CLEVELAND — A permitting mix-up nearly put in jeopardy a state-funded, volunteer-constructed wheelchair ramp that was recently built for a Cleveland family’s mentally and physically challenged son. However, a city spokesman and officials from the Metro West Community Development Corporation said they will continue to work with the family to get the issues resolved and the permit granted.
In August 2018, the then 14-year-old son of Ramon Zayas Perez, who shares the same name, was hit by a car outside his home in the 6000-block of Denison Avenue. The impact of the crash caused serious brain injuries to the teenager, prompting a prolonged stint at the hospital. As a result of the permanent brain damage, Perez’s son has difficulty walking and requires a wheelchair that was specifically designed for him. He also needs to be tube-fed every two hours.
“It was a nightmare. [The doctors] were giving us minutes. They said he was not going to make it,” Perez said. “It’s a miracle that he’s alive. He’s improving but we have a long road to go but now we’re dealing with [the ramp permitting issue].”
As a condition of being discharged from the hospital, the Perez family needed a wheelchair ramp built that would bypass the stairs leading to the front of their home. Caseworkers enrolled Perez’s son in the Ohio Department of Medicaid’s Home Choice Program, which provided financial assistance needed to build the ramp. The program also connected with Perez family with Easterseals of Northern Ohio. Easterseals then recruited a group of volunteers from United Auto Workers (UAW) who built the ramp in January.
“It was like one of the greatest days of our lives because we were waiting for that day for him to come. And he was finally home,” Perez said.
The UAW, in collaboration with Ford Motor Company, has built hundreds of ramps in and around Cleveland, officials said.
A few weeks after the ramp was built, Perez said an inspector from the Cleveland Department of Building and Housing notified him that the ramp was in violation of city code because it was constructed without a building permit. Perez said the inspector notified him that without the permit the ramp could be removed.
“How do we keep going day by day with him and they’re going to tear the ramp out?” Perez said. “How are we going to get him out of the house if we don’t have the ramp?”
Perez then contacted Easterseals and the UAW with the building inspector’s concerns. The volunteers who built the wheelchair ramp then provided Perez with a sketch showing the dimensions of the ramp. Perez also found out the dimensions of his property, the setback lengths and other information needed on the permit application, which was filled out in mid-February.
Perez also provided a list of the $1,600 in materials that were used to build the ramp.
However, Perez said city officials told him he needed a more detailed building plan. Those more detailed engineering plans typically have to be done by professionals and can cost hundreds of dollars.
“We don’t have the money to build the ramp. If we qualify [the Home Choice program] because we didn’t have the money, why can’t the city understand that we don’t have the money for blueprints?” Perez said. “We want to comply. I don’t want to break any laws. I’m trying to provide for my son and I don’t want them to take the ramp out because he needs it.”
Earlier this week, building inspectors taped a notice of violation on his front gate. According to the notice, Perez has until April 11 to secure the building permit or face fines or penalties.
Dan Williams, the media relations director for Mayor Frank Jackson, said the department of building and housing has been working and will continue to work with the Perez family. The family’s safety and especially Perez’s son’s safety are the city’s main mission. Building permits are a vital part in that process.
“We have to make sure it’s up to code. We are going to make sure it’s right,” Williams said. “Building and housing will continue to work with this family.”
Perez said he reached out to his city council member, Jasmin Santana. Her office connected him with Kris Harsh, the housing director at Metro West CDC. Harsh then visited the family on Wednesday. He said via email Thursday that the Perez family’s needs are at the center of everyone’s concerns.
“I do not feel like anyone is being vindictive or malicious. The city has a reasonable concern to ensure that ramps for the disable are constructed and installed properly so no one is further injured,” Harsh said. “Unfortunately, the organization installing this ramp did not know that they should apply for a permit. We hope to see this situation resolved in a timely manner and in a way that allows this organization to continue their good work in Cleveland with the support of the city.”
Williams also lauded the work of the volunteers but stressed the need for permits to be properly obtained.