be really important as we continue to build out our job creation, because we do need folks to support the community as well, right. And we need to be able to staff, our hospitals, we need to be able to have folks that are working for our small businesses and creating the great amenities that we love in our communities, that we need those folks to be with us and be able to live in our you know, if you mayor is fond of saying if you are if you work here, you should be able to live here. And that’s regardless of where you are on that income spectrum, that that should always be an opportunity available to you in central Ohio.

Tim Fulton  39:23

Aaron, I wrap up almost every interview with two questions. One, what do you think Columbus is doing really well? And to what do you think Columbus is not doing so well. I love it when it falls a little bit outside your normal purview. But you can answer from within it. So first of all, what do you think Columbus is doing really well?

Erin Prosser  39:49

I think I mean, when you look at our peer cities, and the fact that in this new position, I’ve had the opportunity to really to talk to people about housing and how engaged just generally people in central Ohio are around this question. And really thinking deeply about how we do this right. And wanting to be the city that gets it right. You I look around the nation and there’s there’s pieces and parks and folks have done individual different things that have moved the needle, but to comprehensively shift the thinking of how we build a city. And how we become a place that is continues to be livable, affordable and competitive. Those are those that being thoughtful at this point is not something you see in other communities. And it’s it’s across leadership, and it’s down to folks that I am running into that don’t live and breathe this every day. Everyone seems to be thinking about it, and having really important conversations, that we have the chance to not have to dig ourselves out of the hole, right, we’re in a position where we could actually start to see real change that keeps us affordable, livable, and competitive, and build this growing city. And so it’s I think we are collectively all really interested in achieving that. We may differ on the methods but I think collectively, we’re very interested in achieving a really inclusive, equitable city.

Tim Fulton  41:25

And what do we not do so well,

Erin Prosser  41:29

I think, a time times we think of this growth, and we talk about housing crisis, right, and we talk about kind of what’s coming with that, I would like to see us talk more about the opportunities that it also brings. We think about the ability to build a robust transit system, we think about the opportunities for small business, and growth and entrepreneurship. Having all these new neighbors and new residents in our community is bringing all of that to to us, right? Where were 1015 20 years ago, that wasn’t who Columbus was, and we are going to be different, we are going to change, we are going to be a city that doesn’t look like we did in 1990, or even the year 2000. But there’s a huge amount of opportunity we get out of this growth and density and bringing new neighbors in that, you know, if we could think more in terms of how to maximize our opportunities, and while mitigating the the impacts that we think are coming. I think if we can have a balanced conversation where we’re I mean, I’m excited about the stuff we’re going to be able to have in this community that really we haven’t had the population to warn. And you think right efforts with Lean glass, you think about all the other ways in which we’re starting to really move into a different type of of city that I think that’s the opportunity for me, and I think it’s really exciting. And, you know, there’s going to be, you know, growing pains, and there’s going to be challenges. And we’re going to have to be really thoughtful about the impacts. But also we just want to be really excited about what we have coming to us as we have a greater population and we can sustain some of those bigger systems that I know we’re all interested in. So I think being hopeful and being seeing it as an opportunity. I I’d like to put that out there.

Tim Fulton  43:25

Absolutely. Erin, thank you for your time.

Erin Prosser  43:28

No problem. I’m sure there’s a boatload of other topics around housing, they will we can cover and probably will cover.

Tim Fulton  43:35

Absolutely I hope so. Sitting down here virtually with local entrepreneur, David, who Nan ya, Dave, how are you? Hello, Tim. It’s good to see you.

David Hunegnaw  43:50

Yeah, it’s great to see you too. And thank you for this opportunity. I’m excited.

Tim Fulton  43:55

Absolutely. Absolutely. Before we talk about your recent endeavor, can you give us a little bit of background? How did you come to be an entrepreneur?


Oh, sure. You know, I’ve, I’ve been in the Columbus startup community. And for about 20 2211 years now. I’ve, you know, I’ve, as you know, I’ve been in and out of a number of startups. My first one was actually a job board 20 years ago, and when some of the big job boards like Monster and CareerBuilder and hot jobs, I don’t know if you remember those brands from way back when but when they started disrupting the way companies recruited candidates, I thought, you know, what a great opportunity for us to to be a part of that disruption. And so we came up with the name and we came up with this idea for a plat for a job board. And actually it was one of our interns that came up with the the actual focus for our job board. And so what she said was, instead of focusing on full time jobs like, you know, some of the big job boards. She said, What if we focus on part time job opportunities for high school and college students? And that was just blew my mind. And, and I thought, Well, why not, you know, why not go down that path. So rather than competing directly with Monster and CareerBuilder, and some of these other incredibly well funded job boards, that’s what we did. We focused on part time and hourly jobs for high school and college students. And pretty quickly scaled nationally. We had every if you can imagine every single mall retailer, like Macy’s and Sears and JC Penney to every single fast food chain, using our platform, again, all around the country. And we were able to, again, scale that business. And after about five or six years of being in that business, we received an unsolicited offer from a publicly traded company. So we, we sold that business. And that really gave us the financial runway to pursue some other opportunities. And so, with rich Langdale local, venture capitalist, we Rich and I and John Myers, we started do medium, which is the largest platform for buyers and sellers of out of home advertising, worked on another project called bylined, which is one of the largest platforms for buyers and sellers of user generated content. And also started working was actually one of the founding partners of wild capital, which is a venture capital firm here in Columbus. So, you know, the the one that we’ve, as a company invested in about 75, maybe 80. Startups, some of the local favorites, hot chicken take over. We were the first investors, Hyperion motors, which is a hydrogen powered supercar and technology company. And, and then, yeah, the latest and most exciting, is least Alon so excited about

