Low-income panel questions mayoral candidates
by Chuck Hoven

(Plain Press, October 2005) At a Saturday September 17th forum at Trinity Lutheran Church on W. 30 & Lorain Avenue, Cleveland mayoral candidates were given the opportunity to respond to the questions and concerns of low income Clevelanders. The forum sponsored by United Clevelanders Against Poverty (UCAP) featured questions by both a panel of UCAP members and from the general audience. While the answers of the seven mayoral candidates present didn’t vary a great deal, important issues were raised, and mayoral candidates running for office in one of the poorest big cities in America, received an idea of some of the concerns of Cleveland’s low-income residents.

Candidates attending the forum were: Mayor Jane Campbell, Council President Frank Jackson, former Euclid Mayor David M. Lynch, former Safety Director James Draper, former city councilman Bill Patmon, former Municipal Court Judge Robert Triozzi and attorney Michael L. Nelson.



Affordable Housing


The first series of questions by the panel of low-income Clevelanders concerned the issue of affordable housing. Candidates were asked to define affordable housing, describe the proper ratio of affordable to market rate housing in future housing developments, and describe what their administration would do to provide housing for low income residents.

Candidate Michael Nelson said he thought affordable housing means that the amount a person pays for housing should be about 20% of their income. He called for a 10 to one ratio of market rate to affordable housing.

Candidate Bill Patmon defined affordable housing as individuals spending 20 to30% of their income on housing. He noted that housing is the right of every Ohioan under the Ohio constitution. He said the ratio of affordable to market rate housing should more closely reflect the percentage of people in Cleveland below the poverty rate which he described as 23-28% of the population. “If you build ten houses,” he said, “at least 2 should be affordable.”

Candidate Robert Triozzi said the definition of affordable housing should include more that just a percentage of income. He called for quality affordable housing in a healthy safe environment, free from lead paint and other hazards. He said the percentage of poverty should be a driving force in terms of housing development. He said the number of affordable units should be higher than the poverty rate so as to include those above the poverty line.

Candidate James Draper said in addition to addressing the issue of low income housing there was a need to provide housing for those with no income. He said 3,000 people were homeless on any given night in Cleveland, with  at least ten percent of those individuals in need of health treatment. He called for housing not just for those aspiring to be middle class, but also  building single occupancy rooms to help meet the needs of some of the now-homeless population. Draper said the more than 30% of new housing should be targeted to this population to “make up some ground for past failures.”

Candidate David Lynch said he agreed with Triozzi that housing is not affordable if it is not livable. He applauded the efforts of Housing Court Judge Ray Pianka to make housing “safe and livable through code enforcement.” Lynch said he would concentrate on making housing more livable. He provided an example of a woman he met who lives in a single family home where the post office has refused to deliver mail because the neighborhood is deemed unsafe as an example of the city not providing livable conditions for housing. Lynch said he is not in favor of huge housing development projects. Instead he said he would lobby for expansion of the Section 8 Program, which allows a tenant to take a coupon to anywhere they can find a landlord in the program.

Candidate Frank Jackson said affordable housing is “what people can afford” amongst a variety of subsidized  or market rate housing, both rental and for sale. He said that the term used should be “affordability of quality.”

Jackson said he is a strong believer in income integration, saying “you have to have a community with all levels of income to make it a quality community.” He said that the variety of housing in Ward 5 where he serves as councilman includes public housing where residents pay 30% of their income for housing, low income private housing, Habitat for Humanity houses for low-income homeowners, a tax credit program and subsidized market rate housing. A program he initiated in Ward 5 offers $10,000 to new homeowners to help make market rate housing more affordable.

Mayor Jane Campbell was late for the forum and missed the question on affordable housing.



