Cleveland has gone through many economic shifts over the last two centuries which has led to razing of residential neighborhoods, reassessment of properties and initiatives to improve neighborhoods. The issue of gentrification is closely tied to these issues and while it has been a source of economic improvements, it has also led to residential anxiety.
The Group Plan of 1903, which lasted for nearly three decades, was Cleveland’s first effort to revitalize its downtown areas and it came at a cost to people who had resided there. The CUYAHOGA COUNTY COURTHOUSE, CLEVELAND CITY HALL, and other public buildings were built following the introduction of this plan which was preceded by the razing of residential downtown areas. The construction of the TERMINAL TOWER and adjacent CLEVELAND UNION TERMINAL complex was also made possible by leveling over 1,000 surrounding buildings. As both working class blacks and whites were forced out from these downtown areas, the city became increasingly segregated. The downtown brothels relocated to the Cedar Central neighborhood which decreased the property value and caused city officials to label the area as “undesirable.” For this reason, it became one of the only places in the city that black people were able to rent and purchase homes. While working class whites relocated to slightly more desirable areas, many black citizens were forced to live in Cedar Central which became crime ridden and often neglected by the city and the federal government for the next 50 years.
In 1931, during the Great Depression, Cleveland leaders promoted the purchase of paint for people to give their houses an updated appearance in an affordable way which was a part of a national strategy. The initiative to create a cleaner, more attractive city was not solely to raise
morale and boost local paint businesses but was also believed to have broader positive economic effects. However, there were so many issues with housing in Cleveland during the Depression that the painting initiative made little difference.
While the repainting plan involved current homeowners improving their own residences, future initiatives by Cleveland city planners involved displacing people to improve residential neighborhoods. The goals of some of these plans were to drive out poor people and attract middle class people into areas closer to the heart of the city who would pay more for newly built, more attractive housing. Evictions rose dramatically with the Great Depression and by 1931 working class Clevelanders began speaking out and protesting against it. In 1933 after many protests there were some new systems implemented to put evictions on hold and help people get set up with new homes. However, some of these new programs contributed to the instutionalization of racist appraisal techniques. Revitalization of single family houses was prioritized while high density, low income housing which was primarily inhabited by black Clevelanders were not given as much thought and built in less desirable areas of the city. The new middle class neighborhoods were also immediately viewed as more desirable if they were all white instead of integrated which drove up property values.
During the mid-20th century there were also federal home ownership loan programs that essentially contributed to segregation in Cleveland. The loans primarily went to white homeowners while the same program cleared out many lower income areas that consisted of mostly black residents to make space for new middle class homes.
Population decline in the latter half of the 20th century brought new issues related to gentrification and residential revitalization to Cleveland. In 1950 Cleveland was home to over 900,000 people making it the seventh largest city in America. However, with industrial decline, Cleveland’s population fell to under 600,000 by 1980 and today (2021) has an estimated population of around 380,000. With this severe population loss, many residential areas of the city have experienced wide scale vacancies. Many of those who have stayed in the city over the last several decades have seen their neighborhoods go from functional working areas to poverty stricken and lacking nearby work opportunities.
For neighborhoods to be revitalized, there has to be significant funds funneled into the project. Therefore, there usually needs to be an economically plausible reason for these projects to happen. In many cities across America, gentrification happens because wealthy people want to move back to the cities for work opportunities or the proximity to downtown social hotspots. This causes property taxes to rise which can force current homeowners out as they are unable to afford the raised taxes. When this happens, condo and apartment developers can purchase property and then rent and sell to wealthy tenants.
In Cleveland, many longtime residents of neighborhoods with relatively good reputations are having to either move to neighborhoods in worse conditions, with higher crime rates and further from their workplaces or to different cities entirely due to gentrification. One main area of focus on the topic of gentrification in Cleveland is how the city can revitalize decaying areas of the city while keeping the areas affordable for longtime residents with fixed incomes.
