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'You name it, we need it,' Cleveland's cut of COVID-19 relief brings hope to beleaguered neighborhoods

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Posted at 5:03 PM, Oct 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-07 19:13:36-04

CLEVELAND — While Cleveland’s city leaders continue to narrow down a plan for how to best spend the expected $511 million in pandemic relief money, a recent report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland highlights just how transformative and impactful the once-in-a-generation investment can be. Among the potential areas of emphasis for Mayor Frank Jackson’s administration is the strategic demolition of blighted and condemned properties.

A report released by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland found the city’s cut of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding narrowly exceeds the city’s total tax revenue for 2020. Most municipals received COVID relief funding to 2020 tax collection ratio between 25 to 45%. Cleveland’s ratio, on the other hand, was 100.7%, meaning the city’s allocation of pandemic relief money exceeded total tax revenues for 2020.

The report notes that kind of investment presents an incredibly unique opportunity for the city to invest a year’s worth of tax revenue without incurring any debt.

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Cleveland will receive the pandemic relief money in two allotments of $255 million. The first allocation was deposited into the city’s coffers in the summer. In September, members of Mayor Jackson’s cabinet, including chief of staff Sharon Dumas, outlined the proposed spending plan, which called for a $26 million investment in public safety, a $75 million investment for economic and community development initiatives as well as $15 million for the strategic demolition of blighted properties.

Although the City Council decided this week to devise its own spending plan that will later be reconciled with Jackson’s spending plan, it appears that the demolition funding is largely safe. Assuming the average cost of demolishing a condemned single-family home is in the range of $10,000 to $15,000, the $15 investment could be enough to demolish between 1000 and 1500 blighted structures.

Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood is in dire need of blight reduction, said Ward 9 Councilman Kevin Conwell.

“We need to demolish with a plan. You go in and demolish [the structure] and you have a plan to build new homes or to beautify the neighborhood,” Conwell said. “Don’t just tear the property down. That needs to be in there also.”

Ellis Clancy, 97, has spent nearly five decades in his Glenville home and used to own several properties scattered across the east side. He can remember his neighborhood’s fall and rise before its fall again. Although he largely keeps to himself now, he tries to remain active in knowing what’s going on in the community and the challenges it’s facing.

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“You been here about half an hour and you haven’t heard gunfire,” Clancy said as he let out a laugh. “So it’s gotta be better.”

Clancy, who says he has been the victim of at least two burglaries in recent years, believes public safety should be the number one priority for the neighborhood with demolishing blighted homes being a close second.

“You name it, we need it. You can go down the line. Whatever you name, it’s there. We need it,” Clancy said. “[The ARPA funding] should have been here tomorrow, that’s how bad they need it. Yes, we need it now to change some of these things around here.”

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Although Conwell joined other council members in pushing to have some of the COVID-19 relief money doled out to begin working on ‘low hanging fruit’ projects like demolition, he also was supportive of council developing its own spending plan with the aim of providing greater detail as to what specific projects and initiatives should be funded.

“My biggest issue is safety in the neighborhood. Hearing gunshots go off late at night or all the time is not a good thing,” Conwell said. “We need to make sure it’s safe so we can bring in businesses and more people in the community. That’s what people want to know. They want to feel safe and they want to know that they’re safe.”