Completed! First house purchased in LMM’s Breaking New Ground project ready for tenants

In September 2019 Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry (LMM) launched its Breaking New Ground Affordable Housing Initiative to raise $3.5 million to buy and renovate 20 homes in the St. Clair Superior neighborhood to help house families experiencing homelessness and give them a new start.

At that same time, LMM worked with the Cuyahoga Land Bank and St. Clair Superior Development Corporation (SCSDC) to acquire its first house in the project, a duplex at 6401 Bonna Ave.

The house was slated for demolition and SCSDC wanted to save it, so the three organizations worked together and LMM covered the minimal costs of the transfer and fees.

Almost three years later, the Bonna duplex is completed. “We’re so glad to be done with it,” says Michael Sering, LMM vice president of housing and shelter. “This was a full-gut rehab, and it was the first house we acquired, so it's kind of like our signature house. And our [designer] really did some cool stuff with it. But  we're so excited to have it done. It’s in the books and it's ready for families.”

Last Thursday, Aug. 4, LMM held a ribbon cutting ceremony at the Bonna house to celebrate the completion and the positive momentum the organization has created in helping families leave homelessness since the initiative started.

Each unit has three bedrooms and open floor plans. Project manager Sai Sinbondit designed the Bonna duplex as part of his effort to collaborate with community nonprofits on projects of social impact and issues such as homelessness, affordable housing, and displaced populations.

The house was sponsored by the Cleveland Browns organization, which gave $100,000 toward the purchase and overhaul the two-family duplex. Members of the Browns organization were at the celebration last week.

Akron-based Truly Reaching You (TRY), which is a nonprofit skills training re-entry program, served as the general contractor, while Solon-based Humble Design, which specializes in designing and furnishing homes for families emerging from homelessness, did the interior decorating.

“The goal is to make the houses really nice and updated, but really fit into the neighborhood,” says Sering.

Total cost on the duplex is yet to be determined, says Sering, but he estimates the final cost will be around $200,000.

LMM will serve as the landlord and under the organization’s Family Stability Fund (FSF), rents will not exceed 30% of a family’s monthly income—up to $750 per month. The FSF is designed to be a temporary support model for tenants to leverage their existing income and other resources to stay housed, encourage self-sufficiency, and to break the cycles of poverty and homelessness.

Additionally, LMM doesn’t work with the same criteria as some other landlords that would keep the family out of a rental.

We don't want barriers to housing for our families,” Sering explains. “We don't do all these background checks—were you ever evicted? Do you have bad credit?—Some people have that stuff, but [these families] need to be in housing too. So, we really don't get into that. Our only key thing is that the family size is matched to the occupancy code of the unit that we have available. So that's the criteria.”

The program and philosophy seem to be working successfully.

LMM has acquired seven additional houses in the neighborhood, and the Breaking New Ground initiative has exceeded its $3.5 million goal by more than $1.2 million—having raised $4,245,000.

Of the seven properties, five units have been completed, including Bonna. The other homes that were completed in 2021 include Schaefer Avenue, a single-family house with a family moved in, and Edna Avenue, a duplex.

 “All three families were in by last Thanksgiving, so we were glad to at least get some families housed,” says Sering, adding that they are looking at potential families for the Bonna and hope to have the two families identified and into their new homes by the end of the month.

<span class="content-image-text">Bonna House Kitchen</span>Bonna House KitchenA duplex near Bonna, on Norwood Road (which Fairmount Presbyterian Church donated more than $126,000 to LMM to purchase in January), is on schedule to be completed by fall—bringing the total number of family units to seven, with 13 more to go in the 20-home goal.

Sering says LMM has seen the entire community come together to support the housing projects and make sure the homes are completed and beautiful. For instance, in addition to the Browns’ $100,000 donation to the Bonna house completion, the team donated welcome baskets to the future new tenants, as did SCSD and St. Martin De Porres High School.

Bethesda on the Bay Lutheran Church in Bay Village has been volunteering at both Bonna and Edna, including painting the fence and the house foundation, and installing a small garden at Bonna. The group also painted the front porch at the Edna house.

In 2021 several groups also volunteered to clean the inside of the Schaefer Avenue house, including volunteers from the Avon High School football team, Gesu Catholic parish, and St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church.

In the meantime, LMM recently completed Coventry II—the second multi-unit house on Coventry Road in East Cleveland for a total of 12 single men exiting homelessness—and Sering says LMM is considering investing in Coventry III this year.

Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: Karin Connelly Rice

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.