Utilities

The next series of questions revolved around the hardship caused by the skyrocketing cost of utilities. A panelist said while some residents qualify for the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) and other programs, others facing hardship, including many senior citizens, have income considered too high to qualify for the assistance programs. The panelist asked the candidates if they would support a moratorium on disconnections by city owned Cleveland Public Power (CPP) during the winter months from November 1st through March 31st. Then they asked candidates “What role do you see for the city in providing protection from high heating costs and the possibility of disconnection because of inability to pay?”

Jackson said not only gas and electric rates were going up, but water and sewer rates as well. He said, “As the cost of things go up, incomes don’t match.” He said City Council supported a moratorium on Cleveland Public Power shutoffs during the winter months. Cleveland Public Power, as a city utility, should show compassion to residents, he noted. However, the moratorium has strong opposition from the mayor, he said. Jackson said the city of Cleveland gas aggregation program passed by City Council saved money on gas bills for those that signed up.
Jackson said the private sector utility First Energy is still trying to destroy the public sector utility Cleveland Public Power. He said as a result of actions taken by First Energy, cost savings for Cleveland Public Power customers are now only 3%, they used to be 25%, he said.

Lynch said “People in need are often instructed to go work things out for themselves.” However, he noted that many of those in need are senior citizens and children who don’t have the opportunity to work more to pay for increased costs. “Those who are most vulnerable, are the most powerless,” he said. “Utility payments ought to be included in Section 8 subsidies. Subsidy programs should include all utilities, including water,” Lynch added.

Draper said, “Too many people are living at or below the poverty level.” Draper said he would use the mayor’s office to advocate for those in need. “God didn’t make junk. These are human beings. The mayor’s job is about leadership.” He said he would make those in power so miserable until they agree to help those in need. As mayor he said he would tell them, “Look, you are part of this community. Healthy, safe, affordable houses are an investment in community.” Draper said as mayor he would address Cleveland Public Power and all agencies about doing their fair share.

“I am embarrassed that you had to ask this question,” said Triozzi, before stating his commitment to support a moratorium on winter shutoffs by Cleveland owned Cleveland Public Power. Triozzi further noted that other actions should be taken to help deal with people who prey on residents who are financially distressed and people who prey on senior citizens. He called for additional measures by the city consumer protection department to help stem these financial scams.

Patmon said as a city councilman he encountered people burning furniture for heat. He said he and Councilman Jackson were instrumental in working with the Salvation Army to bring subsidies to people who needed assistance with their heating bills. He said that Cleveland City Council and the Mayor have control over Cleveland Public Power and “can make sure that nobody is cut off during the winter months.” He said “promises can’t be made about private utilities but you can testify to those who do have regulatory power over them”. He noted that he testified before Congress about the impact of increasing gas prices in 1997-98.

Mayor Jane Campbell said her administration has done a number of things to stem the rise in utility costs. She said her administration made a Public Utility Commission of Ohio (PUCO) filing objecting to a First Energy proposed rate increase, putting the city in the conversation. Campbell said they were able to secure an agreement with First Energy not to increase the rates until April of 2009. She said at that time the rate increase won’t have as big an impact because their rates will be going down anyway because of reduction in debt payments for their nuclear power plant.

Campbell said that now that the gas company is about to collect an increase because of rising gas costs, the state will also collect more in taxes on that increase. She said her administration would lobby the state so that some of the increased tax collections can come to the city of Cleveland in the form of subsidies to help residents cope with the increasing gas prices.

Campbell said she would support a moratorium on Cleveland Public Power winter disconnections “if you give it to only those who need it. If you give it away to people who don’t need it, it will raise rates. Everyone else’s price would go up.”

Referring to rising utility rates, Nelson said, “ You are about to be screwed.” He said powerful interests that once tried to take over our one safety net – Cleveland Public Power - and the companies the interests represent still control City Hall through financial contributions. He accused local politicians of lobbying for energy companies and utilities rather than the interest of citizens. He urged those present to check financial contributions to candidates to help determine their obligations to contributors. Nelson said he supports a moratorium on CPP shutoffs in the winter and also would support joining with other large cities in Ohio in a lawsuit to protect consumers.



