Cleveland Heights legislation should safeguard equity and opportunity
In many Cuyahoga County cities, an owner may not transfer (sell or otherwise convey) a property without a point of sale (POS) inspection. Cleveland Heights was an “early adopter” of POS inspections, back in the 1980s, because a farsighted city council recognized them as a vital tool for maintaining the city’s greatest asset, its historic housing stock. Our city was ahead of its time, and this has served us well.
In 1995, Cleveland Heights became the first city in the United States to ban pesticides on the grounds of schools, day care centers, libraries and other public properties. Once again, Cleveland Heights was a forerunner among cities, both regionally and nationally.
Currently, as in years past, citizens’ groups have asked our city council to consider various proposals for forward-thinking legislation. Here are two that we think could make Cleveland Heights a regional model in the not-too-distant future.
Protect our neighborhoods with foreclosure bonds: The idea of this measure, informally known as foreclosure bond legislation, has been kicked around in Cleveland Heights since 2013, when it was first researched and proposed by residents from Grant Deming’s Forest Hill district and Noble/Nela. Council considered it in 2014 but declined to act.
As area citizens have learned all too well since 2008, foreclosures often lead to vacancies, which lead to blight, which in turn devalues surrounding homes and can threaten the safety and stability of entire neighborhoods. Foreclosure bond legislation comes into effect when foreclosure by a bank or other lender causes a home to become vacant. The bank must then deposit with the city a substantial amount of money (the bond). The city will draw upon the bond to pay for the upkeep of the property if the responsible party fails to maintain it. If the bank (or its servicing company) keeps the home up to code until it undergoes POS inspection and is sold, the city will reimburse the amount of the bond, minus an annual administrative fee.
Good actors have nothing to fear from foreclosure bonds, which have been effective tools for fighting blight in Springfield, Mass., and Canton and Youngstown, Ohio. Of course, less than reputable institutions do not care for such legislation.
Yes, foreclosures in Cleveland Heights have declined to pre-2008 levels. However, The Wall Street Journal and other national publications have recently warned of a new housing bubble caused by relaxed lending standards. With a federal administration committed to shredding banking regulations, we think it is only prudent to prepare for the next financial crisis. Foreclosure bonds are not a panacea, but we agree with Noble Neighbors and Greater Cleveland Congregations that they can be an important tool to prevent a devastating drop in housing values due to vacancy and blight. Let’s be the first community in Cuyahoga County to be ready for the next downturn.
Consider high-speed municipal broadband: Are you fed up with paying ever-higher prices for slow internet? If so, you’ve got lots of company in Cleveland Heights. Some residents think we shouldn’t be satisfied with the duopoly of Spectrum and AT&T. They propose that Cleveland Heights fund a study to determine the financial feasibility of a municipal broadband utility, to provide high-speed service throughout the city. They envision a network that would:
- Provide high-speed, relatively low-cost Internet service to all residents, businesses, safety forces, schools, libraries and city hall.
- Guarantee net neutrality and personal privacy, with no storage, provision, or display of individual or household data to third parties.
- Be revenue-neutral; subscriptions would pay for infrastructure, overhead and payroll; any excess funds would be applied to reducing subscription prices.
- Provide equitable access to low- and moderate-income households, eliminating the digital divide.
If the study indicates that a municipal broadband utility could achieve these objectives, a charter amendment to create such a utility might conceivably be placed on the ballot for voters to decide in November 2019.
As quoted in a June 6 Cleveland.com article by Thomas Jewell, CH Council Member Michael Ungar said municipal broadband fits “right smack-dab in with our strategic plan,” because it would attract new residents, businesses and professionals to the city. We think foreclosure bond legislation, which preserves neighborhoods, supports the city’s master plan as well. One proposal is aspirational and future-oriented, the other would protect our existing assets. Both exemplify democratic ideals of equity and opportunity that Cleveland Heights citizens have long held dear.
Carla Rautenberg and Deborah Van Kleef
Carla Rautenberg is a writer, activist and lifelong Cleveland Heights resident. Deborah Van Kleef is a musician and writer who has lived in Cleveland Heights for most of her life. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.