Columbus: 2021 State of the City
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(Click here for a link to the recorded State of the City.)



What a year.

But we're still standing.

Tonight, we're together – albeit virtually – physically and emotionally exhausted, but filled with hope because we have weathered one of the most challenging years in our city's – our nation's – history.

We're still standing. Strong. Together.

And, as our neighbors in the video just showed us, not only are we still standing - we're moving forward.

Each and every one of us have been impacted by the events of the last 12 plus months. We are still working to get to the other side of the pandemic… grappling with the need to reform police and end systemic racism. Columbus – and cities across the country – are seeing an unprecedented spike in violent crime.

At the same time, there is great hope and a tremendous opportunity to right the wrongs of the past and to build back stronger.

We are on the path to a comeback, Columbus – an equitable, full-throttle, better-than-we've-ever-been comeback. Because we don't want to just return to the way it used to be . . . to the status quo. We want to address the disparities the pandemic laid bare. We want to build a more inclusive, equitable city where all residents feel safe and are empowered to achieve free of prejudice and regardless of their ZIP code.

Tonight, we will talk about recovering and rebuilding from all that we've been through . . . about creating resiliency to weather the next crisis . . . and about charting a unified path forward – because at this moment we are still a divided city, a divided country . . . and to be the best we can be, we need to move together toward dynamic, inclusive growth and shared prosperity for everyone who calls Columbus home.

From the earliest days in the pandemic, we invested in our residents.

In addition to providing rental assistance, food and small business relief, we also purchased enough Chromebooks so every Columbus City School student had their own device. We partnered with the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission to provide internet hot spots – and we invested $1.6 million to support learning extension centers to provide a safe, healthy environment for students to get help with school.

Columbus Public Health – our warriors in this battle -- set up and operated a hotline to provide potentially life-saving information to residents with COVID-related questions, answering thousands of calls. They constructed testing sites at the state fairgrounds that are now being used to administer vaccines.

With the vaccines in our hands, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. But we will be suffering the aftershocks of the pandemic long after we are able to gather again for weddings . . . to visit the sick . . . and to comfort one another in person at funerals.

COVID-19 did not create the disparities in our community, but it shone a bright light on those that already existed. It has made our mission to advance the equity agenda all the more important and the need to act so much more urgent.

Nowhere has that been more apparent than with crime – especially those crimes involving our youth both as victims and assailants. Our first step toward recovery must be to stop the violence in our neighborhoods.

Columbus is not the only city that saw a spike in crime, and we know the cause is tied to the pandemic. So many families were left dealing with unemployment . . . housing and food insecurity . . . access to virtual classrooms and so much more.

The City invested $2 million in CARES Act dollars from the U.S. Treasury for anti-violence efforts in our neighborhoods. We worked with trusted partners including Shalom Zone . . . Community Development for All People . . . New Salem Community Development of Caring Foundation . . . and Africentric Personal Development Shop that then supported grassroots organizations with micro intervention grants as a violence prevention strategy for young people and their families.

I started this year talking with small groups of community members, faith leaders, high school students and law enforcement, listening to their ideas on how we can make our neighborhoods safe. From those conversations came investments in new initiatives to fight the continued violence, including [SLOWLY]:
  • Growing U.P. – that has already started recruitment of young men.
  • End the Violence – a new approach to violence reduction from those who have lived it.
  • I called on suburban mayors and city managers to work with juvenile judges and find diversion programs that work for our youth. That call to action has already yielded positive conversations. Tonight, I am announcing a $500,000 commitment to these diversion programs and asking our suburban partners to contribute to this important work.

We have also expanded programs with proven track records including:
  • ReRoute – We're expanding this pilot program citywide.  
  • Safe Streets – We're expanding it to include first shift and to run from spring through fall instead of just summer. You can expect to see bicycle patrol officers in the Hilltop, Linden and South Side later this month.
  • We are also expanding Safe Neighborhoods to engage violent offenders with an alternative plan away from crime and violence. Our expansion will leverage the individual model into a group model and will be housed at churches in different neighborhoods.  

These are just the latest steps in fighting the crime we are experiencing today. With additional funds received from President Biden's American Rescue Plan, we will again reach out to our trusted partners with empowerment grants and continue to fight crime in our city.

