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Building a Neighborhood Stabilization Team Effort

Cleveland, OH,

 

Although the steady loss of population in Cleveland is one contributing factor to the substantial level of vacant properties in the city, the foreclosure crisis, which started earlier here than in many other communities, threatens to abrogate decades of success and investment in the city’s hardest hit neighborhoods. The level of abandonment found in Cleveland today is unprecedented, even to many community development veterans. However, community developers in Cleveland have a long history of devising innovative responses to difficult challenges and they are working with stakeholders in the city to formulate a coordinated response that effectively targets and leverages available resources.

 

To overcome the obstacles to stabilization (trouble acquiring REO and post-REO properties, presence of multiple blighted properties within a neighborhood, and worry that nearby occupied homes may become vacant), a number of stakeholders created a “neighborhood stabilization team” – local intermediary, Neighborhood Progress Inc., Case Western Reserve University, 14 CDCs, and Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People (ESOP, a local foreclosure prevention agency) – to regularly meet and solicit input from CDCs working directly in the field. The effort is a comprehensive approach aimed at both ends of the stabilization challenge – preventing abandonment through strategies such as foreclosure prevention and converting abandoned properties for productive use. The team aggressively employs all available federal, state, and local resources. This customized approach surpasses the scope of much of the work considered neighborhood stabilization today, applying strategies and activities that may not be eligible for funding through the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program. These critical yet ineligible activities include acquiring privately owned property, commencing nuisance abatement and receivership proceedings, and aggressively enforcing housing and building codes.

 

The team holds monthly meetings with CDCs in order to:

  • Identify, map, and research potential acquisition/renovation targets
  • Identify and map blighted properties that threaten to undermine existing assets and renovation projects.
  • Identify and map occupied homes at risk of foreclosure and abandonment.
  • Prioritize and categorize destabilizing properties.
  • Link properties with an appropriate intervention.
  • Organize the stabilization work – assigning tasks and reporting back.
  • Track outcomes through NEO CANDO.

 

During the team meetings, each CDC maps and juxtaposes its assets with NEO CANDO data about particular neighborhoods’ destabilizing factors including at-risk mortgages, foreclosures, upcoming foreclosure sales, bank or investor-owned property, delinquent taxes, and vacancies. Case Western University updates the NEO CANDO data used by the team regularly, so the team can spend time making strategic intervention decisions rather than collecting information. The team meets with individual neighborhood groups to identify destabilizing forces that may harm community assets and to target limited resources near neighborhood anchors.

 

Working with the NST, the Slavic Village Development CDC leveraged investment in one of their new projects—a 90-unit single family housing complex located on an abandoned industrial site—to revitalize the surrounding area, which was also adjacent to a regional bank’s new headquarters. Slavic Village had identified the three-block area with a 40 percent vacancy rate in order to mutually strengthen these new anchors and those blighted blocks. With the help of the NST, Slavic Village began a property-by-property analysis and developed strategies for each. The CDC acquired 27 of the vacant properties and rehabbed the homes (offering some for sale and some for lease), demolished nearly 40 properties, landscaped vacant lots, filed receivership suits to eliminate nuisances and offered home repair loans and light posts to the existing residents. 

Less than three years later, the rehabbed properties are almost completely occupied; green spaces flourish where once there were vacant and abandoned lots; the dirty industrial site is gone; an old rail line was replaced with a bike trail, and a community garden greets visitors and residents alike on the neighborhood’s main avenue. These efforts stabilized the market in an area that was once severely distressed and are a hallmark of the results possible by working together.