Best practice: Redeveloping affordable housing

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Fri, 06/10/2005 - 07:48.

At the last East Cleveland Excellence meeting at the Helen S. Brown Center we spoke about needs for affordable housing for seniors in East Cleveland, especially as they need to downsize, and affordable housing is a huge issue in general. When then looking at photos of some of East Cleveland's landbanked properties it became clear there is a great opportunity to serve these needs.

 

For example, there are two large apartment buildings with vacant lots on each side that are on 133rd and in the landbank. They are close enough together that you could attach them with an atrium and have one elevator for all the units there and make it very handicapped accessible at low cost. Plenty of land for parking and gardens, no problem with security, and enough scale to make cost effective - could have a senior service center on ground floor serving more of the community. There are two other buildings in similar position in other area of city. This is the type of vision that should be shared and proposed to HUD, etc.

There is an article in today's PD on success with this approach in the Detroit/Superior neighborhood which should offer some ideas for East Cleveland, and some people to bring into discussions on best practices. See...

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Redeveloping affordable housing - Volunteers rescue West Side homes
Thursday, June 09, 2005 - Angela D. Chatman - Plain Dealer Reporter

You might wonder how a family could expect to live in the boarded-up house on Guthrie Avenue.

Built in 1891, the three-story frame and plaster house in Cleveland's Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood has long been vacant and in disrepair. It had been scheduled for demolition.

But Catholic volunteers rescued it, and now they are relying on donations of materials, money and services to renovate the house. They plan to rent it to a low-income family and subsidize the rent, too.

The effort is led by volunteers from St. Colman Catholic Church, not far from the house, and is supported by a group of social-service agencies, community development corporations and housing advocates that formed years ago over the lack of affordable housing on Cleveland's West Side.

Now in its sixth year, the West Side Rental Housing Collaborative is doing something about that shortage, spurring nearly $36 million in development since 2002. Researchers from Cleveland State University's Levin School of Urban Affairs evaluated the collaborative's work and deemed it a success.

The collaborative is planning more projects in its attempt to produce 500 rental units in five years.

St. Colman's outreach minister, Eileen Kelly, works with the families who can't make ends meet.

"When you sit down and talk to them about why they don't have enough money to pay their light bill, it comes down to that their rent is taking up a huge portion of their monthly income," Kelly said.

The federal government says people should pay no more than 30 percent of their gross income for housing. But studies have shown that many families pay 50 percent or more of their income for a place to live.

Someone working 40 hours a week at the minimum wage of $5.15 grosses about $875 a month and thus should pay no more than about $262 of their gross income for rent, according to the federal guidelines.

The average two-bedroom in the area rents for about $500 a month, Kelly said.

With more expensive housing going up for more affluent people, property values in Detroit-Shoreway, Ohio City and Tremont have soared.

"In the beginning, those things really rang bells with all of us. We saw our community development corporations working on projects that were not necessarily geared toward low-income people," Kelly said.

Leaders of several agencies started discussing the idea of a collaborative in June 1994, and commissioned a study in 1995. Their 1997 report confirmed what they already knew: There was a shortage of affordable housing.

The May Dugan Center led the effort to form the group in the fall of 1999 and was joined by 23 nonprofit groups, Cleveland, Cuyahoga County and the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority.

They applied for support from the Sisters of Charity Foundation, which has given the collaborative $540,000 over the last seven years. That includes money for Program Coordinator Lisa Kious.

The collaborative's projects include senior housing at St. Colman, single rooms at Cogswell Hall - a home for women in need at Franklin Boulevard and West 72nd Street - and housing on Detroit Avenue to replace demolished public housing at the old Carver Park in the Central neighborhood.

The house on Guthrie Avenue is one of 283 units that have been developed or are under construction. An additional 202 units - costing more than $17 million - are in pre-development stages.

Construction will begin in July on Emerald Commons, the city's first permanent supportive housing, which provides on-site social services. The $6.5 million project will provide 52 efficiency apartments at West 79th Street and Madison Avenue for the disabled, said Kathryn Kazol, executive director of the Emerald Development and Economic Network Inc.

Plans call for more public housing replacement units; for the Stockyards Redevelopment Organization's development of single-family houses, including five for disabled people, and for expansion of Cogswell Hall, so it can serve more low-income women.

Meg Slifcak, deputy director of the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization and the former collaborative coordinator, said the group's work is not done.

"We are the safety net," she said.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:

achatman [at] plaind [dot] com, 216-999-4115