And I am calling the federal and state government to finally enact common-sense gun laws – universal background checks – because firearms are responsible for the vast majority of violent crimes not just in Atlanta or Denver, but right here in our neighborhoods.

Reducing crime is just one example of the long road we have in rebuilding our community – and doing so equitably.

All of our young people suffered greatly from this pandemic. Few may have been infected, but all have been affected – as parents lost jobs and sometimes housing . . . as family members became sick . . . as schools moved to remote instruction, leaving our most at-risk behind . . . and as virtually all opportunities for social interaction and recreation were halted.

Last summer we invested CARES Act dollars to ensure Columbus Recreation and Parks could provide summer camps while still complying with safety regulations. We also invested $2 million for 40 non-profit agencies to be able to expand their own planned summer youth activities – and to do so safely. But it was still just a shell of what we can offer in a normal year.

Tonight I am announcing that we will be making unprecedented investments in our youth starting this summer to help our young people gain back some of what they lost.

Recreation and Parks is already offering a full slate of summer programming – from sports camps to performing arts camps that will serve more almost 16,000 youth.

This summer, in conjunction with Columbus City Schools, students can continue their studies and close the gaps in their education, interspersed with plenty of extra-curricular activities at our community centers, churches and playgrounds.

In addition, 10 community centers will offer late night basketball, and all community centers will be home to the GoLunch! program for free meals.

Recreation and Parks will also host a pilot project called the Park Pop-Up Performances Program. Think of it as a small scale mobile Arts Festival. Throughout the summer, the Park Pop-Up Program will provide paid performance opportunities for more than 200 local artists and offer accessible arts enrichment opportunities for the community.

And again, we will offer financial support to other partner agencies to expand their summer recreational services.

Summer employment goes a long way in building soft skills and confidence in our young people, while also putting cash in their pockets. This summer Recreation and Parks will hire not only 125 seasonal staff, but 112 youth ages 14-23 for an eight-week paid leadership training and job readiness course.

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Departments of Public Service and Neighborhoods are working to provide paid summer positions for young people to help keep our city clean.

I am calling on other employers who can engage youth to reach out to the Workforce Development Board. The city can provide grants – you just need to provide work and mentoring that our young people so desperately need.

Let me ask you this: What are you willing to do to invest in our young people this summer?

Recovery and rebuilding means investing in the next generation now.

Children develop most in the first three years of life – everything from motor skills and language to the ability to socialize. Those without stable housing, food and a nurturing environment will face developmental barriers that sometimes last a lifetime.

CelebrateOne continues to work to assure that every baby in Franklin County has the opportunity to reach his or her first birthday and beyond. While we celebrate a decrease of 29% in infant mortality, the infant mortality of Black and Brown babies remains persistent.

In the next phase of our work, our goal will be an additional 28% decrease in infant mortality while being laser-focused on minority babies.

Specifically, we're working with the Ohio Better Birth Outcomes Collaborative on the next 10 years of this initiative.

At my last State of the City address, I laid out an Equity Agenda that calls out racism and discrimination where it exists and guides our work to identify community-based strategies to address it.

Reducing infant mortality and cutting the racial disparity of infant deaths -- that is part of our Equity Agenda.

High-quality early childhood education is crucial in preparing children for kindergarten – because studies show that kids who start school prepared are much more likely to succeed in school - and in life.

Late last year, we broke ground on the Hilltop Early Learning Center. It represents a $20 million investment from the city.  In addition, money is being raised from the private sector for the center by Doug Borror, whose family has long ties to the Hilltop.

When completed, it will be a state-of-the-art facility with 12 classrooms . . . a full medical suite run by Nationwide Children's Hospital . . . a kitchen . . . both indoor and outdoor playgrounds . . . and a range of wraparound services to assure we meet the needs of every child.

But our focus is not just on the Hilltop.  We want to be a national leader in kindergarten readiness by 2030. Our public-private partnership, Future Ready Columbus, has developed, and is seeking public input, on the Future Ready by 5, birth-to-five plan for all of Franklin County. The Blueprint to Kindergarten Readiness will harness the collective impact of our entire community to make the most effective investments for all of our children – so that no child is left behind when they start kindergarten.