Employment Barriers

The low-income panel next presented the issue of employment barriers such as the cost of birth certificates, public transit access to job sites, and public policy that works against livable wage jobs. They first asked candidates to address the expensive and time-consuming process of obtaining a birth certificate at City Hall. In order to get the proper identification to get a job a birth certificate is often needed to prove identity to get a state Identification Card or drivers license. However, in order to enter City Hall to get a birth certificate you need a photo identification card. This stops many people at the door. If you do get in to get a birth certificate, the $17 cost can be prohibitive for many.

The second employment barrier addressed was to ask candidates if there was anything they could do to lower the cost of the Regional Transit Authority buses and trains for low-income residents, perhaps creating income based bus passes.

The third area of concern was the creation of more jobs with a living wage and benefits. The panel asked candidates how they would stop the exploitation of temporary workers at the tax-subsidized stadium, ball park and arena downtown. They asked the candidates how they would assure the facilities hire more permanent workers or offer the temporary workers a living wage.

Concerning obtaining a birth certificate, Patmon said he would relax restrictions on entry to City Hall. He said he doesn’t believe it is necessary to show an ID in all cases. He said he believes $17 is too much for a birth certificate. He recommends a $2 or $3 cost.

Patmon said he would “feverishly work with RTA” to solve the problem of affordability for low-income residents so residents could get to where the jobs are. He cited Seattle as an example of a city where employment nodes were matched up with transportation to make sure residents could get to where the jobs were. He cited an example of a new Cleveland area mall where residents living near the mall didn’t want the jobs, but Clevelanders who wanted the jobs couldn’t get there by public transportation. Expressing a need to fix this he said, “There are 100,000 people in poverty you have to do something about.”

Patmon said the city missed the boat in creating contracts with Gund Arena and Jacobs Field that would benefit city residents. He said as mayor he would talk to Dolan and the other folks and try to shame them into doing the right thing.

Campbell said, “The best way out of poverty is a job with a decent wage and benefits.” Campbell said that the fee for birth certificates is set by the State of Ohio. The money for the certificates goes to the State of Ohio so if the amount paid by the public was reduced it would have to be made up from the general fund. Campbell suggested that both birth certificates and bus fare would qualify for federal and county funds for workforce development. They would be considered “tools for employment.” So if individuals went through the city or county job training program those funds would pay for the birth certificate and bus fare needed to get to a job.

Triozzi noted that one of the most important questions he asked defendants in his 11 years on the bench was “Do you have a job?” He said it was a huge issue that “we have set up an obstacle at City Hall.” He noted the Catch-22 that “You need an I.D. to go into a place to get a document to get an I.D.” Trozzi suggested that there were ways to move forward with technology that would make the birth certificates more readily available.
On the subject of RTA, Triozzi said that where the jobs are is not always consistent with public transportation. He said, “You better believe I’m going to be an advocate with RTA.”

Draper suggested remote city halls where birth certificates could be accessed rather than relaxing security at City Hall. He said there are certainly a lot of ways to attack the problem of access to birth certificates. As for the price of the birth certificates, Draper said, “I’d be willing to work anyway I can to reduce that. We talk about predatory acts. That is predatory.” Draper said he would work with the Chief Executive Officer at RTA to make the bus system more people friendly. He called it “obscene” that people can’t get to jobs because of lack of transportation.

Lynch said asked what the designers of the security system at City Hall were thinking. “You have to show an ID to get into City Hall, but there is not a metal detector in City Hall,” he noted. Lynch called the parking problems at City Hall another barrier. He noted that lack of day care was another economic barrier. Lynch said his administration’s solution would be greater economic development. His administration would emphasize bringing well paying jobs to Cleveland and giving people an opportunity to create new jobs, he said.

Jackson said he would not relax security at City Hall, but thought citizens should be able to get certain kinds of services outside of City Hall. He thought that the cost of a birth certificate was expensive, but said coming downtown would cost for parking even if the price of a birth certificate could be reduced.

