World's Best

Decades of health gains at risk in Brazil due to COVID-19 — Global Issues

With global attention and support focused this week on the severe crisis in India, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus used his regular media briefing to highlight the situation in South America’s largest country. 

Brazil has been among nations hardest hit by COVID-19.  More than 400,000 people have died from the disease, and over 14 million cases have been reported.  

“Cases have now declined for four weeks in a row, and hospitalizations and deaths are also declining. This is good news, and we hope this trend continues. But the pandemic has taught us that no country can ever let down its guard”, said Tedros. 

Scaling up support 

Since November, Brazil has been battling an increase in cases, hospitalizations and deaths, including among younger people. Intensive care units across the country have been at almost full capacity this month.  

 “Brazil has a long and proud history in public health, with three decades of investments in strengthening primary health care and progress towards universal health coverage. But the pandemic has hit Brazil’s health system hard and threatens to unravel those gains”, Tedros said. 

WHO and its regional arm, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), are working with the Brazilian authorities to provide medicines and other urgently needed supplies, including oxygen and masks. 

Brazil is also scaling up domestic production of COVID-19 vaccines, Tedros said. 

Newly appointed Health Minister, Dr Marcelo Queiroga, said the Brazilian authorities are also accelerating vaccination efforts, including through better distribution of doses.  

Vaccinating a South American giant 

Dr. Queiroga said the country’s “diversified strategy” for the pandemic includes partnerships for technology transfer, bilateral contracts with pharmaceutical companies, and participation in the global vaccine solidarity mechanism, COVAX

“Currently, we are distributing more than 60 million doses of vaccines, and we have already applied more than 41 million doses”, he said, speaking through an interpreter. “Nonetheless, we still have a long way to go because we need to be able to vaccinate 2.4 million people every day.” 

The Health Minister appealed for countries with extra vaccine doses to share them with Brazil.  He also spoke of action to support indigenous people, reporting that more than 500,000 doses so far have been distributed. 

Americas overwhelmed 

Overall, the Americas has been the region most affected by the pandemic, according to WHO. 

Countries such as Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Uruguay and Guyana have reported a dramatic rise in infections, and health services are overwhelmed.   

Dr Ciro Ugarte, Director of the Department of Health Emergencies for WHO/PAHO, said several countries have seen an increase in cases among younger people. 

“These are linked to increased exposure and no vaccination in this group as most countries have few vaccines and are applying them to vulnerable older groups and healthcare workers,” he explained. 

A bleak outlook 

PAHO is helping countries to plan for a needed sudden increase in the use of oxygen, intubation, drugs and personal protective equipment, and to improve protection for health workers. 

Dr Ugarte underscored the need for more vaccines in the region, including through COVAX and donations.   

“COVAX has delivered 7.3 million doses in Latin America and the Caribbean so far, but the need for vaccines is much greater”, he said.  “Many countries cannot afford large bilateral deals with producers and are relying on COVAX for vaccines, but the outlook is not optimistic for increased supplies soon.”

Moderna vaccine Emergency Use Listing

The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine has been listed for emergency use, WHO announced on Friday.

It becomes the fifth vaccine to receive the validation, which is a prerequisite for being included in COVAX.

Emergency Use Listing (EUL) assesses the quality, safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines.  It also allows countries to expedite their own regulatory approvals to import and administer doses.

The Moderna vaccine had previously been reviewed by WHO’s expert advisory group, SAGE, which in January recommended its use for people 18 and above.

The other vaccines WHO has listed for emergency use are by  Pfizer/BioNTech, Astrazeneca-SK Bio, Serum Institute of India and Janssen.

Middle East

Private Israel security guard attacks disabled Palestinian man – Middle East Monitor

A disabled Palestinian man sustained severe wounds and bruises to his face and body after a private Israeli security guard beat him in the occupied East Jerusalem town of Silwan on Wednesday evening, Felesteen newspaper reported.

Local sources reported that Fadi Mohsen was beaten in the Wadi Hilweh area of Silwan with video footage of the brutal assault circulating on social media.

