GCC CH Housing Team ends its formal work

The Greater Cleveland Congregations (GCC) Cleveland Heights Housing Team grew from a listening event held in January 2016, in which 100 GCC members identified blighted properties as a major issue. Subsequently, a core group formed and decided to focus the team’s efforts on seriously blighted investor- or bank-owned properties in the Noble neighborhood. Now, six years later, the team is ready to conclude its work.

The team began by confronting U.S. Bank regarding the condition and number of its foreclosed properties in Noble, which resulted in the bank donating $125,000 to two neighborhood projects. We took city officials on a trolley tour of blighted properties, which resulted in Cleveland Heights City Council voting housing its number-one priority.

In 2019, 50 volunteers from 12 GCC congregations walked every street in the Noble neighborhood. Our team researched the ownership/tax status of 144 problem properties it identified, and provided this data to the city. The team’s work also led the city to adopt legislation requiring a $15,000 bond to ensure bank-owned foreclosed properties would be maintained.  

In our six years, we have consistently called for sufficient staffing for housing inspections, proactive inspection programs, law department involvement, and the formation of a Problem Property Team. During that time, there has been some progress: for example, the Novak Report, and the renovation of blighted properties by the city’s three CDCs. But there is more work to be done.

In 2021, the campaign for Cleveland Heights’ first elected mayor provided an opportunity to focus the candidates’ and the community’s attention on housing—and the need to do more to address blighted properties. Our team created a website, asked the candidates four questions, posted their responses, and promoted the website to the community. 

Our team believes that the strategies that now-Mayor Seren proposed during the campaign, if/when implemented, will significantly address the concerns we have raised over the past six years. This, coupled with the fact that CH City Council has established a separate Housing Committee—a move we strongly support—gives our team the confidence that our city is ready to move forward. Thus, we have decided the time is right for us to wrap up our work. 

As a first step, our team pulled together Mayor Seren’s responses to housing questions made during the three election forums and in response to our team’s questions. We believe his commitment is substantive, and will address the concerns we have raised consistently during the past six years.  For example, here are excerpts from four [of his] responses that speak to immediate priorities—all of which we strongly endorse:

  • “We must provide adequate resources to appropriately staff our current Housing Program Inspectional Services function. . . .” 
  • “My initial efforts will be . . . to identify and prioritize those investment- and bank-owned properties that are doing the most damage to housing values. . . ."
  • “As Mayor, I plan to work with Thriving Communities to perform a citywide residential property inventory, to get a clear understanding of the nature, status, and condition of every property. . . .” 
  • “Using the [survey] data, . . . geographically target the neighborhoods that are most affected by blighted properties in a strategic way. . . .”

Our next step was to meet with each member of city council to share our concerns, describe the work we have done, and encourage each council member to work in partnership with the mayor to advance housing priorities as soon as possible. We believe council, individually and collectively, is committed to doing just that. 

Our final step is this report to citizens of our Cleveland Heights community. We invite you to join us, become involved with your local government, and help monitor progress. Together we can make a difference and move our city forward!

Diana Woodbridge

Diana Woodbridge is chair of the GCC Cleveland Heights Housing Team. She was a founding trustee and executive director of Home Repair Resource Center (originally the Forest Hill Church Housing Corporation), and is a community activist.

Read More on Opinion
Volume 15, Issue 5, Posted 11:10 AM, 04.29.2022