Jackson said when RTA cut bus lines to Aurora, workers left without transportation engaged RTA and forced them to get the bus lines back. Jackson said reduction of fares for low income individuals would involve engaging RTA in a negotiation process.

Jackson said he also believed there are ways to negotiate employment at a decent wage for employees of Gund arena and other downtown sports venues.

Nelson ridiculed the security at City Hall, saying “you could walk into City Hall with an Uzi under a trench coat, but as long as you had an ID you could get in.” He said the Browns manage to have 70,000 fans go smoothly into the stadium without a need to check I.D.s. He suggested that “if security is an issue, there are other ways to provide it without requiring an I.D.”

Nelson suggested that RTA could reduce fares and increase the number of buses on the road if it scrapped the $50 million dollar train for downtown.

Nelson then asked how many people in the room without a job would take a job paying $9.87 per hour. He suggested that jobs coming to Walmart in Steelyard Commons would pay that much. He said, he along with Mayor Campbell worked to make that possible.    


Inclusion

The candidates then answered a number of questions from the audience before they were asked by the panel “ What would you do to see that the voice of low-income residents is given equal weight with that of business interests and other affluent property owners?”

To put this question in context, members of the low-income panel said that in some neighborhoods, such as Ohio City, businesses and affluent property owners complain about the large number of social service agencies. Despite pleas by low income neighborhood residents and social service providers, CMHA’s Riverview HOPE VI project included no low-income housing. Low-income residents who depend on these social services for the bare essentials of life feel they are unable to get to the table to stress the importance of these resources and services. They said their statements of concern and efforts to be included in the planning of their neighborhoods have been ignored. Candidates were asked, “What would your administration would do to see that the voice of low income residents would be given equal weight with that of businesses and other affluent property owners?”

Nelson said the United States Constitution says, “of the people, by the people. Don’t keep asking – demand. You are your own lobbying group. Nobody cares about you. You will not get services unless you stand up and demand them.”

Jackson disagreed. “ The last 16 years of my life have been dedicated to you. I care about you. I live among you.” Jackson said he would always include low-income residents in his agenda. Jackson said Cleveland businesses would be better off when the less affluent are better off.

Lynch said the voices of low-income residents would be heard in his administration. He called for regional revenue sharing. He said Cleveland should benefit from the growth in Medina.

Draper noted that as a member of the Cuyahoga County Mental Health Board he worked to address the needs of mental health consumers dumped into the streets of Cleveland. Draper said the County Mental Health Board learned that its ability to meet the needs of mental health consumers was much more effective when consumers were included on the board and in the planning process. “Consumers are part of solving the problem and not talked down to,” he said. Draper suggested that including low-income residents in the policy discussions would improve city polity as well.

Triozzi said his career was about making a difference. He said he worked to develop a more compassionate way for the courts to address the needs of the mentally ill, amnesty measures to help former criminals to readjust to society, and a drug court to address those coming to court with substance abuse problems. Triozzi said he believes in working to make a difference in peoples lives.

Patmon said, “With one quarter to one third of Cleveland’s population living in poverty, is it not a big enough population to have an Executive Assistant to give voice to that issue? Poverty is a problem that if it is not solved, all the sports palaces don’t mean a thing.” Patmon said it is in the interest of the whole city to address the issue of poverty. Those in need, he said, will do one of three things, “work, steal or beg. They are not going to sit around and go hungry.”

Campbell said she grew up in the church where the philosophy was that “you do for the least.” She said this was a responsibility that she carried out in her career. She said the City of Cleveland has an “ongoing Summit on Poverty that is open to anyone in the community to get involved.” She said the summit works on issues such as job creation and affordable housing.

Editor’s Note: On Tuesday October 4th Cleveland voters will reduce the field of candidates for mayor to two candidates. The final two candidates will face off on November 8th in the general election. The term of Mayor of Cleveland is a four year term, the salary for the position as of January of 2005 is $119,712.36 per year.

 

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