Last minute housing plan draws community’s wrath
by Chuck Hoven

(Plain Press, September 2005) Many of the 150 people gathered at Lutheran Hospital’s Castele Learning Center on Wednesday August 24th expressed dissatisfaction about the latest proposal by the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority for its Riverview HOPE VI project.   Reasons for the dissatisfaction with the proposal varied from concern about the need for more low income housing to concern about a proposed development taking parking spaces needed by the customers of W. 25th merchants and the West Side Market. Most of those present were also upset that the proposal was being presented to the community with only a week to offer public comments.

CMHA first received a $8.5 million federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grant to build on the Riverview site in 1996. Now, nine years later, CMHA and developer Telesis Corporation are saying the site at Riverview is too unstable to build on. CMHA Executive Director George Phillips says the HUD money will be gone unless a new proposal is submitted soon. The HUD grant ends in December of 2006.

CMHA and Telesis presented to the community a new proposal calling for 402 housing units to be built in four locations on the Near West Side. Eighty-one of the 402 units would be affordable housing units (targeted to people whose income is 80% of the median family income of the area, roughly $44,000 a year). The remaining units would be market rate units.

Phillips said the 81 units of affordable housing are the bare minimum required by HUD. He said that of the 135 families displaced by the demolition of the low rises at Riverview, 54 have been relocated in scattered site housing. The remaining 81 families would have first dibs on the affordable housing units.

Clara E. Bell, former president of the Riverview Local Advisory Council, expressed concern to the Plain Press that the former public housing tenants would not be able to afford to live in the new units. She said that in public housing the cost of utilities is included in the rent for which residents pay 30% of their income. Bell and Sr. Donna Hawk of Transitional Housing both expressed concern that even if the families were given utility vouchers, the vouchers would not cover the entire cost of utilities.

Hawk said that the target group - those making 80% or more of the median income  - is too high. She said the need is for housing for those making $6 per hour or $12,480 per year. Bell agreed.

“In the poorest city in the United States of America, how can you say you represent us who are not making 80% of the median family income? What about housing for people who only make 20% of the median income? You have more people in Cleveland with low or moderate income than high income. Are we trying to make Ohio City another Shaker Heights?” Bell said the new housing being built should be inclusive of people with low, median and high income. “I don’t see that in this overall scheme,” she said.

The proposal presented by CMHA and Telesis, with revisions by Ohio City Near West Development Corporation (OCNW), calls for a total of 402 housing units. There are four proposed sites. The proposal calls for: 1).  48 units of housing on the southeast corner of Detroit and W. 28th (40 market rate and 8 affordable) 2.) On the southeast corner of Church and W. 28th a CMHA social services building would be demolished to make way for 74 housing units (62 market rate and 12 affordable). 3). On W. 41st and Lorain Avenue 12 affordable units would be built on property now owned by Ohio City Near West.  4.) The proposal calls for 268 units of housing (219 market rate and 49 affordable) to be built on both sides of Bridge Avenue at W. 24th Street. Under the proposal the former Hicks Elementary School site would become a parking garage with housing units built on top of it. The parking decks would contain 630 spaces.

Vince Bertonaschi, Vice President of the West Side Market Merchants’ Association, said the market merchants are not in support of the proposed housing units and parking garage on the Hicks site. “The Hicks lot was supposed to provide parking for businesses in the area.” Bertonaschi was concerned about customers of businesses on W. 25 and of the West Side Market not having enough parking spaces. “They can’t be competing for parking spaces with people who live there, “ he said.

A Telesis Corporation representative countered with an argument that the residents of the new buildings would only use about 350 of the 630 spaces. He said the result would be 280 parking spaces for area merchants, more than the 194 spaces currently at the Hicks site.
Market merchants responded that they need at least 400 more spaces now. They had been promised a multi-story parking garage by the City of Cleveland for the current West Side Market parking needs. They said that increased rehabilitation of buildings on W. 25th needed more parking infrastructure.

At one point in the meeting, OCNW, which moderated the meeting asked the crowd to leave the auditorium and go out in the hall to and mill around tables to discuss a select few items. The items were: the choice of sites other than Hicks, the design and height of the sites, how purchasers for the market rate housing would be recruited, and how the units would be set up in terms of mixing market rate and non market rate units. Many present did not want to go and were upset that the Hicks site was listed as a given and not up for discussion, while organizers asked for people to come up with some alternatives to other sites in the neighborhood.

When the group returned from milling in the hallway, a market merchant confronted OCNW, CMHA and Telesis wondering why the Hicks site had been listed as a given. He noted that the city of Cleveland owned the site. He asked, “What makes you think the city of Cleveland will give you the Hicks lot? Is there any understanding we don’t know about?” He was assured that “there was no deal cut in stone” and it was suggested that Hicks proposal should be taken off the given chart.

One Ohio City resident spoke up for the Hicks development. He said the increased density would be good for the neighborhood and would help fill tables at area restaurants at night.  Former Riverview Local Advisory Council president Clara E.  Bell questioned whether people would want to live above a parking garage surrounded by a parking lot and lack of  green space.

Several people questioned the inclusiveness of the planning process. A number of people present were upset that only Ohio City Near West was asked to review CMHA’s initial proposal and that the community was now viewing a proposal dramatically revised after consultation with the development corporation. Tim Walters, a community organizer at the May Dugan Center, said that other stakeholders in the neighborhood should have been given the same opportunity.

OCNW promised to post the original CMHA proposal on their website. An OCNW representative said OCNW wanted to increase the density to reflect what was agreed on in community meetings and that the Hicks lot was the easiest land to acquire. He said the proposal CMHA brought to OCNW took too much of the developable land from W. 25th to W. 45th, land that OCNW thought the market would develop on its own. The original proposal had a 50/50 split in affordable and market rate units and would have proposed building about 160 units of new housing.

Sister Donna Hawk, long time executive director of Transitional Housing, located next to Riverview, said that despite asking numerous times to be placed on the mailing list for all meeting concerning the Riverview development she did not receive notice of the meeting. Hawk said she learned of the meeting in the Plain Dealer the day before the meeting.

Individuals can forward their comments on the CMHA proposal to Ohio City Near West via mail at 2525 Market, Cleveland, OH 44113, by an e-mail address listed on their website, by fax at 781-3252 or by phone at 781-3222. The deadline for public comments is Friday, September 2, 2005.


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