The attack took place as illegal settlers stormed the Ribat Al-Kurd area which is located north of the alley that leads to the Iron Gate, at the western wall of Al-Aqsa Mosque, led by former member of the Israeli Knesset Yehuda Glick. The area is referred to by Zionists as the ‘Little Western Wall’.

READ: Israel soldiers diagnosed with cancer after work on Iron Dome, report says

Top Cities

A risqué bikeway obstruction on Randolph St. – Streetsblog Chicago

The Chicago-based website and app Bike Lane Uprising, launched a few years ago by tech wiz Christina Whitehouse does a great service for people who ride bicycles in our city, as well as many other cities across the U.S. by providing a free platform for reporting bikeway obstructions. To prevent future blockages, Whitehouse and her team find trends in the data to highlight trouble spots, and hold repeat violators, such as particular delivery or trucking companies, accountable.

Bike Lane Uprising also does direct outreach about these issues to the Chicago Department of Transportation and Finance (which is responsible for ticketing bikeway blockers.) On top of all that, BLU raises money to distribute hundreds of free bike lights to cyclists.

On Wednesday Bike Lane Uprising drew attention to a recurring bike lane blockage site on the middle level of Randolph Street, near Columbus Drive, where there are bike lanes delineated with plastic posts that connect the Lakefront Trail with the protected lanes on Randolph west of Michigan Avenue. Multiple Streetsblog readers have previously mentioned issues with CTA bus drivers parking in the lanes.

Workers installing the Middle Randolph bike lanes in July 2018. Photo: Anne Alt
Workers installing the Middle Randolph bike lanes in July 2018. Photo: Anne Alt

Early Wednesday morning the Bike Lane Uprising Twitter account tweeted out photos of a CTA bus parked in the westbound Randolph bike lane, stating that the driver “appeared to be having sexual relations” in the vehicle, adding that the operator emerged from the bus buttoning their shirt, while another person was carrying cleansing wipes. BLU said the bus was parked just east of a bus stop, which they asserted allows the GPS on the bus to register it as being at the stop.

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BLU also tweeted out a roughly minute-long video of a confrontation between the person taking cell phone footage and the other person from the bus, who was wearing a pink top. In the clip, the person repeatedly waves off the videographer while exhorting them to “Go about your day.”

Screen Shot 2021-04-28 at 9.30.32 AM

Bike Lane Uprising’s tweet about the situation sparked a heated online debate about when, if ever, it’s appropriate to tweet out images of people involved in bikeway obstruction incidents. Many commenters, including Kyle Lucas, cofounder of the sustainable transportation advocacy group Better Streets Chicago, asked whether it was really necessary to broadcast the faces of those involved, especially the person in pink, since they weren’t responsible for the decision to park in the lane. Others argued that if people make decisions that endanger cyclists, and/or have public sex, they deserve to be shamed for it. After multiple tweets through the day asking BLU to delete the posts, they were taken down by Wednesday evening.

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Setting aside the question of whether Bike Lane Uprising’s tweets outing the participants were warranted (for what it’s worth, Streetsblog Chicago’s current policy is not to publish the faces of bike lane blockers), what if anything is the CTA doing to address the issue of bus drivers regularly blocking the Middle Randolph lanes?

“CTA regularly reminds its employees that bike lanes are for the exclusive use of bicyclists and that parking a personal or CTA vehicle in a bike lane is prohibited at all times – as it can pose numerous safety hazards,” a CTA spokesperson. “Every effort is made to keep this top of mind among our employees, including during orientation and ongoing/routine Bus Operator training.”

The CTA rep also noted that the photos posted by Bike Lane Uprising showed the bus parked near a location on Randolph where the transit agency has a temporary bus storage facility on weekdays. “With our storage location so close by, it would not be unusual to see a bus stationed in this general area. But again, we have re-issued our policy on not parking CTA vehicles in bike lanes as a reminder to operators storing their buses in this area.”

Bike Lane Uprising didn’t immediately provide a response to the CTA’s explanation. But if you regularly see buses parked in bikeways on Middle Randolph, or anywhere else in the city, you can use BLU’s website or app, and/or the city’s 311 system, to report the issue, and it wouldn’t hurt to call the local alderman’s office for good measure.

And if any CTA bus operators are reading this, thanks in advance for not obstructing bikeways.

