Teaching Cleveland

Lesson 37

Handout 1 - Fact Sheet

Public Housing in Cleveland

During the last part of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, thousands of immigrants poured into Cleveland. A demand for workers in the industrial factories of the city provided these new arrivals with almost instant employment. Locating in areas close to their workplace, these immigrants were living in some of the oldest housing stock in the city. Neglected by absentee landlords and seldom repaired or renovated, this housing by the late 1800s had deteriorated to slums. With the firm belief that social and moral evils resulted from poor housing, a movement began among the leadership of the city to eliminate the slum-like conditions. In 1904 the first comprehensive building code was established in the city, but it had little effect on the slums of the Haymarket or Cedar-Central. Most leadership in major cities opposed the establishment of public-supported housing, believing that the responsibility for this type of housing belonged in the private sector. The private sector, on the other hand, saw little profit in this type of investment and failed to have any effect on the worsening conditions. In 1912 the city's new home rule charter created a city planning commission, which was to be responsible for the "more orderly and attractive development of Cleveland."

Between 1900 and 1920 the population of the city doubled. Eastern and Southern European immigrants and African-American migrants from the South poured into the city. Mostly unskilled workers, these new arrivals added their presence to the already overcrowded area in the city's center.

Ernest J. Bohn, a city councilman in the Hough district and later a member of the Ohio General Assembly representing that same district, began to believe that the old idea of private enterprise sponsoring public housing was wrong. He worked with Daniel E. Morgan, former Cleveland city manager, to create a solution to the problem of deteriorating and overcrowded housing which was quickly beginning to engulf the inner city. In 1932 Bohn and Morgan used the State Public Housing Act in an attempt to establish the first public-supported housing in the city. The failure to accumulate enough capital and the refusal of city officials to provide the Public Housing Corporation with a tax abatement resulted in an initial failure. The aim of the corporation was to provide low cost housing for low income families. This idea was carried forward by Bohn who together with Howard Whipple Green and others conducted a demographic survey of the center city. The survey contained enough hard data to convince both the city fathers and the private sector to provide Bohn's plan with the necessary backing.

The Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority was established as an advisory board and plans were made for the first construction to begin in the Cedar-Central area. Eventually the advisory board became the administrator of the public housing in Cleveland and later in Cuyahoga county. Supported by federal funds made available through the Public Works Administration, Cleveland became the first major American city to construct public-supported low income housing. Cedar-Central, Outhwaite and Lakeview Terrace were constructed in the late 1930s and an Outhwaite extension followed and was completed in 1946. Additional units were constructed in other areas of the city including Valleyview, Carver Park, and Woodhill. Further estates were constructed in the 1960s and 1970s.

Initially the units of public housing in Cleveland were integrated. Eventually, however, a kind of "defacto" segregation evolved. White families were usually assigned to units in Lakeview Terrace and Valleyview on the west side of town , while African-American families were assigned to the units on Cleveland's east side. Highrise buildings for the elderly were eventually constructed on a number of sites on the city. These, together with scattered site housing for families, constructed between 1970 and 1995 have begun to serve a more varied population.

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