CLEVELAND — Wednesday, all seven candidates for Cleveland mayor took part in a virtual forum on housing and homelessness hosted by the League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland and nine affordable housing and homeless services providers.
The forum was moderated by Dr. Rosie Tighe, an Associate Professor in the Department of Urban Studies in the Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University.
The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless told News 5 a good number of the questions to the candidates were generated by Northeast Ohio's homeless, with the first question asking each candidates to give their thoughts on what they believe is the main cause of homelessness in Cleveland.
Candidate and State Representative Sandra Williams believes a primary cause is increasing local wages to help low income people afford the average monthly rent for a Cleveland apartment.
“The fact that it cost $1,100 for an average apartment within the City of Cleveland, I believe is just astronomical," Williams said. “I believe that the wages some our employers are paying within the City of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio does not allow for people to be able to pay their rent.”
Mayoral candidate and Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley said the city must continue to help low income residents avoid eviction and thus become homeless.
“One thing that causes homelessness and causes poverty is eviction," Kelley said. "That’s why I’m very proud to have led the charge to provide a right-to-counsel for low income defendants who are facing eviction. I worked with the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland and the United Way of Greater Cleveland."
Candidate and Cleveland Councilman Basheer Jones believes low income families need a bigger voice at Cleveland city hall to help avoid more people falling into homelessness.
“I will create as mayor a Department of Homeless Services," Jones said. "Number two, we also want to increase more jobs. Because of this pandemic, it showed us that we are all one paycheck from being unsheltered.”
Candidate and former Cleveland Councilman Zack Reed said a big part of the solution is committing significant fund to building more affordable housing.
“There has not been a new home built in the southeast side of the City of Cleveland, in ward one, in ward two, in the last four years," Reed said. "While in other parts of the City of Cleveland we’re building homes to the sky.”
Candidate and Northeast Ohio attorney Ross DiBello believes more funding is need to get after delinquent landlords and create more affordable units for low income families.
“We have slumlords where the houses aren’t kept up, and aren’t made to stay habitable," DiBello said. “Lending is huge culprit in the state of our place, how this city got built, we need a public bank going forward to solidify the social safety net.”
Former U.S. Congressman and Former Cleveland Mayor Dennis Kucinich called for greater measures to further curtail lending discrimination and access to home loans for Cleveland's Black population.
“I was chairman of a Congressional Investigative Subcommittee that investigated this matter," Kucinich said. “And the city, at that point, should have filed a major civil rights suit on behalf of the Black community."
Meanwhile, candidate and nonprofit executive Justin Bibb pointed out the vast majority of northeast Ohio's homeless are African American, and said bigger systemic issues are at the heart of a lasting solution.
“Roughly 80% of the folks who are in shelters for housing in 2018 were Black," Bibb said. "A large portion of the folks getting evicted all across this city and across this country are Black. And so, until we eradicate those structural barriers and eradicate structural racism in public policy, we’re not going to address this issue long term.”
The primary election is Sept. 14, the race will be narrowed down to just 2 candidates. Early voting for the primary starts on Aug. 17. The general election is Nov. 2.
You can watch the stream in the player below:
The forum was also streamed on the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry’s Facebook page here.