World's Best

Middle East coordinator calls for new and timely Palestinian election date  — Global Issues

UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland, said that he understood the “disappointment of the many Palestinians” who had gone nearly 16 years without being able to cast their vote.  

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced the postponement of the planned parliamentary elections, amidst a dispute over voting rights in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, according to news reports. 

Israel governs voting conditions in the city, and Palestinians are reportedly insisting that all 150,000 eligible voters be allowed to cast their ballots – far more than under a previous agreement with Israeli authorities. 

“Facing this difficult situation, we decided to postpone the date of holding legislative elections until the participation of Jerusalem and its people is guaranteed”, Mr. Abbas said, on Palestinian television. 

The last Palestine-wide ballot in 2006 fuelled a factional split, with extremist group Hamas gaining control over the Gaza Strip, while Mr. Abbas’s Fatah party won a majority in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. 

Democratic path 

Encouraging Palestinians “to continue on the democratic path”, Mr. Wennesland underscored the “widespread international support” for transparent and inclusive elections throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in East Jerusalem.  

Giving people the chance to vote would renew the “legitimacy and credibility” of Palestinian institutions and help to re-establish Palestinian national unity, he said.   

“This will also set the path toward meaningful negotiations to end the occupation and realize a two-State solution based on UN resolutions, international law and previous agreements”, added the UN official. 

Moreover, setting a new and timely date for elections would be ‘an important step” in reassuring the Palestinian people that “their voices will be heard”. 

‘Fragile situation’ 

Noting that the UN reaffirmed its support to strengthening the Palestinian national institutions, the Special Coordinator stressed that a prolonged period of uncertainty risks “exacerbating the fragile situation”. 

He called on all parties to maintain calm, show restraint and refrain from violence and encouraged leaders on all sides to “reduce tensions and create the conditions for a resumption of the electoral process”.


Two Carnival Cruise Ships Will Arrive in Galveston This Sunday

Those who follow Carnival Cruise Line and the cruise industry, in general, will be excited to know that two cruise ships operated by Carnival Cruise Line will arrive in Galveston, Texas this Sunday, May 2, 2021.

There has been a lot of anticipation for the two vessels which will arrive on the same day for the very first time since Carnival has been on hold for more than a year ago.

Carnival Cruise Ships Arriving in Galveston

Carnival Vista and Carnival Breeze will arrive in the Port of Galveston to refuel and take on supplies. The cruise line’s Ambassador, John Heald, has already confirmed that they will arrive at around noon on Sunday afternoon.

According to the Cruise Ship Tracker, both Carnival vessels are currently approaching the middle of the Gulf of Mexico and heading directly to the port.

Apparently, hundreds of people are expected to welcome the two ships and there is even the possibility of sounding the ship horns once approval is given by the port.

Photo Copyright: Cruise Hive

It will be an important day for the cruise line as president Christine Duffy will also be there to welcome the two ships. She has also confirmed to Heald that the ships will even have a light show with some music. Duffy has recently visited the Carnival Sunshine while docked in Miami, it was her first visit since suspension first started in March 2020.

It comes as there have been no passenger cruises from the port since March 2020. A sad sight for the fourth busiest cruise port in North America. Rodger Rees, Galveston Wharves port director, and CEO said, “while ports that rely solely on cruising have been hit hard by the suspension, the Port of Galveston is fortunate to have a more diverse business mix, including cargo and commercial operations.”

Port of Galveston Cruise Terminal
Photo Credit: Patrish Jackson /

Despite no cruise operations, the port continues to do well with port operations that have helped it ride through the difficult times. Rees continued to say, “we’re also fortunate to have a great staff, who have worked together to hustle for business and manage expenses. By going after more lay ship business last year, the port collected $6.1 million, a new record for the port. Cargo was another bright spot. Despite the pandemic, port staff and our port partners, including the International Longshoremen’s Association, moved 4.3 million tons of cargo through the port, generating $11.4 million in port revenues.”

The popular cruise port is set to be ready if cruises do eventually resume operations in July 2021. $100,000 has been invested in health and safety upgrades across the cruise terminals.