Ensuring access to high-quality early education, regardless of ZIP code – so that our children are prepared to thrive in kindergarten and in life – that is part of our Equity Agenda.

Rebuilding efforts for Columbus start in our neighborhoods. Despite the pandemic, we were able to continue with our neighborhood redevelopment efforts.

We opened two new community centers: Scioto Southland on the Southside and the Linden Community Center – a total of $35 million in capital investments. Both will be neighborhood hubs for multi-generational activities.

In Linden as part of the One Linden Plan, we not only opened the community center ahead of schedule, we also:
  • Opened a new Fire Station
  • Started building Linden Fresh Market to provide fresh food and prescriptions to the community
  • Began design work to completely reconstruct Hudson Avenue

In the Hilltop, as part of the Envisioning Hilltop Plan, we not only broke ground on the Hilltop Early Learning Center, we also:
  • Began $10 million in streetscape improvements along Sullivant Avenue -- with improved street lighting and public engagement on public art coming this year.
  • We saw our investment in Sanctuary Night – a space to help women in human trafficking – pay off by providing food, clothes and basic hygiene along with referrals and transportation to addiction treatment centers for over 170 women. The center is scheduled to be open 7 nights a week starting in July.
  • And, this year's capital budget will include $5 million for land acquisition and design of a new Hilltop police substation.

But it's important to remember that we are not exclusively focused on only Hilltop and Linden. Every neighborhood is unique with its own needs, and each deserves safe streets and sidewalks, clean drinking water and opportunities for recreation. We will continue to makes these investments throughout the city, from the Far East to the South Side to the Northwest.

One of our critical challenges in rebuilding our city lies in housing – particularly affordable housing. Even before the pandemic, 54,000 residents in Franklin County were spending 50% or more on housing.

Columbus does not currently have enough housing at any price point . . . and it will not be able to handle the anticipated growth of our city if we don't make changes now.

Tonight, I am setting a goal for our city: We will cut the number of people paying 50% or more for housing by half by 2030. Or put another way, at least 27,000 of our neighbors will be safer and financially stronger without an undue burden for housing as we head into the next decade.

It is a bold goal but completely attainable through local policy, state advocacy and increased pay for our residents. Together . . . through public-private partnerships and an all-hands-on-deck approach, we can begin to fix the housing crisis now.

Plus, we're wrapping up our national search to fill a new housing director position, someone who will wake up every day thinking about how to solve housing needs in Columbus. I look forward to announcing our selection soon.

We know that creating mixed income neighborhoods is the best way for vibrant communities to thrive throughout the city. Right now, we're governed by zoning codes developed in the 1950s. We are not the same city we were then . . . and we won't be the same city in 30 years when the region is expected to see an influx of one million more residents.

Our zoning codes must change to support the needs of a growing city. And they are. The Building and Zoning Department is undertaking a massive overhaul of our codes – starting with community engagement. It will be a long process, but the results will be transformational – laying the foundation to create more mixed income neighborhoods like Weiland Park, without the need for variances on every single project.

Transportation is the great equalizer of the 21st century and also plays a key role in developing mixed income neighborhoods. Columbus is currently developing LinkUS, a network of corridors that will include high capacity and advanced rapid transit, bikeways, roadways, pedestrian improvements and development – all of which will connect neighborhoods to job centers.

Increasing the availability of affordable housing and dynamic inclusive growth – that is part of our Equity Agenda.

The pandemic isn't over, but we are well into recovery and rebuilding efforts. The next big question is how we will build resiliency into our civic infrastructure so we are all prepared for the next big challenge we face? And how can we build equity into every step?

First, we're making changes in sustainability. We know that climate change is a social justice issue because of the impacts on neighborhoods that have faced socio-economic challenges.

Despite the pandemic, we made sustainability advancements.

We adopted the first-ever Energy Benchmarking ordinance in the state of Ohio – foundational to our energy-efficiency work.

We conducted 30,000 home energy audits within the city with an emphasis in opportunity neighborhoods. In the coming weeks, we will put together next steps for homes that participated so residents can see changes to their energy and water consumption – and lower bills.

In the November election, voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot issue to implement community-choice aggregation and bring 100 percent clean energy to Columbus residents and small businesses by 2022.

