‘I Thank God For This:’ Kinsman residents welcome new affordable housing

It’s safe to say that Sharon Owens will not miss the three dozen vacant lots on Kinsman Road in Cleveland’s Kinsman neighborhood.

A longtime resident of Kinsman, with stints in Warrensville Heights and Maple Heights, Owens is the brand-new owner of a single-family colonial home on Colfax Avenue, a block north of Kinsman Road.

<span class="content-image-text">New residents, stakeholders and neighors gather in front of 2938 Minnie Rd. for a walking tour of one of the Colfax properties, on August 25, 2021.</span>New residents, stakeholders and neighors gather in front of 2938 Minnie Rd. for a walking tour of one of the Colfax properties, on August 25, 2021.Though two generations of Owens grew up two streets down, she relocated to the outer suburbs to escape a neighborhood brimming with, she says, lawlessness.

Now, a decade later, Owens is returning to a different scene.

“People I grew up with are coming back to Colfax,” she says. “We waited awhile, and God knows it showed.” 

Owens is referring to the recent housing development feat by Burten, Bell Carr Development (BBC), Colfax Family Homes is a collection of 36 cool-colored, family-style homes constructed on lots previously host to vacant eyesores.

The development was originally dreamt up in 2014, and last Wednesday, Aug. 25 BBC capped off years of head-scratching and a year of construction setbacks due to COVID-19 at a Colfax Homes ribbon-cutting ceremony led by BBC executive director Joy Johnson.

Officials and residents gathered, despite rain, to commemorate the latest leaf in BBC’s growing portfolio. 

With a $6.4 million loan from KeyBank and a sizable grant from the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), the Kinsman neighborhood’s new addition sends a clear can-do message to CDCs across Cleveland as the city figures out how to better handle its embarrassing history of affordable housing shortages.

Johnson, who grew up on Colfax and went to Central High School, had long been itching to build “beautiful” properties two blocks east of BBC’s headquarters on Kinsman Road. 

The neighborhood has been in slow decline over the past few decades, and BBC has been working hard to reverse the damage, namely through “non-typical” projects like Colfax.

“If you weren’t from here, you didn’t come here,” Johnson says. “There was a motorcycle club. Car repairs on vacant lots. It was no man’s land—people made their own economy.”

As property values shot up in Tremont and Ohio City in the 1990s and early 2000s, the east side Central, Fairfax and Kinsman neighborhoods saw miniscule investment—if any—by developers. 

In 2005, BBC garnered 48 single-family homes on Minnie Street, Colfax Road, as well as houses on East 72nd and East 79th Streets in Central. Then in 2013 Habitat For Humanity rehabilitated homes on East 69th and East 75th Streets. But, Johnson says, that was about it. 

The Colfax project was delayed two months during the pandemic because of shortages on lumber (and tripling costs) and mask and social distancing restrictions made it difficult to hire the number of construction workers needed.The project quickly picked up steam for its late-summer deadline, says Ken Lurie, a property developer with the Beachwood-based Orlean Company
<span class="content-image-text">Stakeholders, including Burten, Bell, Carr director Joy Johnson, cut the blue ribbon at 2938 Minnie Rd., in Kinsman.</span>Stakeholders, including Burten, Bell, Carr director Joy Johnson, cut the blue ribbon at 2938 Minnie Rd., in Kinsman.

Using a 15-year lease-to-purchase agreement, Lurie says that tenants will be paying 30% of their annual incomes in rent before fully owning their properties after 15 years.

And on Wednesday, when participants posed in front of a three-bedroom home on the corner of Minnie and Colfax Roads, joy swept over the three dozen nametagged stakeholders, project architects and downtown bank staffers.

Present alongside the officials were future residents—including Freddie Jackson, a construction worker and new Colfax homeowner. 

Jackson, 70, who attended the ribbon cutting with his wife Deedra, said it was preordained that his own contractor gig with Orlean on Colfax Avenue led to his application being greenlit by BBC. 

Paying $738 a month on the 15-year agreement, Jackson said he’s excited to no longer have to deal with his “noisy” apartment complex four blocks down on Kinsman—a complete contrast with Colfax’s elongated driveways, wide kitchens and entrance ramps. 

“Man, there was no privacy. The walls were super thin. People were always knocking on your door,” Jackson says. “I’m excited. Now I just need a gate and a mailbox.”

Fellow new Colfax homeowner Owens, who’s also busy this weekend with her move, shares Jackson’s elan. She’s been waiting for it.

“I thank God for this,” she says. “But you wait your turn, you pray, and one day it will all work out.”

Mark Oprea
Mark Oprea

About the Author: Mark Oprea

Mark Oprea is a regular contributor to FreshWater Cleveland. He’s written for the Pacific Standard, OZY, and Cleveland Magazine, and was a correspondent in Mexico in 2018. He lives in Ohio City. More of his work can be found on his personal website.