Carnival Vista Cruise Ship: Overview and Things to Do

Carnival Vista and Carnival Breeze were based out of Galveston before the pandemic hit, and now with more hopefully news from the CDC that cruises can resume in July, it’s all go for preparations across the fleet.

Carnival Vista Docked at Port of Galveston

Middle East

Scores crushed to death in Israel religious festival – Middle East Monitor

At least 45 people were crushed to death overnight at an overcrowded religious festival in Israel, with some asphyxiated or trampled victims going unnoticed until the PA system sounded an appeal to disperse, Reuters reported.

Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews had thronged to the Galilee tomb of 2nd-century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai for annual Lag B’Omer commemorations that include all-night prayer, mystical songs and dance.

Witnesses said many of the dead were caught in a tightly packed passageway around three metres wide after crowds packed the slopes of Mount Meron in northern Israel in defiance of warnings to maintain social distancing against COVID-19.

Medics said there had been a stampede in the men’s section of the gender-segregated festival. Casualties included children.

Many of the dead had yet to be identified and police asked family members to provide pictures and personal information of those who attended the festival and were still missing to help with the process.

Videos posted on social media showed ultra-Orthodox men clambering desperately through gaps in sheets of torn corrugated iron to escape the crush. Bodies lay on stretchers in a corridor, covered in foil blankets.

“There was some kind of mess, police, screaming, a big mess, and after half an hour it looked like a scene of a suicide bombing attack, numerous people coming out from there on stretchers,” said 19-year-old festival-goer Hayim Cohen.

READ: Private Israel security guard attacks disabled Palestinian man

“We were going to go inside for the dancing and stuff and all of a sudden we saw paramedics from [ambulance service] MDA running by, like mid-CPR on kids,” 36-year-old pilgrim Shlomo Katz told Reuters.

An injured man lying on a hospital bed described to reporters how the crush began when a line of people in the front of the surging crowd simply collapsed.

“A pyramid of one on top of another was formed. People were piling up one on top of the other. I was in the second row. The people in the first row – I saw people die in front of my eyes,” he said.

The Justice Ministry said investigators would look into whether there had been any police misconduct connected to the tragedy.

A police spokesman said overall capacity at Mount Meron was similar to previous years but that this time bonfire areas were partitioned off as a COVID-19 precaution. That may have created unexpected choke-points on foot traffic, Israeli media said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while visiting the site, called it one of the “heaviest disasters” in Israel’s history and promised a thorough investigation to ensure it did not recur. He called for a national day of mourning on Sunday.

The United States and European Union offered condolences.

Helicopters ferried injured people to hospitals and the military said search-and-rescue troops were scrambled.

The Mount Meron tomb is considered to be one of the holiest sites in the Jewish world and is an annual pilgrimage site. The event was one of the largest gatherings in Israel since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic more than a year ago.

Private bonfires at Mount Meron were banned last year due to coronavirus restrictions. But lockdown measures were eased this year amid Israel’s rapid COVID-19 vaccination programme that has seen more than 54 per cent of the population fully vaccinated.

Top Cities

Research continues to unravel plastic industry recycling lies

A new study has proven once more that plastic recycling is a lie. According to American Chemistry Council data, only 14% of all plastic is recycled. The data further shows that 16% is incinerated and 70% ends up dumped into landfills.

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These findings underscore a 2020 report by NPR that discussed how the plastics industry has lied to the public about the possibility of plastic recycling. For many years, the public has been led to believe that sorting plastic waste in a certain manner could help with the recycling process.

Related: Oil and plastic industry spent millions to mislead the public about plastic recycling

In the 1980s, the plastic industry was in trouble following public concern over plastic pollution. As a result, plastic industry players devised a way of staying in the market. This entailed a $50 million per year advertising campaign, encouraging consumers to recycle. As a result, the public was made to believe that plastics with a recyclable badge could be recycled responsibly. Unfortunately, this plan has proved infeasible.

NPR investigators found that those little triangles at the corner of the plastic mean nearly nothing. They are just a ploy used by the plastic industry to encourage people to use the products.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, about 14.5 million tons of plastic packaging were produced in 2018. This already startling tonnage doesn’t even include trash bags or single-use plates and cups. Without meaningful recycling possibilities, this plastic continues to either get incinerated or pollute the environment. This recycling issue starkly contrasts with materials like corrugated boxes, of which about 97% are recycled.

