University researchers play pivotal role in drawing funds for public housing redevelopment

Rendering of the redeveloped Woodhill Homes

Building Hope and Community

Some residents in a severely distressed and isolated 1930s-era public housing complex on Cleveland’s east side live without shower stalls or reliable heat. Greenery is scarce, as are washers and dryers—just three of each for 487 units.

But now a $35 million federal grant that Case Western Reserve researchers helped secure will be used to demolish and redevelop Woodhill Homes with new apartments and townhomes; attractive surroundings in a cohesive mixed-use campus; and the prospect of better living for residents who include artists, activists, grandparents, parents and children.

“The university is committed to this neighborhood less than 2 miles from the university and to this project,” said Debbie Wilber, who spearheaded the application process and is assistant director and research associate at the National Initiative on Mixed-Income Communities (NIMC). “My commitment to the neighborhood is inspired by the talented people I’ve met there.”

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development award will allow the City of Cleveland, Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority and two dozen community partners to redevelop the site and adjacent properties.

Construction is scheduled to begin in early 2022, said Taryn Gress (SAS ’11), a research associate at the Mandel School and strategic director of NIMC, which works to reduce urban poverty and promote equity and social inclusion in mixed-income communities.

"Everyone was on board with this project, and I think that helped a great deal in getting the grant. Case Western Reserve has been wonderful.”
— Marilyn Burns, Woodhill Homes resident and community advocate

Cleveland City Councilman Blaine Griffin, whose ward includes the Buckeye-Woodhill neighborhood where Woodhill Homes sits, said it was imperative to improve living conditions for residents and praised CWRU’s work to obtain the grant. “They were very, very sensitive to the community's needs and hopes and aspirations throughout the entire process,” Griffin said.

For years, university researchers worked with residents and other stakeholders and community partners to develop a plan. With Wilber’s hiring last year, the NIMC team was better able to serve as quarterback for the grant proposal, giving it the attention and direction needed to succeed.

Gress said NIMC continues to support the project and implementation of education, health, and workforce development strategies—all to ensure residents are provided opportunities and valued the way they should have been all along. “It’s essentially a correcting of historical wrongs,” she said.

A Development with Transformational Possibilities

The plan for the new mixed-use development to replace Woodhill Homes includes:

  • 638 new low-income and market-rate apartments and townhomes in the Buckeye-Woodhill neighborhood plus 162 housing vouchers for current residents who choose to live elsewhere in Cuyahoga County
  • A health clinic
  • An early childhood education center
  • Spaces for employment workshops
  • Public gardens
  • Retail spaces in new buildings to serve residents, provide work opportunities and attract more consumers to the neighborhood

By Ginger Christ


This story appeared in the fall/winter 2022 issue of Think magazine. Read more stories from the magazine.