Tim Fulton  47:01

and that’s why you’re here today. And there’s been a whole lot of discussion, certainly on the podcast and in in, frankly, in media in general around housing. And that’s, this is a solution that this startup is endeavoring to serve address some concerns. So give us you know, as they say, give us the elevator pitch and dive a little deeper.


Sure. Love to and just to give you a little bit of background. So my wife and I live in Italian village, in the short north area. And you know, in the short north and a tiny village area, a lot of the homes are call it 75 plus years old. And a lot of them as a result don’t even have garages, we have alley access, but we don’t have garages. And about two years ago, my neighbor across the street, she’s actually she’s actually works with the city. She built a garage and an adu, which stands for accessory dwelling unit. But I think the general sort of population just calls it a carriage house. But anyway, she, she created a carriage house and garage in her backyard. And it’s awesome. And so, you know, I took a look at it. And I thought, you know, I want one of those, I want one of those two, because my wife and I, we don’t have a garage. And so the thought of creating the garage, but then also monetizing it through the, you know, the construction of a carriage house on top of it that, that that got pretty exciting pretty fast. And so what I did was started looking at, excuse me, you know, the various models, how do I finance a carriage home? And then during that research, I found that in some of the major markets on the West Coast, so LA, Portland, Seattle, those markets at us are common, and you see them quite a bit in LA they call them granny flats, actually.

Tim Fulton  49:01

Okay, I think of them as as Mike Seaver sweets, but probably a little bit too much of a throwback, have a reference?


That is a great reference. I love that. But so yeah, so we found you know that this is actually quite common, this type of construction or this type of real estate is quite common and thought, how do we build a program around this right? How do we, and you know, again, I’ve been an entrepreneur for 20 years. So the entrepreneur in me, thought immediately if I’m going to architect design engineer and ultimately build one in my backyard, how do I build 100 of these? And so that’s how we started to go down this path of, okay, how do we how do we do this at scale? And so that’s, that’s where we are today. That’s how we we came up with the idea for at least the lawn and really the value, you know what we’re trying to do As we’re trying to provide value to three separate cohorts, right, so you’ve got the homeowner. And, you know, when you think about the typical, you know, pioneering first time homeowner in Italian village or Marion village or the Near East Side, you know, that doesn’t have a garage. Chances are that first time homebuyer, that pioneering homeowner may not have the financial resources to build a garage and an adu. So what we do is we have a program where we can actually build for free. The reason we do that are the way we can do that is we say to that pioneering homeowner, we need to monetize that adu for 10 years. And if after 10 years, we can monetize then our financial model will allow us to give that that structure that that adu and that garage back to the homeowner. All right, so the value there is, you know, the homeowner, again is increasing their property value significantly, in many cases 30 to 40%, with the addition of a garage and and that rentable real estate. So that’s the first cohort, the second cohort is the actual neighborhood, right? So the more of these homes that we build these at us that we build, the more density we create, and the more density we create, the more safety and security that we create. Because now we have people living in these back alleys, and they’re well lit. And, and again, they’re the more density you have, again, the more walkable these communities become, and then the safer they become as a result. So the final, you know, cohort is actually the city, you know, the city, you know, as you’ve talked about quite a bit on your podcast, affordable housing is a real issue. And, you know, what we’re doing is we’re saying, Hey, we can go in, we can build these things, these at us, economically and at scale. And, and now as a result, we’re increasing property values. And and when we increase property values, that increase that increases, what’s the best way to say this the tax base for the community? Yeah.

Tim Fulton  52:13

True, true. And so you are doing functionally in my mind doing two things, right, you’re offering a turnkey solution for here’s how to get this garage slash Carriage House, onto your property. And you’re also offering a alternative financing option for paying for it. Right? Correct. And theoretically, the homeowner would have control over the garage space. Correct. And that you guys would be the, let’s say, property managers of the additional living space that would exist above it.


