COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – The Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) and a local nonprofit acquired an affordable housing complex on the city’s northwest side Tuesday for $8.1 million.
In its latest move to chip away at central Ohio’s affordable housing shortage, CMHA joined the newly-formed nonprofit Columbus Housing Enterprise to purchase Copperleaf Apartments, a 108-unit multifamily housing development that sprawls across eight acres of land on Sawmill Road.
“This just checked every box for us,” CMHA Vice President Robert Bitzenhofer said.
Under CMHA’s control for the next 75 years, Copperleaf Apartments’ 2-bedroom units will remain affordable to households earning less than 80% of the area’s median income, according to Bitzenhofer. That means units will be priced “around $1,000 a month for rent, give or take,” he said.
“If someone else would have acquired it, they would have been free to do whatever they wanted, you know, they could have tried to push rents up as high as the market would let ‘em push ‘em,” Bitzenhofer said.
Longtime Columbus-area developers Don Kelley and Robert Weiler – whose idea to sell Copperleaf Apartments to CMHA was years in the making – offered it up at a steep discount. Appraised at $16 million, the duo cut Copperleaf’s price tag in half.
“There’s so much need for affordable housing,” Weiler said. “Why can’t we, while we’re still alive, help do that?”
Around 54,000 households in Franklin County use more than half of their income to afford rent, “which is completely unsustainable,” Bitzenhofer said. Couple that with central Ohio’s deficit of between 11,000 and 14,000 new housing units per year, and thousands of Columbus households are left “in a very tough spot, month to month, day to day.”
“That 54,000 number, we’re doing our best to attack that. But if we’re not producing as a whole as a community enough units per year, you know, the math is pretty easy – that number is only going to grow,” Bitzenhofer said.
To make a dent in the region’s housing supply shortage, CMHA has aimed to create 500 new affordable units each year – a goal it successfully met the past five years, Bitzenhofer said. In 2023, the agency hopes to surpass that number.
Weiler, citing his “twilight years” and his family’s fortune to have “far more than we could ever need,” said giving CMHA a half-off discount to acquire Copperleaf Apartments was a no-brainer. “I look at it not so much as a sacrifice,” he said, but “as kind of a pay-forward for what all we’ve got.”
Situated north of Interstate 270 and just south of the Franklin County line, Copperleaf Apartments was intentionally selected for its location in a suburban school district, Dublin City Schools, Weiler said.
His son Jim Weiler, who sits on Columbus Housing Enterprise’s board, said the housing complex that was built in 1989 looks just as good as it did 30 years ago. It’s well-maintained and surrounded by other developed areas, he said.
“Who cares who’s inside the apartments?” Robert Weiler said. “They’re well-landscaped, they blend in well, and you can’t tell when you ride by whether it’s those with modest income or high-income people. It’s something, as a community, we ought to accept those of different economic strata.”
Bitzenhofer said CMHA will continue to scope out future opportunities for acquiring complexes like Copperleaf Apartments and encouraged other developers to follow Kelley’s and Weiler’s lead. Jim Weiler nudged his fellow real estate executives to do the same.
“Hopefully it’s a model that other developers will be thinking about who are well-off, have a lot of apartments that have been around for a while, and that after they die, their properties can stay affordable for generations to come,” he said.