Last year, Cleveland saw record numbers of homeless families turning to shelters for a safe place to stay. Families make up one-third of Ohio’s homeless population, and in 2018, more than 750 families in Cuyahoga County asked for homeless services.
“Any family who’s homeless is a crisis, and we need a solution” says Michael Sering, vice president of housing and shelter with Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry, which runs the biggest homeless shelter in Ohio. LMM, as it is known, also runs other shelters and addresses the problems facing Cleveland’s often-forgotten people in need.
Even though the number of homeless families has dropped in 2019, Sering says the number is still too high. So the human services agency decided to do something about the crisis.
LMM launched a $3.5 million Affordable Housing Initiative to buy and renovate 20 homes in the next five years in the St. Clair-Superior neighborhood. Families exiting homeless will be eligible to apply for a new housing program with affordable rents in these homes. LMM is partnering with the Cuyahoga Land Bank to identify and renovate the 20 houses.
“We believe in their mission and we believe in providing affordable housing with them,” says Dennis Roberts, the land bank’s director of programs and property management. “This is an excellent project, and we’re able to renovate the properties, put it back on the tax rolls and put it in the hands of a deserving family.”
Sering cites the lack of affordable housing in Cleveland and high eviction rates with lack of legal counsel for low-income families in eviction cases as some of the reasons for the large number of homeless families in Cleveland. Sering says LMM also appreciates the work United Way of Greater Cleveland and the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland has done to create change, in particular on Tuesday, Oct. 1, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson approved a program that will provide legal counsel to families at or below 100 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.
This rendering shows the plan for 6401 Bonna Ave. in Cleveland's St. Clair-Superior neighborhood.LMM took title on its first house, at 6401 Bonna Ave., on Friday, Sept. 20, and plans a small groundbreaking ceremony this fall, with a ribbon cutting in spring 2020. They hope the first house will be occupied by August 2020, Sering says.
Families who rent the homes will pay 30 percent of their incomes—up to $750 a month—which meets the national guidelines of affordability, Sering says. LMM capital funds will help families when needed. “So we’ll have those funds if a family has a temporary setback,” he says. “I think it’s critical to have that fund so we’re not relying on vouchers.”
The organization has identified a potential second house near the Bonna Avenue house, and the plan calls for one to two houses in the first year of the initiative, two houses in the second year, four houses in the third year, and six houses in the fourth and fifth years, Sering says.
“That could be accelerated based on success in the fundraising,” he says, adding that they have already raised $1.9 million through private donors, foundations and the Cleveland Browns. LMM launched its public campaign during its 50th anniversary celebration Saturday, Sept. 21, at League Park not far from its headquarters.
LMM chose to buy the 20 houses and act as landlord to give families decent permanent housing and a chance to establish themselves, Sering says.
“Going from a shelter to home ownership is too big of a jump for many families,” he says. “By renting them, we can serve more families over time. It is permanent housing, and families can live there as long as it is working out for them and they are complying with their lease. We would hope some families may consider home ownership after being stable in our houses."
Architect Sai Sinbondit is designing the houses. His work focuses on collaborating with community nonprofits on projects of social impact and issues such as homelessness, affordable housing, and displaced populations. He is doing the work pro bono, Sering says.
“I am interested in the Bonna Avenue project because it is such a wonderful opportunity to collaborate with LMM, [Cuyahoga] Land Bank and the community to cultivate and expand understanding not of what affordable housing [options] are, but what they can be for the individual, families and for the community,” he says.
This rendering shows the plan for inside the rehabbed home at 6401 Bonna Ave.Sering says that the renderings of the first home offer a modern, open floor plan and that the renovated houses should not only improve the St. Clair-Superior housing market, they will pave the way for future potential buyers.
“We think rehabbing 20 houses in a concentrated part of the neighborhood will help spur the ability for more home ownership,” Sering says. “There is currently only a very small for-sale market, because the comps are too low for banks to give loans, so people can’t purchase houses with a mortgage. By helping improve the housing stock and housing values, the market should gradually increase so people can get loans to purchase in the neighborhood.”
LMM officials hope this Affordable Housing Initiative will at least start a positive trajectory for affordable housing, Sering says. “Our 20 homes aren’t going to solve this,” he says. “More and different solutions that are going to solve this crisis are needed, but this is going to help.”