Correct? You absolutely. You’re absolutely right. So the homeowner, the key benefit for them, again, they’ve got a garage now that they wouldn’t they didn’t before that adu or that carriage home? Again, we would manage that. So the homeowner would never have to worry about issues, you know, you know, with with, you know, renting an apartment, they wouldn’t have to, you know that these potential renters, we do all the vetting, we do all the maintenance, everything is covered by lease philon.

Tim Fulton  53:27

And then additionally, after the 10 years, you’ve improved the property value theoretically, of that property. Because after the 10 year agreement, it just goes back to the homeowner, correct? Yes, exactly. Got it. And so where are you in the process of standing up and making it happen?


Sure. Great question. So we are, we’re in talks with about 10 to 12 property owners right now, homeowners. And our goal is this year, we’re going to build 10. Great, yeah, yeah, we’re pretty excited to and so we’ve got some really interesting opportunities on the near east side here in Italian village. I hope my house is one of the 10 We’ll find out. I hope I qualify. But yeah, so we want to have 10, booked before the end of the year. And 220 23. So yeah, how do we do that? You know, we’ve got relationships now with not only the city, but also other a variety of construction companies. We’ve got a local, gosh, supplier of all of all of the things that would go into an apartment, right it the flooring, the windows, the garage doors, the kitchen, cabinetry, all of those things. We we’ve spent the last year year and a half establishing all of those partnerships necessary for us to scale

Tim Fulton  54:51

and you guys are open to talking to potential let’s call them clients or partners now.


Oh yes, absolutely. Is Matter of fact, we on our website, we have application forms for not only the homeowner, but also for the potential renter. So, and you know, we’ve even we’ve even we tried to be very thoughtful around what’s the process? And how do we? How do we communicate that process to the homeowner in a way that gives them comfort, right? So when you go to the website, you’ll see you know, there’s there’s least the lawn for the renter, there’s least the lawn for the homeowner, there’s at least the last the community and for the homeowner, and specifically for the homeowner. Some of the things that we do is we walk them through what to expect, right? So first things first, we ask the question, do you have? Are you a homeowner, right? And not a renter? That’s the first and foremost, most important, but do you have alley access, because if you don’t have alley access, this may not be a good fit, are you? Are you in a densely populated community like Italian village, like, you know, the Near East side, and then if you if you check those boxes, right, and then we can go to the next step. And so what we do, the next step is we actually do a site visit. And after that site visit, then we say okay, up, you know, if you if you pass that step, the next step would be then to do site surveys. And that’s when we start to invest, because now we have a surveyor go out to the, to the property, check all of the, all of the services that that op ed would need. So sewer, electric, water, gas, you know, we want to make sure that we can actually bring all of those services to that site. Again, if we can we pass that test, then we sit down and we do a gut check, you know, here’s, here’s the, the floorplan, here’s what it’s going to look like in your backyard, we have some red 3d renderings and some some elevations that we showed. And again, that’s that’s the gut check for the homeowner. Okay. All right, are we going to do this because, you know, there will be some inconvenience that the backyard will be muddy, you know, up for a couple of months. But, you know, it’s it’s for, you know, it’s that that short term, you know, dealing with the dirt and the dust. There’s, you know, there’s a significant upside. So after we again, after that step, that gut check, that’s when we that’s when we you know, break ground. And usually it takes about, you know, 90 days,

Tim Fulton  57:31

got it. Got it pretty straightforward. Yeah, it and but it does sound like a innovative solution and bringing together the different stakeholders, and the resources in order to make it happen. That’s what’s pretty exciting.


The one thing that excites me the most about this project I live in, you know, I mentioned a couple times, I live in a tiny village and Short North and yeah, when you think about the traditional development of a community, you know, you again, I use this term a little earlier, but it usually starts with that pioneering group of homeowners, right, that will, will start to see opportunity and like call it southern orchards, right? It’s been happening there for five or six years now. And what happens is, at least in my experience, those pioneering homeowners, they do see value over the long term. But what happens is larger development firms typically enter those markets and extract the real value, you know, by building five and seven storeys, of apartments and rentals. And I think what we’re doing the reason again, I’m so excited is we’re giving that value back to that pioneering homeowner in a real meaningful way.

Tim Fulton  58:48

Yeah, that’s interesting. Well, Dave, thank you so much for your time.


Okay, thank you.

Tim Fulton  59:06

Thank you for listening to Confluence cast presented by Columbus underground. Again, you get more information on what we discussed today in the show notes for this episode at the confluence cast.com. Please rate subscribe, share this episode of The confluence cast with your friends, family, contacts, enemies, your favorite planner. If you’re interested in sponsoring the confluence cast, get in touch with us. We can be reached by email at info at the confluence cast.com Our theme music was composed by Benji Robinson. Our producer is Philip Cogley. I’m your host, Tim Fulton. Have a great week.