Neighborhood Voices tackles issue of affordable housing

(Plain Press, September 2004) Neighborhood Voices, a new group formed to work for affordable housing on the Near West Side hosted two summer ice cream socials this summer. About thirty people attended each session. The ice cream socials served a twofold purpose, to thank those who supported the group’s slate of candidates for the Ohio City Near West Development Corporation Board of Trustees and to share information and gather ideas on the problem of affordable housing in the neighborhood and citywide.

Over the course of the two meeting a number of speakers shared information on the problem of affordable housing in Cleveland and on various programs available to address housing needs. Affordable housing was defined as housing that costs less than 30% of a household’s income.

Using 2000 census data compiled by the Center for Community Solutions’ Social Indicators 2003-2004 on Housing, the group noted that the city of Cleveland has 215,856 total housing units. Of those, 190, 638 are occupied units and 25,218 are vacant. The city of Cleveland vacancy rate is 11.7 %. The Ohio City neighborhood had a vacancy rate in 2000 of 17.7%, down from 25.5% in 1990.

The occupied housing units are composed of 92,535 owner-occupied units (48.5%) and 98,103 renter occupied units (51.5%). The Ohio City Statistical Planning Area has 31% owner occupied units.

The median home value in Cleveland was reported at $72,100 and the median monthly owner costs (with mortgage) were computed at $806. It was estimated that 20,673 Cleveland Homeowners or 27.5% are paying more than 30% of their income toward housing costs. The 2000 census data indicated 39,807, or 40.7% of Cleveland ’s 97,825 renters, were paying 30% or more of their income for housing costs.

The Cleveland Tenants Organization (CTO) reported on its monitoring of eviction notices. It said in 2003, 10,267 evictions were filed in the city of Cleveland . There were 1,749 forcible move-outs of people who failed to move by the end of the 30-40 day eviction procedure. 2,726 contacts were made to CTO concerning evictions. Of this number 1,992 reported incomes to CTO. The average monthly income was $877, and the median monthly income was $720. CTO doesn’t yet know the average rent in 2003, but in 2002 CTO says the average rent paid by people entering the Eviction Diversion Program was $449 per month.

Neighborhood Voices also shared some statistics on public housing from CMHA’s 2004 Plan, dated October 2003, available on the CMHA website ate: http;// According to the plan CMHA owns and manages 10,294 units of public housing. Its public housing waiting list has 8,569 families. CMHA also has 12,836 units of housing receiving Section 8 tenant-based assistance. All of those units are filled and the waiting list for Section 8 has 6,360 households on it. CMHA also reports 582 units of Section 8 mod rehab, and a number of Special Purpose Section 8 vouchers: 752 welfare to work, 478 disabled, 200 family reunification and 29 VASH.

Neighborhood Voices presented data from the City of Cleveland/Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services Continuum of Care Application for 2003 indicating the number of emergency shelter, transitional housing and permanent supportive housing units available or under development in 2003. There were 4,097 units in the inventory in 2003 with 562 under development. The unmet need for housing in these categories for both single persons and families was estimated at 2607 units.

Guest speaker Catherine Donnelly of Housing 4 All in presenting a people’s platform on affordable housing said the problem of affordable housing “is not really a housing issue in Cleveland . It’s an income issue. Income needs to match housing needs.” A number of suggestions were made for avenues to tackle by members of Neighborhood Voices. They suggested a 1 to 1 replacement of affordable housing by Community Development Corporations when they rehab or tear down affordable housing. Advocate for more public housing and for a greater percentage of Community Development Block Grant Funding to be spent on affordable housing. Joining forces with educational and job training advocates to help close the income and housing cost gap. Examine the fairness issue concerning tax abatement and work toward a more equitable solution.

The group also looked at several areas north of Lorain Avenue in Ohio City where people self reported that their homes were on average $175,000 to $200,000 according to the census bureau. However the county auditor’s office average for the area is only $90,000. For tax purposes the evaluation should be at two thirds of the value. Thus taxes are being underpaid in this area. The implications for the school system and for the cost to other taxpayers of both tax abatement and undervaluation of property were discussed. Concerns were also expressed about impact of tax increases on low-income homeowners living in areas where property values have increased.

On the local neighborhood level the group said that its efforts resulted in 5 of 7 people on an affordable housing slate getting elected to the Ohio City Near West (OCNW) Development Corporation Board of Trustees. However, advocates for affordable housing still remain a minority on the 21-person board. Neighborhood Voices members suggested monitoring OCNW’s plans for low-and-moderate-income housing units on Chatham and W. 45 th. There was some concern that OCNW might try to change the status of the units further diminishing the amount of affordable housing available in the neighborhood. The group also talked about developing an organizational base of support for affordable housing by working with neighborhood churches.

The next meeting of Neighborhood Voices is on Monday September 27 from 7-9 PM at Franklin Circle Church on the corner of Fulton and Franklin. The group hopes to develop an agenda for next year. For more information call Neighborhood Voices at 651-6039.


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