CLEVELAND — In the first of a series of meetings ahead of its self-imposed deadline of Nov. 1, the Cleveland City Council heard testimony from non-profit and advocacy organizations that are calling for the investment of a portion of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money to be used for robust assistance programs related to housing.
Earlier this month, the city council agreed to a series of meetings designed to outline priorities and recommendations for how the city will use the expected $511 million in ARPA funding. The council will then reconcile its recommendations with those already proposed by Mayor Frank Jackson.
Representatives from Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, Enterprise Community Partners and the Urban League of Greater Cleveland outlined the current challenges facing the city’s residents when it comes to housing, infant mortality, food insecurity, youth violence and other areas of concern.
Mark McDermott, the vice president of Enterprise Community Partners, said the pandemic has exacerbated the number of residents experiencing housing insecurity, which occurs when a resident devotes more than half of their monthly income to paying rent or their mortgage.
“Prior to the pandemic, in terms of renters, [housing insecurity] was around 33%. That number for renters is now over 50%,” McDermott said. “That is an increase that has taken place over less than two years.”
The pandemic’s impact on supply chains and input costs has also priced many residents out of the housing market, preventing them from purchasing a home and building equity.
The Urban League and Cleveland Neighborhood Progress made broad recommendations to council members, including supportive housing for the homeless, down payment assistance programs for affordable housing, construction gap financing, enhanced renters assistance programs as well as home repair grants that will allow people to stay in their homes.
“The way to get the private market into our neighborhoods is to have the public sector come in first,” said Tania Menesse, the CEO of Cleveland Neighborhood Progress.
Further complicating Cleveland’s housing problem is the continued struggle against lead poisoning in the city’s youth. The Jackson Administration has proposed allocating $17.5 million in ARPA funding to be used as part of the Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition, the public-private partnership that is heading up the lead mitigation effort city-wide.
Yvonka Hall, the leader of the Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition and co-founder of the Cleveland Lead Safe Network, said the city should take immediate action to address the more than 400 homes that have known lead hazards. An informal survey conducted by the Cleveland Lead Advocates for Safe Housing organization found more than half of those homes have had their warning placards removed and close to a third of the homes were occupied as of last spring.
“This needs to be addressed immediately. Regardless of what administration it is, this is still an emergency,” Hall said. “We know that our communities have been disproportionately impacted and I would want to see those dollars more strategically allocated to those resources that are needed within our communities.”
CLASH has also recommended that the city devote a small portion of its ARPA funding for a mobile lead testing vehicle.