Closing a Complex: Without City Heights, where can people in NKY find affordable housing?

After the announcement last month of the closure of City Heights, a public housing complex in Covington owned and operated by The Housing Authority of Covington (HAC), many residents became concerned that HAC's promises of a seamless transition to other affordable housing in the region could be just lip service.   

"The biggest concern I've heard from City Heights residents is the lack of affordable housing options in the Northern Kentucky community," says Tom Haggard, Covington Independent Schools board member. 

"I've also heard from parents who are concerned about their children needing to attend a new school once they move,” Haggard says. “We truly have an affordable housing crisis in Northern Kentucky. While Covington has worked diligently over the years on this issue, we need our other Northern Kentucky neighbors to step up and help us solve this crisis."

The application to officially close City Heights was approved by the HUD/Special Application Center on September 30, 2021. A few days later, on October 4, 2021, HAC communicated the news to the City Heights residents and then conducted several in-person meetings, which were recorded, to discuss with residents the closure process.  

“City Heights has got problems, and has had problems for a long time," resident Penny Blevins says. 

Blevins' concerns continued to be reflected in details announced by HAC, where the deficiencies in the design of City Heights apartments has caused there to be an estimated $50.7 million cost to restore the housing development.

“Because of these deficiencies," Blevins says, "I feel that HAC has intentionally neglected City Heights to the point where it’s going to cost tens of millions of dollars to correct, and now we have to leave our homes. Many of the residents are made up of families with young children. And with very few affordable housing options in the region, where are we all supposed to live?"

There are 750 residents currently living in City Heights with roughly 50% of those aged under 18. 

Since the announcement of the closure of City Heights, HAC has been putting in place a comprehensive relocation plan: the policies, processes, resident supports, and timeline of relocation. In addition, HAC has applied for HUD for Tenant Protection/Replacement Vouchers to ensure that residents can find affordable housing anywhere in the United States and not be limited to finding housing just in Covington or Kenton County.

HAC expects that relocation efforts will begin sometime between December 2021 and February 2022. Relocation of all residents should take three years to complete with a goal of moving approximately 10 families per month. Relocation priority will go to those aged 62 or older and those who are physically disabled. 

But many residents have concerns about the lack of assurances that what is being promised now will be available when it's their time to move.

"I'm concerned about HAC not keeping their word on anything they've promised," City Heights resident Jonte Simpson says. "They're moving us out in groups of 10, but will the funding still be available when it's my time to move? Tenant Protection/Replacement Vouchers will get a lot of people nowhere because affordable housing is extremely limited in the greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky area." 

A 2021 report published by the National Low Income Housing Coalition says 66% of low-income Kentuckians spend more than half of their income on housing. The problem is even worse in Northern Kentucky than in the rest of the state because of higher rents and a lack of affordable housing.

"The City of Covington and HAC think that us looking for affordable housing in other counties and cities is the solution," Simpson says, "but some of us love our current city and probably never want to leave. Being forced to move with the lack of viable affordable housing is affecting our overall livelihood. It seems as though they are not taking our jobs and our children's educational needs into consideration in all of this."

Housing development in the Northern Kentucky region continues to move forward, but with little to no housing being designated as affordable. In fact, over the last decade, the region has seen the destruction of two major regional affordable housing developments: the 163-unit Jacob Price Homes (Covington) and the 171-unit Peter G. Noll Homes (Newport).

"I went through the same relocation process as a tenant at Jacob Price," Simpson says. "The catholic school my children attended wouldn't send a bus to City Heights, which resulted in me having to put them in public school and that was never a part of my plan. And of course I disagree with paying for damages to our units on our way out."

Simpson is speaking of problems associated with finding and moving into quality affordable housing that may be increased with HAC's scheduled relocation payments to residents. When they are ready to move, residents will be granted funds to help with moving expenses. But the costs of any damage to their apartments above and beyond any normal wear and tear will be deducted from the aforementioned amounts, despite the fact that the units will not be rented again. 

Throughout their public meetings, HAC continues to ensure that residents are supported in their move and will work with each family to relocate to the city/town of their choosing, try to clear up outstanding utility debt, and coordinate a smooth transition. 
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Read more articles by Kareem A. Simpson.

Raised in the inner city of Covington, Kentucky, Kareem Simpson is an author, innovator, community enthusiast, military veteran, serial entrepreneur, foodie and lover of all things creative.