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After multiple public hearings and public Advisory Group meetings, the program is set to begin in June. This Ohio-based clean energy program will drastically reduce emissions, providing the equivalent of removing over 300,000 cars from our roads and the same benefits of nearly 1.8 million acres of forests.

Speaking of forests, our Recreation and Parks Department has completed the public input phase on an Urban Forestry Master Plan and is in the process of updating the city's Parkland Dedication Ordinance -- critical work in reducing the temperature of our city, especially in our opportunity neighborhoods.

This year, we'll finalize our community-wide Climate Action Plan – that will be our roadmap to reaching our 2050 Carbon neutrality goal - ensuring we do our part to limit global temperature rise and create a healthy, thriving environment for generations to come.

We're also looking at programs for recycling in apartment complexes to keep more trash out of landfills.

And the Department of Public Utilities will begin upgrading outdated meters for all water, sewer and city power customers in this year, laying the foundation for future customer benefits including earlier water leak detection and monthly, instead of quarterly, billing.

All of these steps will move us closer to an equitable and sustainable city.

Digital inclusion is also imperative to the equity of our city. We saw the dramatic impact that lack of internet connectivity had to our most vulnerable families because of the pandemic – they were simply left behind. That cannot continue.

That's why the City of Columbus and Smart Columbus are partnering with the Columbus Foundation, Franklin County, Columbus Metropolitan Library, Columbus Public Schools, MORPC and others to sponsor 700 South Side and King-Lincoln households get connected with free, high quality, in-home WiFi service, primarily for the purpose of distance learning.

When this initiative concludes at the end of this year, we will use what we have learned to provide more Columbus residents with affordable in-home internet access, so everyone can access education . . . healthcare . . . job opportunities online.

Closing the digital divide is part of our Equity Agenda. It is also one way that Smart Columbus will pivot, building off the success of the last 4 years, and continue to convene public and private sector leaders to innovate and collaborate to solve some of the most pressing challenges facing our community.

Our city was not only impacted by the pandemic last year. A reckoning for racial justice was also brought to a head with the murder of George Floyd.

Make no mistake: Issues of racial justice and a call to address police brutality have existed for decades. But the killing of George Floyd . . . Breonna Taylor . . . Andre Hill . . . Casey Goodson and so many others at the hands of law enforcement, increased the urgency for police reform.

We have responded with reforms that will begin to transform policing.
  • I issued an Executive Order to require the independent investigation of all fatal use of force cases, or cases of death in police custody, by the Ohio Attorney General's Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
  • The Division of Police changed its use of force in response to non-violent protests, and I enacted Andre's Law to ensure the proper care is provided to anyone injured by law enforcement.
  • I put forth a ballot initiative to amend the Columbus City Charter and to establish a Civilian Police Review Board and an Inspector General for the Division of Police. Issue 2 passed last November with overwhelming support of voters, and just days ago I advanced my appointments for the first ever Civilian Review Board.

That's just a start. We are in the process of hiring a new police chief from outside the division – a transformational leader with experience creating culture change.

We are seating the most diverse class of police recruits in recent memory in June.

We are continuing to implement the recommendations of the Columbus Safety Advisory Commission and the independent consulting firm, Matrix, who reviewed policies, procedures, hiring practices and training of the Columbus Division of Police.

And we are laying the groundwork for alternative crisis response that will send the right response at the right time to neighbors in need. We will hire 20 social workers to be integrated into the emergency call system to respond to people in crisis due to mental health issues or addiction.

The changes we are making now will build stronger community-police relations.

Police reform . .  . ensuring our residents feel safe wherever they go -- including their interactions with police – that is part of our Equity Agenda.

Part of our resiliency moving forward will come from the continued creation of jobs – good paying careers that can support a family.

Before the pandemic, we were poised to continue a positive trajectory of job growth, and we have every reason to believe that will continue.

This summer, we'll start our first cohort of the Building Back Better Together Program for people entering the trades. In June, 20 participants will begin an 8-week employment and training program to provide training and certifications that can be translated into career opportunities in the trades. Participants will be paid a weekly stipend . . . given the necessary tools and equipment . . . and referred for opportunities after graduation. We expect to seat a second cohort in the fall.

As construction of housing and businesses continues, trade workers remain in high demand. We are continuing outreach to underrepresented populations in our community to drive an interest in the trades – which are solid career jobs with great benefits.

