Poverty still a big issue in 2017 Cleveland mayoral race

CLEVELAND, Ohio - Downtown Cleveland may be seeing a renaissance, but many parts of the city continue to struggle.

Census data shows that while the poverty rate dipped in 2016, it still hovers around 35 percent, which is among the worst in the nation. Of the children in Cleveland public schools, the rate is north of 50 percent.

Meanwhile, the city’s population has dropped by nearly 50,000 people in roughly the last decade. Nohemi Ayala has seen those problems first hand in her Slavic Village neighborhood, which she says, despite some new construction, has still not fully recovered from the 2008 housing crisis.

“A lot of people lost their houses,” Ayala said.

Many of the homes on her Fullerton Avenue street sit abandoned. Others have been converted into rundown rentals filled with low-income families.

“It’s really sad,” she said. "A lot of these people need training. They need to be placed, help them to get education or get some kind of trade.”

John Corlett with the Center for Community Solutions said he expected new numbers in September to show the poverty rate continuing to decline, but conceded it’s still a major issue.

“It’s not a new phenomena,” he said. "Cleveland has typically had a higher percentage of people living in poverty than other cities in the state, or other cities in the country.”

He said people in poverty tend to live in substandard homes in higher crime neighborhoods with less access to fresh food and quality schools.

So what are the candidates for Cleveland mayor planning to do about the issue? News 5 reached out to a number of candidates appearing on the ballot.

Ward 2 Councilman Zack Reed says he would use the mayor’s bully pulpit to pressure private businesses to hire city workers.

“We would clearly be talking to the private sector every single day,” Reed said. “What I’m saying about the private sector, if you really want to see the poverty rate go down? Start hiring the people in the city of Cleveland.”

Ward 10 Councilman Jeff Johnson highlighted his support for raising the minimum wage to $15/hour, possibly starting with a lower dollar amount. He deflected concerns that, as a result, jobs may leave the city to bordering suburbs.

“I believe Cleveland should have led the change, so that the whole state will change,” Johnson said. “To impact poverty, you’ve got to raise the minimum wage. There has to be living wages.”

A number of the candidates stressed the need for improved job training. Brandon Chrostowski, who runs Edwin’s Restaurant, said he wanted to take what he’s learned, providing training and jobs in food service to former prison inmates, and apply that citywide with five job training centers.

“I can tell you with my work at Edwins, helping men and women out of prison find a career and dig themselves out of whatever position they were in and where they want to go is a solution,” he said. “Downtown looks great. The marketing for Cleveland has been great, but we’re still the number one distressed city.”

And then there’s education. Robert Kilo, the only candidate endorsed by the Republican Party, wants more access to charter schools. He’s the former director of government relations for the well-respected Breakthrough Schools.

Even though Cleveland Metropolitan School District graduation rates have recently improved, Kilo says it’s not good enough.

"Cleveland kids can do just as well as suburban kids,” Kilo said. “I ask Cleveland, do you want gradual, slight improvement or do you want dramatic improvement? I have a feeling the kids in the 13,000 doors we’ve knocked on in this city? They want accelerated growth.”

And Fresh Brewed T’s founder Tony Madalone also pointed to better education one part of a solution. He said proven educational nonprofits in the city need more funding to expand their programs.

He specifically pointed out Seeds of Literacy, which provides free GED preparation.

“Could we educate 9,000 instead of 900? I think we could,” Madalone said. “Everything comes down to funding and if you don’t fund the programs that work, then those programs can’t scale.”

A spokesman for Mayor Frank Jackson said he was not available Wednesday night.

The mayoral primary is September 12. The top two candidates will move on to the general election.

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