Mayor names Baker, four others to city’s housing advisory board

Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval has tapped Kristen Baker — Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) Greater Cincinnati’s executive director — to serve as a voting member of the city’s Housing Advisory Board, an entity formalized in 2021 as the lead group that advises on affordable housing policy and funding priorities.

Kristen Baker

Baker is a career community development, lending, and policy expert who joined LISC Cincinnati in 2011 as deputy director and was promoted to lead the nonprofit community development financial institution Cincinnati’s office in 2020.

LISC’s mission is to advance initiatives in affordable housing and small-business lending under LISC’s national framework of racial equity, community capacity and self-determination.

The advisory board, which met last week for the first time and will meet monthly, was first established during former Mayor John Cranley’s administration. Cranley appointed eight members that were approved by the former council last September. In addition to Baker, Pureval appointed four other members to the board:

  • Pastor Nelson Pierce, Jr., senior pastor of Beloved Community Church, and organizing manager at Democracy for America;
  • Kevin Hughes, regional managing principal, Cushman & Wakefield;
  • Cinnamon Pelly, chief operating officer, Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio;
  • Reggie Harris, council member.

The five new members join these previously appointed members:

  • Arlene Nolan, executive director of Shelterhouse;
  • Greg Johnson, CEO of Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority;
  • Sister Sally Duffy, Nun, Sisters of Charity;
  • Bobby Maly, CEO and principal, The Model Group;
  • Steve Leeper, president and CEO, 3CDC;
  • James Watkins, president, TriVersity Construction;
  • Roxanne Qualls, former Cincinnati council member and mayor;
  • Brendon Cull, executive vice president and chief strategy officer, USA Regional Chamber;
  • Susan Thomas, National Tax Credit Lending team, Fifth Third Bank.

In 2020, LISC released a widely anticipated 10-year comprehensive housing playbook, “Housing Our Future: Strategies for Cincinnati & Hamilton County,” focused on local solutions to the housing crisis activated by a coalition of housing practitioners, community lenders, and government and economic development leaders.

Baker provides leadership and structure to Housing Our Future’s implementation, and regularly convenes its steering committee around opportunities to inform on key issues and support projects that preserve existing affordable housing and produce new units, as well as initiatives protecting residents who are severely housing cost burdened.

“I am honored to serve on the Housing Advisory Board and believe this collaborative initiative is critical for aligning priorities to leverage industry expertise and partnerships and maximize the impact of the city’s resources,” Baker said.

Baker has been instrumental in guiding a number of regional equitable growth and urban planning initiatives in adopting a strong housing affordability component.

One such effort was the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s “Embracing Growth” report on how the region stacks up against peer regions in the housing market. Pete Metz, director of the chamber’s Connected Region initiative, said working with partner organizations like LISC has been key to incubating good housing policy ideas.

Last year, LISC and Xavier University’s Community Building Institute completed data informed housing action plans with five local jurisdictions in partnership with Hamilton County development and planning department.

Cincinnati City Council voted to approve the Housing Advisory Board legislation around the same time the city announced plans to apply for a $34 million loan from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to build more affordable housing in the city.

“I am excited that the Housing Advisory Board addresses the critical issue of sustainable funding  sources for affordable housing and also looks at how we can be smart about tax abatements and the whole regulatory environment as well as boost our competitiveness for state and federal funding,” Baker said.

LISC’s playbook also addresses reforming inequitable and outdated systems. The playbook’s recommendations include changing zoning and development laws to eliminate obstacles to new housing, promoting mixed-income housing, incentivizing developers to provide more affordable housing and measuring equitable growth.

“Almost every Cincinnati neighborhood LISC works with have been disinvested by some measure of deliberate action through things like redlining, urban renewal and tactics that governments have taken to advance their goals, often at the expense of Black and Brown residents,” Baker said.

Baker said in 2021 LISC committed $9.3 million in loans/equity to support affordable housing and community development projects.

The appointment to the city’s Housing Advisory Board is her second major additional regional role in recent months. Last year, Baker was chosen to help strengthen Cincinnati’s 2026 FIFA World Cup bid effort by serving on a human rights leadership committee. She specializes in housing rights alongside LISC’s Local Advisory Committee Chair Robert Killins Jr., who is director of special initiatives at the Greater Cincinnati Foundation.

Baker and Killins also closely collaborate on supporting West End neighborhood housing and business district priorities. Baker is on the leadership team of All-In Cincinnati’s racial equity coalition housed at Greater Cincinnati Foundation.

“We have been part of the racial equity journey with Greater Cincinnati Foundation from the beginning, because addressing racial disparities and disinvestment are at the heart of what we do at LISC,” Baker said

Baker graduated from the University of Dayton with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a master’s in public administration. Prior to joining LISC, she was a community development specialist at the Center for Great Neighborhoods of Covington and a senior community impact associate at the United Way of Greater Cincinnati, where she helped develop the “Place Matters” comprehensive community development initiative that accelerates neighborhood change through targeted investment and intense community engagement.

At LISC, she has broadened the reach of “Place Matters” to catalyze economic development opportunity within more communities.

“A neighborhood that has been disinvested needs to have a team of people who wake up every day thinking about the neighborhood and understanding what community members are hoping to accomplish,” said Baker. “That is the way we can achieve things like access to better housing, better kindergarten readiness, higher wages and healthier quality of life for everyone.”

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