In 2014, Cuyahoga County pledged $50 million to fund the demolition of blighted properties in Cleveland and the surrounding suburbs. Now, the county has announced plans to take back $17 million of that promised sum, and municipal leaders are not happy.
The move is supported by many (though not all) members of the County Council, who are swayed by wanting to balance the budget, Cleveland.com reports. County officials propose reallocating $8 million in 2018 and $9 million in 2019, and say that Hardest Hit demolition funds are available to cities wanting to fight blight. They do have plans to create another fund for housing rehabilitation using $3 million from a loan repayment fund. So far, $32.5 million has been given to cities and the Cuyahoga Land Bank for the removal of 2,097 buildings.
Representatives for Cleveland organizations and city leaders from inner-ring suburbs voiced strong opposition to the plan at a budget hearing this week, according to Cleveland.com. The city in particular has been prioritizing blight removal — upping its rental inspections and gathering better data to assess property conditions. Officials’ concerns are not just for property values, but also for public health — especially the health of children who could be exposed to lead.
“The benefit of the county demolition fund is that we have been able to clear the western portion of the city,” Melran Leach, East Cleveland’s community development director said, according to Cleveland.com. “If we didn’t have the county fund, we would be left with a little under $1 million in community development block grants that would allow about 20 demos a year. That will not even make an impact on what we have.”
Ayonna Blue Donald, interim director of Building and Housing for the city of Cleveland, said the city has identified about 5,000 parcels that need to be demolished, and they expect to identify another 2,000 parcels in the next two years.
Several County Council members also voiced opposition to the funding reverse.
“We must continue that effort and the promise we made to many communities,” Anthony Hairston said during the meeting. “We did for communities what no other county has done in Ohio. We don’t want to see that undone. Properties that line our street hold serious threats of the safety and well-being of our residents.”
As Next City has covered, the costs associated with blight are extensive, from property value dips that ripple to surrounding neighborhoods to costs associated with crime and arson, which are more prevalent in blighted neighborhoods.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.