Proposed County Housing Program Shifts Focus From Demolition To Renovation

A person in an orange flannel shirt on the left, stands with back towards the camera. She is speaking to four people behind a long counter, the county seal is behind them.
A county resident testifies at a hearing of the County Council's Community Development Committee on a bill to create a new $30 mil Cuyahoga County Housing Program. January 14, 2019. [Adrian Ma / ideastream]
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Cuyahoga County Council is considering legislation that would direct $30 million toward neighborhoods still reeling from the foreclosure crisis. 

The bill would create a new "Cuyahoga County Housing Program," based on the recommendations of the 2017 Cuyahoga County Housing Plan authored by the Department of Development. The bill presents a three-pronged approach to stabilizing neighborhoods. 

The first prong would require the land bank, which has been focused primarily on demolishing vacant properties, to focus more on renovating its existing homes. Although about 18,000 vacant properties remain, the drain of federal and state funds has forced the county to rethink its neighborhood revitalization strategy. 

“After we've taken down the worst of the worst properties what do we do next? This legislation guides that,” said Kahlil Seren, a research analyst with the Council. 

The second prong of the program calls for direct assistance to homeowners through renovation grants or loans, and “small dollar” mortgages (defined in the bill as “a mortgage with a principal amount of $70,000 or less), for those who need assistance to buy a home but cannot obtain a traditional bank loan. 

To ensure that the money is spent where it is needed most, the bill requires 90 percent of the funds be spent in neighborhoods where the median home value is at or below 175 percent of the countywide median home value (or roughly $200,000 and below). 

“This will build on vacant lots,” Seren said. “This will improve vacant homes. Homeowners will be able to improve the value of their homes.”

Finally, the program calls for the land bank to engage in “strategic activities specifically intended to spur private market investment,” including working with banks to encourage private investment in disinvested neighborhoods, and building new properties in spots with the hope of attracting additional investment. 

Council’s Community Development Committee discussed the proposed legislation on Monday. One of the bill’s sponsors, District 8 Councilman Pernel Jones, Jr., said the shift from focusing on demolition to constructive investment was the first step in a long process, but necessary in order to turn “depressed” neighborhoods into “emerging” ones.

After the meeting, District 11 Councilmember Sunny Simon said she's worried the ordinance does not require enough input from community development corporations or local municipalities.

“They're able to tailor what they need in their communities and should be the ones at the table to make those decisions in partnership with the county land bank,” Simon said.

The next public meeting on the bill is expected on January 28th.

 

Correction: An earlier version of the photo caption in this article identified the speaker as a woman. That person identifies as gender neutral. The caption has been updated.

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