After taking on slumlords as assistant city attorney, councilmember looks for solutions to city’s affordable housing crisis
When Jaiza Page was an 8-year-old girl growing up in Linden, a TV show on ABC Family inspired dreams of one day becoming a lawyer.
“There was a kid on there. His parents were getting divorced, and he didn't have an attorney,” Page said recently in an interview at City Hall. “The judge ordered an attorney to help him because the parents were battling over custody. When I watched that, I thought, ‘I wanna do that when I grow up!'”
Page's road to practicing law began to solidify during her senior year at Columbus School for Girls. That year, Page interned with Rick Pfeiffer, who was then a judge in Franklin County's Environmental Court. After high school, Page headed to Georgetown University for undergraduate studies and then returned home to get her law degree from Ohio State.
Pfeiffer lost track of Page while she was at Georgetown, but one Sunday morning a woman approached him at Christ Memorial Missionary Baptist Church, where Page has taught Sunday school and led youth ministries. “This woman comes up to me,” said Pfeiffer, who by then was Columbus City Attorney. “She says, ‘I'm Jaiza Page's mom.' I said, ‘Did she keep her head screwed on straight?'”
Page's mother assured Pfeiffer her daughter was on the straight and narrow, and soon enough Page was interning in the city attorney's office while attending law school. After she earned her law degree and passed the bar, Pfeiffer hired her as an assistant city attorney to work on the zone initiative team, where she addressed nuisance issues in the community using legal means.
“I would say, ‘If there's something that gets on your nerves, I can figure out if there's a legal way to address it,'” Page said. “I did a lot of work with vacant and abandoned houses, drug houses, prostitution, places that had a liquor permit and were doing illegal things, or places that didn't have liquor permits but were selling alcohol — getting those shut down.”
In one instance, neighbors complained of drugs and prostitution at Motel One on the East Side. “When you have people crying over nuisances in their community — that was a moment where I was like, ‘We have got to do something,'” said Page, who managed to get Motel One demolished, along with a South Side scourge, the Lockwood Park Apartments.
Her ability to fearlessly take on opponents reminded some of her father, Jerry Page, a gold-medal boxer in the 1984 Olympics. The Franklin County Democratic Party also took notice of Page's abilities, and in early 2015 she was appointed to City Council to fill a vacant seat.
“My life turned around in the blink of an eye,” Page said. “I remember thinking, ‘How am I going to help the people that I've been helping for four years?' Some people [I'd helped] were like, ‘You can't leave us yet! We're not done!' That was hard. … I cried a little bit.”
In November 2015, Page was elected to a four-year term on council and now heads the Recreation & Parks, Zoning and Housing committees. Through the housing committee, she continues to keep tabs on nuisance issues while also looking for ways to alleviate the city's affordable housing crisis, which she referred to as a “911 emergency.” To that end, Page recently announced a collaboration with Franklin County Commissioner Marilyn Brown and OSU's John Glenn College of Public Affairs to study the underlying causes of eviction in Columbus.
Page has a reputation for getting things done, but she tends to work diligently and patiently behind the scenes. She thrives on legal minutiae. “I'm a zoning law nerd. I just love zoning laws,” said Page, who also practices law at Eastman & Smith Ltd.
Pfeiffer said Page is still learning how to be a politician and public figure, but he described her as an “outstanding public servant.”
“She doesn't talk just to be talking. She speaks when there's something of substance to say,” Pfeiffer said. “If you look at City Council, I bet you'd find that Jaiza talks less than anybody else. But that doesn't mean she's not effective. Jaiza is working on some very important issues in a very quiet way.”