One specific issue in Cleveland is in TREMONT. Since 2004 there has been a tax abatement for construction of new homes in the neighborhood. This has allowed developers to have a cheaper path to building new houses and residential buildings. These new developments can force longtime residents out of the neighborhood because their property is bought up by developers. A community leader, Henry Senyak, brought up the issue of how many Tremont residents fall behind on their taxes and are met by inspectors from the city who give them home violations when they try to figure out payment plans to catch up on their taxes. Community members of Tremont hope the city will enact a Longtime Owner Occupant Program (LOOP) which can freeze or limit how much property taxes rise each year if a homeowner meets certain income requirements.
People residing near the CLEVELAND CLINIC Main Campus on Euclid Avenue in EAST CLEVELAND have been suffering over the last several decades despite the success and expansion of the hospital. Without any efforts to revitalize these rundown areas that include the mostly black FAIRFAX and HOUGH neighborhoods, residents can only anticipate their property being purchased by Cleveland Clinic for future expansion plans. This area remains one of the most neglected on the issue of revitalization in Cleveland and because of the hospital’s non-profit status, it is exempt from paying tens of millions of dollars in taxes that could aid the neighborhood. Another issue of controversy surrounding the neighborhoods near Cleveland Clinic is the construction of the Opportunity Corridor. The highway was constructed so doctors, hospital staff and patients could have a more efficient route to Cleveland Clinic and avoid driving through decaying neighborhoods. The construction of the highway has caused severe changes to the physical landscape in residential areas several blocks south of the campus only further decreasing the livability of the area.
In the CLARK-FULTON neighborhood of Cleveland residents are seeing the effects of gentrification in real time with the construction of the new METROHEALTH building. The neighborhood is nearly half hispanic and goes by the nickname “La Villa Hispana.” The mostly low income residents fear the construction of the hospital will severely alter their neighborhood or force them out. Residents cite that prices in business have already gone up as more affluent people affiliated with the hospital come to the area to live and work. However, the issue is not totally black and white. Many residents also realize that the construction of the building could offer benefits to the neighborhood as well. MetroHealth plans to build a 12 acre park which the highly urbanized neighborhood had previously lacked. Also, a Puerto Rican pastry shop owner saw her sales go up significantly since the opening of the hospital. Because the hospital brings “new life” to the neighborhood, there is an opportunity for the low income business owners to capitalize from the situation. However, this can only happen if the area avoids dramatic property tax increases and longtime homeowners can stay in the neighborhood.
One issue many low income Cleveland residents face are the effects from pollution. Therefore, “green revitalization” has been introduced in parts of the city to help solve this issue. Cleveland’s DETROIT SHOREWAY has been going through gentrification and seeing many longtime residents forced out. However, an area near the West 65th-Lorain Avenue RTA station renamed Cleveland EcoVillage has become a project proven to revitalize the area in an inclusive way. The idea behind the EcoVillage is to implement greener systems in homes, make access to public transportation easier and build parks in the neighborhood. In addition to building new green homes, the project has also updated existing homes and has made a deliberate effort to make it possible for longtime residents to be able to stay in the neighborhood.
Another effort to revitalize areas of the city without displacing longtime residents is The Neighborhood Transformation Initiative (NTI). The NTI was introduced by Mayor Frank Jackson and has $65 million total in funds: $40 million in private capital and $25 million in public investment. The goal is to encourage developers to build homes and businesses where they previously have not. There is also an emphasis on making it possible for racial minorities to keep living and working in these areas. Glenvillage, funded by the NTI in the GLENVILLE neighborhood, has been applauded for its efforts to uplift black-owned businesses while the neighborhood goes through revitalization. Glenvillage provides a physical space for several entrepreneurs to test business strategies and learn how to successfully run their businesses before finding their own permanent location. The NTI is also focused on renovating homes for current residents in the Circle North, BUCKEYE-WOODHILL, Clark-Metro, East 79th Street neighborhoods.