For a long time, U.S. companies sent plastic waste to China, but that changed a few years ago. With China shutting its doors to U.S. plastic waste, all this plastic ends up in landfills. Those in the industry say that the major problems with plastic recycling include collection, sorting and the expense of melting it. Further, the quality of plastic degrades each time it undergoes recycling.

+ Ecori

Lead image via Pixabay

World's Best

Mass Violence in the Shadow of the State

Paramilitarism: Mass Violence in the Shadow of the State
By Uğur Ümit Üngör
Oxford University Press, 2020

Paramilitarism is both a continuous and insufficiently understood presence in world history. Those two qualities are connected: because of the ubiquity of paramilitarism in such a wide-range of historical and geographical settings, it has been hard to formulate a common language and set of principles through which scholars of different backgrounds might communicate its common features. Additional problems of interpretation have to do with a tendency to condescend to paramilitarism as a peripheral or residual mode of violence in comparison to state institutions such as regular armed or security forces. And there is the tendency to romanticize paramilitary traditions and actors, often a process conducted first and foremost by former or present paramilitaries themselves, who are wont to exaggerate their own roles in national-liberation struggles and (importantly) exaggerate their appeal to the societies and states from which they emerged. These inter-connected problems have made the study of paramilitarism more difficult at virtually every level of analysis, local, national, regional, and of course global. Uğur Ümit Üngör’s impressive synthesis does much to confront and overcome these problems. The author has conducted a considerable amount of research into paramilitarism in its many guises across space and time, and he has distilled his work into this remarkably compressed and insightful short study. Anyone who has worked on paramilitarism in any context will want to read this, and future scholars wishing to broach this topic would be unwise to ignore its insights and its ideas.

The author takes an historical-sociological perspective, combining empirical observation of paramilitary case studies with existing theoretical reflection. The emphasis here is on the former, or rather, Üngör’s theoretical and analytical insights derive from his impressive survey of paramilitarism across the globe in the modern period. This account is the most comprehensive that I have read on the topic, encompassing all the relevant case studies and their historiographies with impressive linguistic scope. The sections that deal with ex-Yugoslavia and the contemporary Middle East (especially Iraq and Syria, the latter to be a topic of a forthcoming book by the same author) are particularly detailed. Üngör concludes that the most important relationship for paramilitaries is that with the state. This relationship is not understood in the traditional sense of an asymmetrical hierarchy in which paramilitaries feature as an appendage to a more powerful and better-organised state and its institutions (although this is surely sometimes the case). The relationship is rather dynamic, paramilitarism is often present and active at the birth of state projects (e.g., in modern Turkey, the Balkan national states of the nineteenth century) and remains entangled in its institutions and leadership (Üngör’s examples here are contemporary Kosovo and Northern Ireland). Paramilitaries can provide states with additional resources of military power, or they can expand their capacities for violence beyond legal and moral strictures by offering ‘plausible deniability’ to civilian leaders or regular military forces (sections on ex-Yugoslavia and the difficulties of overcoming the burden of proof against perpetrators of violence there highlight this phenomenon).

The second key relationship that Üngör highlights is between paramilitarism and crime, a realm in which paramilitaries are often per force most adept and comfortable. Paramilitary violence typically transgresses the legal and moral rules of the society in which its perpetrators operate, it is almost a natural and necessary environment for paramilitary actors, one in which violence and coercion are at a premium and in which the economic, cultural, and political pay offs can be disproportionately lucrative. Üngör’s examples abound, amongst the most conspicuous of which are Ulster loyalist Johnny ‘Mad Dog’ Adair, Serbian mobster turned warlord Željko ‘Arkan’ Ražnatović, and Indonesian death squad leader (and ‘star’ of Joshua Oppenheimer’s stunning 2012 documentary The Act of Killing) Anwar Kongo. These are all men who also demonstrate the authors point that petty criminality is also a fertile recruitment ground for paramilitary actors.