Connecting residents to good paying careers in the trades – that is part of our Equity Agenda.

I am also very excited about the Columbus Innovation District we announced a few weeks ago with JobsOhio, the Ohio State University and Nationwide Children's Hospital.

The District aims to generate 20,000 new jobs in central Ohio over the next 10 years, involving an estimated 10,000 direct STEM jobs in the technology and healthcare industries, as well as 10,000 indirect jobs in the community at large. And with that we will be able to develop the West Campus area into a mixed-income neighborhood along with multi-modal transportation options along the Northwest Corridor.

All of that translates into continued resiliency in the job market in the coming years.

We are also taking additional steps to ensure that the resiliency we build is equitable. The Office of Diversity and Inclusion has been at the forefront of this work, completing the first Disparity Study in the city since 1993, and now implementing the recommendations the study provided.

Making minority participation part of development agreements assures that minority companies are able to be part of the development of our city. We already have examples that work.

The new downtown Crew soccer stadium included a 30% minority participation goal. The stadium is set to open in July which is very exciting. But from my point of view, meeting the historic goal of minority participation -- $74 million in contracts -- is an even bigger win.

Creating more opportunities for minority and women-owned businesses to have equal access to city contracts – that is part of our Equity Agenda.

Thanks to the creative leadership of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, we're also looking at ways to increase diversity not only of all employees, but also executive staff and boards and commissions.

Minorities make up about 30% of our population in Columbus, so it is only fitting that employees, C-suites and board rooms reflect that diversity.

Through the 30 by 30 plan, the city is looking at the diversity of our own employees, managers and boards -- and we are asking all Columbus employers to do the same.

At last year's State of the City Address, I declared racism a public health crisis and tasked our health commissioner, Dr. Mysheika Roberts, with providing recommendations on how to best address it. She launched the Center for Public Health Innovation, and at the end of last year, she sent me recommendations we are instituting.

We will be implementing a score card on our equity projects – because, as I've said many times, if you don't measure it, you don't mean it. To assure our initiatives are working, we'll be measuring the data and sharing results with the community.

We have also joined the Equity Now Coalition, a social justice initiative started by the Columbus Urban League and other community partners, focused on equitable outcomes for Black Columbus. We have invested $160,000 in the efforts.

And we are contributing $2.9 million in direct financial support to at-risk expectant mothers through the Healthy Beginnings at Home Program, part of CelebrateOne. Additional funds allow us to support rental assistance and other services to mothers-to-be, helping to reduce infant mortality.

The Columbus Women's Commission has been busy addressing gender issues in the midst of the pandemic – including a key court win regarding evictions. Last year, in conjunction with the Legal Aid Society of Columbus, landlords are now required to show up and testify in court for an eviction. We are seeing more situations where landlords and tenants come to agreements on rent repayment or amicable move outs without formal evictions – which make it more difficult for tenants to find affordable housing, a phenomenon that disproportionately impacts Black women.

In addition, a few weeks ago, Columbus was selected to receive more than two years of funding and technical support from the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund. Columbus will be able to bring free, professional, one-on-one financial counseling to residents, particularly as they deal with the financial impacts of COVID-19 – another important step in building resiliency into our community.

Recover. Rebuild. Resiliency.

After this turbulent year, we also have to look at unity. How are we going to move forward . . . together?

For that answer, I gathered community members at the new Linden Community Center for a conversation about our next steps.

It was a powerful discussion. I invite you to listen to it in its entirety on the City's YouTube page.

Pulitzer Prize winning-author Jon Meachum – who has documented a great deal of Presidential history – wrote:

"In our finest hours, though, the soul of the country, manifests itself in an inclination to open our arms rather than to clench our fists; to look out rather than to turn inward; to accept rather than reject. In so doing, America has grown every stronger, confident that the choice of light over dark is the means by which we pursue progress." – The Soul of America

Neighbors, that is where we are today . . . the pendulum of time is starting to swing from pain and division to solace and unity -- the Columbus comeback, rooted in equity, shared prosperity, dynamic and inclusive growth.

At this time next year, we will be a better city than we are today . . . and on our way to being the best city we have ever been.

God bless you and god bless the City of Columbus.

Good night.stats

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