COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Some longtime Columbus homeowners with city-issued liens on their properties will receive forgiveness, city council voted Monday. 

The city said it will be absolving homeowners of debt taken out and associated liens on city-assisted home repairs that are ten years old or older — with about $7.6 million total that could be eligible for forgiveness, according to the ordinance. 

Before Council voted on the proposed legislation at its general body meeting Monday night, Mayor Andrew Ginther and Councilmember Shayla Favor introduced it at a news conference earlier in the day at Modcon Living’s tool lending library on the east side. By Monday night, it was introduced in the Council and cleared with a unanimous vote. 

Homeowners who qualify for relief could first hear about getting it in the next four to six weeks, according to a spokesperson for the Columbus Department of Development.

Historically, city issued liens to low-income residents

The city’s housing division has assisted low-income homeowners through repair programs in some form or another since the mid 1980s, offering emergency services on roofs, water and heat functions, and home foundations, Favor said at the Council meeting. 

Loans deferred with 0% interest often historically funded the repair programs, but more recently, grants that do not require the homeowners to pay off the loan have become the primary funding source.

“This change, however, has resulted in certain inequities between the programs of the past and the programs of today,” Ginther said at the news conference.

The loans themselves aren’t categorized by neighborhood, the department of development spokesperson said in an email, but dot plots of residential property across the city. 

How to get forgiveness under new ordinance

City residents won’t need to fill out an application under this program, Favor said at Council. Close to 600 people are estimated to be eligible. 

The size of the lien itself will determine which governmental agency authorizes it. Liens of $2,500 or less will require director’s authorization from the department of development, $20,000 or less will be under the purview of the city attorney’s office, and anything greater will prompt a Council vote, according to the ordinance.  

The city’s department of development has already begun reviewing its portfolio of outstanding loans, and will continue to do so on a rolling basis, the spokesperson said. 

City leaders drill down on need for various housing policies

“By preserving existing housing stock, we ensure that more safe and habitable units stay in our community and families are able to keep and build generational wealth,” Favor said at Council.

Columbus housing woes — both those stemming from decades-old policies and the ones challenging growth and progress in 2023 — were central to Mayor Ginther’s state of the city remarks in March.

The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission recently projected that the greater central Ohio region is tracking to hit a population of around 3.15 million by 2050. Historically, as the region’s population has swelled over time, it has also consistently grown faster than the number of housing units being built. 

“We have to change the way we do things. We are going to see more growth in the next 10 years and 20 years than we’ve ever seen before,” Ginther said in an earlier NBC4 interview. “But we’re still only building enough units that we were before the Great Recession, only about half of the number of units we need just to maintain current affordability.”

Ginther is running for reelection in the fall against challenger Joe Motil, who has also vowed to make housing one of his priorities.

The mayor’s remarks came less than a week after the Council announced a number of proposed housing policies it intends to consider this year — including expanding an accessory dwelling unit pilot program and creating a vacancy-foreclosure registry, among other proposals.