The book is organised into four chapters. Üngör’s introduction sets up the problem of studying paramilitarism, reviews the literature, and defines the historical-sociological approach and the central relationships between paramilitarism, the state, and crime. The second chapter provides an historical overview of paramilitarism in the ‘long twentieth century’. In the third chapter, Üngör delves deeper into the nature of the relationship between organised crime, the state, and paramilitarism. Chapter four addresses the organisation of paramilitarism, again taking the state as a starting point and concluding that paramilitarism is “a praxiological phenomenon that is a consequence of para-institutional constellations” (p.169). The final concluding chapter restates many of the main findings of the book and points towards the author’s upcoming study of Iraq and Syria, which will surely be of considerable interest to many of this present work’s readership.

There is much to take note of in this book. The author’s emphasis on empirical observation and analysis means that he typically eschews abstracted ‘ideal types’ of his objects of study in favour of judging by their actions, that is, their ‘praxis’. It means that many of the stereotypes about ‘weak states’ and other phenomena are skilfully avoided. Chapter four includes a fascinating discussion on the now notorious ‘trophy video’ of the Serbian state paramilitary units ‘the Scorpions’ massacring Bosniak civilians during the genocide at Srebrenica, 1995. It made me wonder if there was not a longer conversation to be had about the performative nature of paramilitary violence, and violence as a means of kinship bonding and achieving cultural prestige. Prestige features, too, in the often folkish memory of paramilitarism in the societies from which they came, and I would like to read more studies of the role of memory both in securing social privilege for paramilitaries, but also as a force of recruitment for future generations (Üngör broaches the matter of paramilitary traditions in his final chapter – it brought to my mind Serbian paramilitaries of the 1990s imagining a connection between themselves and the Chetniks of the Second World War, or even of the anti-Ottoman national-liberation struggle). Relations between paramilitaries and non-state actors, civilians, are also surely important, a discussion that has in large part been taken up by Stathis Kalyvas. Üngör’s excellent book will become the point of departure for much new study of the phenomenon of paramilitarism in the modern period.

Further Reading on E-International Relations

Middle East

EU calls on Israel to facilitate polls in Palestine – Middle East Monitor

The EU on Friday urged Israel to enable elections across the entire Palestinian territory and expressed regret over delayed vote, Anadolu Agency reports.

“The decision to postpone the planned Palestinian elections, including the legislative elections originally scheduled for 22 May, is deeply disappointing,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a written statement.

He reiterated the bloc’s “call on Israel to facilitate the holding of such elections across all of the Palestinian territory, including in East Jerusalem.”

Borrell also called on Palestinian authorities to set a new date for polls “without delay” and encouraged all Palestinian political actors to resume talks.

“We firmly believe that strong, inclusive, accountable and functioning democratic Palestinian institutions based on respect for the rule of law and human rights are vital for the Palestinian people,” he added, stressing the EU’s commitment towards a two-state solution.

READ: PA’s Abbas heightens security alert level

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Thursday they will not hold elections with Jerusalem excluded from voting.

He said the Israeli side had not given an answer to the Palestinian request for holding the polls in the occupied East Jerusalem.

Abbas, however, stressed that once Israel permits elections in Jerusalem, the polls will be hold within a week.

Palestinian territories including the West Bank and East Jerusalem have been under Israeli occupation since 1967.

Like Turkey and much of the international community, the EU does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over these areas.

Top Cities

Affordable Housing Needs Assessed Ahead of Cincinnati’s May Election – News

Cincinnati voters will consider the controversial and consequential Issue 3 at the ballot box next week, potentially guaranteeing $50 million in annual funding for the city’s Housing Trust Fund.

Supporters and opponents of Issue 3 have been arguing the point for months now, as documented by Planetizen in March.

Analysis by Dan Horn for the Cincinnati Enquirer digs into one of the sources of the controversy surrounding Issue 3: disagreement about how much affordable housing Cincinnati needs.

“Much of the debate has focused on a 2017 study that estimated Cincinnati needs about 28,000 more affordable housing units for poor and working-class families. A competing analysis recently asserted the number is closer to 8,000 units,” according to Horn.

“The Enquirer tackled the affordable housing question with a different approach last year,” adds Horn, producing the conclusion that 88,000 Cincinnatians are in danger of losing their homes due to cost concerns every month.