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Study shows post-recession progress of suburbs in Cleveland's eastern ring

Posted at 7:51 PM, Feb 13, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-13 19:51:09-05

They were the collective epicenter of the 2008 foreclosure crisis, but a new study has found the communities of Euclid, South Euclid, Maple Heights, Garfield Heights and Warrensville Heights are showing signs of recovery.

Despite positive trends, like declines in the number of sheriff’s sales and severely blighted properties, there are some warning signs, including exponential increases in the amount of delinquent residential property taxes.

A newly released study, detailed at the Ohio Fair Lending and Vital Communities conference series, analyzed these five suburbs that comprise Cleveland’s eastern inner ring. The study was commissioned by the city of South Euclid and conducted by Western Reserve Land Conservancy and Dynamo Metrics. The project was founded through a $197,000 grant from the Cleveland Foundation.

Among the positive findings of the year-long study, 98% of the housing inventory in the five cities was rated as good or excellent. There are very few blighted, abandoned structures awaiting demolition. Mortgage foreclosures and sheriff sales have also declined dramatically, the study found. Median home sale prices have increased, although those values have not reached the peaks of 2000 and 2005.

However, the study also yielded some red flags.

Homeownership has been declining in all five suburbs since 2000, but that decline could be leveling off in Garfield Heights and Warrensville Heights. While residential property tax delinquency has increased in Cuyahoga County as a whole, it has been more pronounced in these five communities. For example, property tax delinquency increased 506% from 2009 to 2016 in Maple Heights. Garfield Heights had an increase of 402%, according to the study.

The study also found access to bank financing is a major challenge, because the median home price in all five communities is so low.

“A lot of banks don’t want to make those loans. That’s because the work to do a $50,000 loan is the same for a $200,000 loan,” said Frank Ford, the senior policy advisor for Western Reserve Land Conservancy. “I think these communities are at a point where there’s this good news that things are coming back. But the question is whether they are going to be able to come back fully. To do that, they need the help of lending institutions to make credit available.”

Many financial institutions do not offer mortgage products for people looking to buy a $50,000 home, Ford said. However, at least two banks, Fifth Third and Huntington, have made commitments to make these services available, Ford said.

The study also included teams of surveyors going door-to-door to physically examine each and every property within the five communities. The teams graded the physical condition of the properties. Meanwhile, Dynamo Metrics compiled a daunting amount of property and market data in order to show and quantify how much of an impact a blighted structure has on the homes around it.

That data was packaged into an online mapping tool, where city leaders and the public can easily access it.The data can show historical trends in a neighborhood, giving city leaders a better idea of what neighborhoods to specifically target.

“It’s always better when you’re operating with information as opposed to operating blind,” Ford said. “I think we’ve given these five mayors a tool or set of tools they didn’t have before that are going to be very useful to them.”

According to the study, 99% of the homes in Garfield Heights were rated in good or excellent condition. Only 3 homes were given an “F” grade for being unsafe and hazardous. Although the study found most buildings in the city are well maintained, there are two clusters that have higher concentrations of vacant houses. The clusters are located in the neighborhoods north of Granger Road and in scattered areas around Turney Road.

Many of the neighborhoods in Garfield Heights show signs of blight elimination. There are vacant plots of land dotting the neighborhood streets.

Rachael White lives right next to one of those vacant lots. On the other side of it is a vacant home. While her neighborhood has shown signs of progress, White doesn’t want city leaders to rest on their laurels.

“There’s a lot of things going on in the vacant homes, which is scary,” White said. “You’ve got the homeless people coming in. You’ve got people going in and tearing the homes up and selling the stuff to the scrap yard. They need to tear them down.”

Ford’s research component of the study also yielded a stark disparity between how the Great Recession impacted the eastern and western suburbs. Prior to the recession, the median home price in a western suburb was only slightly more than in an eastern suburb. Now, the median home price in an eastern suburb is less than half of that in a western suburb.

“What happened over the last 10 years, the east side had three or four times as many foreclosures, vacancy and sheriff sales,” Ford said. “At the end of it, you see home sale prices are very different, but they started the same. They weren’t that different ten years ago.”