CLEVELAND — Frank Avenue on Cleveland’s east side is easy to miss.
It’s nestled behind IBM’s building at the corner of East 105th Street and Cedar Avenue on the outskirts of the Cleveland Clinic campus at the northern tip of what will eventually be the Opportunity Corridor across the street from what could one day be Innovation Square.
All those elements mean the future of that neighborhood is bright, even if it’s checkered with vacant lots and homes that need some TLC today.
Those open lots mean the Frank Avenue you’d find in 2020 is a lot different from the Frank Avenue Brett Irvin grew up on.
“This property has been in my family for almost 60 years,” said Irvin, standing in front of the two structures his mom, Marion has owned since 1992. Irvin says other family members owned the land before that. “Generations have grown here.”
The buildings have plenty of memories, but also a roof that needs to be fixed, peeling paint, and a porch that needs attention, backing up on property that has already seen a huge amount of investment.
“As you can see right behind our property, we have IBM right in our backyard,” said Irvin.
Irvin says he’s been looking for money to help fix up the homes. His preference is for Marion to be able to keep living there, but he says he’d be willing to sell for the right price. Either way, he hasn’t been able to get financial help fixing up the homes.
“We don’t want to be an eyesore, but we want to to be part of the progress that’s coming,” said Irvin.
Irvin is hardly alone.
Cleveland City Councilman Blaine Griffin says after calls about public safety, he hears the most from constituents about trying to get help fixing up their homes.
There are two options for people like Brett and Marion:
- Grants, normally given out through community organizations
- Loans through traditional banks
Various community groups and organizations try to make money available for residents, usually seniors, to make repairs to their home so they can keep up with necessary maintenance.
See News 5’s previous coverage of those efforts here.
Community Housing Solutions Executive Director Andy Nikiforovs says CHS works helps about 1,000 residents to home repairs a year. Many of those are more modest but some can cost as much as $5,000 for bigger projects.
“Other involve replacing a heating system or a hot water tank or a roof in some cases,” said Nikiforovs.
But, those kinds of grants are usually reserved for owner-occupied properties.
Marion lives in one of the two properties on her land but she rents out three other units. The fact that it’s a revenue-generating property (even though Brett says two of the tenants are family) disqualifies the property for grants to make the repairs.
Traditional Bank Loans
While bank loans might be the more traditional option, they bring their own problems.
“It’s modern day redlining combined with years of disinvestment, neglect, and everything else,” said Griffin.
Griffin’s observations are backed up in some ways by research at Western Reserve Land Conservancy.
Most striking is the disparity of access to home improvement loans by race. The region with the least access is the East Side of Cleveland, where more than 80% of the population is African American. Across all five regions of the Cuyahoga County, access to home improvement loans decreases as percent of African American population increases.
Land Conservancy Senior Policy Adviser Frank Ford says the data doesn’t necessarily show an intention by banks to loan less in communities of color, but it does create a cycle that is hard to break. With fewer resources to keep up a home, the chance that it gets abandoned increases.
“Abandonment means blight and blight means an undervaluing of properties,” said Ford.
That makes it harder for any homeowner nearby, even of a home that is well-maintained to get loans for their properties or to even sell for a fair price, perpetuating the cycle of blight.
It means people like Brett and Marion are stuck, so Brett created a crowdfunding campaign.
Hope for a solution
Ford singles out one lending program in Cleveland Heights as an example for what the rest of Cuyahoga County needs.
The Challenge Fund through Home Repair Resource Center works only with homeowners who have already been denied for a loan elsewhere.
If they qualify, homeowners not only get the money for a repair project, they get:
- Financial counseling
- Home assessments to identify which parts of the home need to be fixed first
- Inspections of the work to hold contractors accountable
Ford says the program is financed by KeyBank and that there are already conversations about expanding it beyond Cleveland Heights.
“We need more banks to be participants in that program and we need that program to be expanded beyond Cleveland Heights to the east side of Cleveland and other Cleveland suburbs,” said Ford.
On Dec. 9, the newly-formed Cuyahoga County Community Reinvestment Advisory Subcommittee met for the first time. It will monitor how well KeyBank meets commitments it made to help meet credit needs in underserved communities as part of Key’s banking services contract with the county.
“We decide to crate this subcommittee to create the oversight to see in real time that these best faith efforts are actually happening,” said subcommittee Chair Pernel Jones, Jr.
At the same time, Griffin says Cleveland City Council is easing restrictions on repair programs through the city so more people can qualify, but ultimately, he’s hopeful that a Biden Administration will make more federal money available for these kinds of projects.
“We need a “Big Dig” in Cleveland and the Big Dig needs to be to try to help homes,” said Griffin.
Even though it might be easy to drive by blighted communities checkered with open lots, Ford says when the county struggles to collect property tax in one area, the burden shifts elsewhere.
“So even though people may live in Moreland Hills, Pepper Pike and say that’s not my problem, the fact is it eventually is your problem,” said Ford.
“Cleveland is not going anywhere,” said Griffin. “The issue is what kind of Cleveland are we going to have.”
If you're looking for resources to fix up a home here are options from a few organizations:
- Community Housing Solutions
- Home Repair Resource Center
- Neighborhood House Services of Greater Cleveland
- City of Cleveland Division of Neighborhood Services
- Cuyahoga County Home Repair
- Ohio Development Services Agency
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