A building that once stood abandoned and dilapidated for more than a decade is now giving four refugee families new hope as they start new lives in Cleveland.
The building is on West 46th Street on Cleveland’s west side, rehabbed and renovated by the Geis Foundation over the course of 10 months to create four separate apartments and a storefront.
It is the foundation’s third project renovating homes for refugee families in the city.
“For us to be redeveloping a neighborhood in the city of Cleveland like this, rebuilding one house at a time, is incredible to me,” said Brandon Moore, project manager at Geis Construction. "Give them a piece of the American dream, just a safe place to call home is a really good feeling."
The first tenant moved in Friday — a 23-year-old Congolese refugee named Esperanz. She landed in America less than a day ago and is now waiting for the rest of her family to arrive later in September.
Karin Wishner is the director the Cleveland office for the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. She said taking Esperanz straight from the airport to her new home was an emotional moment.
“She just had a big smile on her face and said ‘thank you.’ Just over and over, ‘thank you, thank you,’” Wishner said. USCRI helps refugee families settle in, then aids them in learning English, finding employment, and honing other skills. A home, Wishner said, is the foundation for everything else.
Outside the four-apartment building is a garden where refugee families will learn plant crops in and then sell in the building’s storefront, offering the neighborhood a fresh market.
The Geis Foundation worked with Geis Construction contractors, who donated many of the supplies and labor, Moore said, including the roof, HVAC equipment, plumbing, and electrical. The apartments come fully furnished. The families will be paying rent, roughly $450 a month.
According to the group Refugee Response, roughly 300 refugees resettled in Cleveland in the 2018 fiscal year. That’s down from about 800 two years ago. Over the last 5 years, Cleveland has become home for 4,500 refugees from all over the world.
The families who will move into the West 46th Street building are coming from the Congo and Nepal.