NEIGHBORHOOD PROGRESS INC. is a non-profit corporation created in 1988 by CLEVELAND TOMORROW, CLEVELAND FOUNDATION, GEORGE GUND FOUNDATION and STANDARD OIL OF OHIO to pool corporate and foundation resources for a coordinated, strategic and scaled approach to rebuilding Cleveland neighborhoods. As NPI engaged city government, the corporate community, local foundations and dozens of community development corporations, the organization was seen as a prime example of MAYOR GEORGE VOINOVICH’s concept of “public-private partnership.”
NPI concentrated on supporting community development corporations (CDCs) to rehabilitate existing housing and commercial retail districts during its earliest years. Later, in response to MAYOR MICHAEL WHITE’s 1991 call to build new, market-rate housing at a scale sufficient for Cleveland neighborhoods to become regionally competitive communities of choice, NPI concentrated resources in a number of ways. New housing production capacity became a major criterion for determining which community development corporations received general operating support grants. NPI used New Village Corporation, a wholly-owned subsidiary created in 1990, to work on land assembly, environmental remediation, financing and other critical technical aspects of Cleveland housing developments of scale. Village Capital Corporation, another NPI subsidiary, was established in 1992 to create and manage below-market rate financing vehicles to attract conventional investment to Cleveland development projects. Between 1990 and 2000, in Cleveland neighborhoods where NPI made concentrated investment in new construction, property values rose (measured by percentage) at higher rates than in most suburbs in Cuyahoga County.
The mortgage foreclosure crisis and Great Recession that began to affect the neighborhoods in the early 2000s wiped out many of these gains in value. However, NPI stood in middle of numerous collaborative efforts to ameliorate the harshest impacts of the crisis and recalibrate the community development system for positive impact post-Great Recession. Three major initiatives in the area were:
- The formation and staffing of the Vacant and Abandoned Property Action Council by NPI to coordinate responses by local government and non-profit organizations to increased foreclosure and vacancy rates in Cleveland;
- Establishing, with the City of Cleveland and the Cleveland Urban Design Center of Kent State University, Re-Imagining Cleveland which encouraged citizens to creatively utilize vacant parcels for side yards, gardens, orchards, rain gardens, pocket parks, common bicycle and walking paths – all to strengthen the physical fabric of the neighborhoods; and
- Creating, with Cleveland Housing Network, Enterprise Community Partners, the City of Cleveland and others, a Cleveland LIHTC Project Stabilization and Preservation Initiative to address particular major challenges, especially the right-sizing of bank debt, on 25 CDC-sponsored projects (882 units total) set to mature from 2011-2015.
In 2012, NPI and its many community stakeholders adopted a more comprehensive vision for community development in post-recession Cleveland. Housing remained significant, but in recognition of market realities, rehabilitation was emphasized over new construction. Also, placemaking – a vision of neighborhood development viewing quality design and accessibility to public space as equally important with private housing and retail properties – was incorporated into the plan. Facilitating opportunities for residents to build wealth (for homeownership, education, starting a small business or meeting a household emergency) was also part of the more comprehensive approach to neighborhood revitalization.
In 2013, the Cleveland Neighborhood Development Coalition and Living in Cleveland Center merged with NPI. Since then, the merged organization has been known as Cleveland Neighborhood Progress.
Since 2017, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress has championed a process of racial equity awareness not only within the local community development industry, but throughout the broad civic community. As of mid-2019, over 3000 individuals have experienced training by the Racial Equity Institute. Many Cleveland organizations, public and private, as a consequence of the training, are working to develop concrete, practical ways to be more inclusive, equitable and just.
Four individuals have led the organization since inception: Tom Cox (1988-1990); Eric Hoddersen (1990-2011); Linda Warren (as interim President in 2011) and Joel Ratner (2011-present).
Since 1988, through shifting public policy, dynamic market forces (including a major economic crisis), and evolving desires of Cleveland citizens – whether expressed in word, at the ballot box or by consumer choice - Neighborhood Progress, Inc has remained a strong convener, facilitator, thought leader, financial intermediary, manager of complex development projects and public policy advocate for the community development corporations and neighborhoods of Cleveland.