COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Columbus City Council is set to meet Monday for the first time since late July, and President Pro Tempore Rob Dorans said passing housing policies will be one of the body’s top priorities this fall. 

The council, which was on its annual summer recess, is also preparing for eventual fresh faces as it grows from seven members to nine and shifts by the end of the calendar year from an entirely at-large body to a hybrid one with districts. 

Vacancy-foreclosure registry, other housing priorities

In their last meeting ahead of the recess, council members passed several pieces of housing-related legislation — including $1.5 million in funding for the Tenant Advocacy Project, which offers tenants legal counsel while they navigate an eviction filing. 

Two other ordinances included legislation that requires landlords to allow third-party rental payments and a “pay-to-stay” provision that nullifies nonpayment eviction lawsuits if a tenant pays their owed rent before a judge decides on the case. 

Council will eye additional policies announced earlier in the year for passage in the fall, Dorans said. That includes a proposed vacancy-foreclosure registry, which would index all of the properties in the city that are vacant or foreclosed, giving the city a clearer picture of neighborhood trends. 

“One of the things that we don’t want to see is that, we have a significant need for housing, that we then have property sit vacant for a really long time. How do we make sure that those get turned back into productive housing units for folks?” he said. “At the end of the day, if we’ve got a housing unit, we want it to be a productive housing unit that a family is calling home.” 

Cincinnati created a similar registry in 2014.

Dorans and other council members will also continue work on overhauling the Columbus zoning code in 62 of the city’s identified “corridors and nodes.” 

Work on the Zone In project has largely consisted of gathering initial community feedback so far, but he said he believes proposals for cemented zoning code changes will come this fall — although votes on actual legislation likely won’t be held until 2024. In the meantime, he said the council is fast-tracking the housing projects it can. 

“We’re trying to move housing projects, particularly those that have affordability attached to them, as quickly as we can through the process as it currently exists,” Dorans said. 

Other legislation on horizon

Dorans said he is also looking forward to finalizing an ordinance that would eliminate medical debt for eligible Columbus residents. 

In March, the council held a hearing to discuss a contract with RIP Medical Debt, an organization that buys prior delinquent medical debt in bundles — at a cost of less than $1 per $100 of debt — and erases it for low-income patients. The legislation is still pending, but he said council members have been in conversation with area healthcare providers about the best way to make the program a reality.

“We had talked about spending $2 million and canceling close to $200 million. I think we’re going to spend a lot less than $2 million, and I think we’re going to cancel a lot more than $200 million of debt,” he said. 

Council to grow by two members

Members have come and gone, but the structure of Columbus City Council hasn’t changed in a century, Dorans said. 

That will change this fall. Over recess, two new sleek wooden desks were added to the chamber’s dais, making room for two more seated members. And with the council also shifting its structure to districts, he said he is hoping the city governing process becomes easier for residents to navigate in 2024. 

“With these districts, folks will be empowered to say, ‘I don’t know who I need to talk to, but I know I live in District 3, and Rob Dorans is my council member, and I’m going to talk to him first,’” Dorans said. 

Election Day is Nov. 7, and of the nine seats, three of the elections will be contested: more than one candidate is vying for the seat in Districts 2, 4 and 5. More information about the election for Columbus City Council can be found here.