Cleveland's east side is steadily emerging from the 2010 housing crisis—with the number of vacant and distressed structures decreasing significantly while home prices are on the rise.
So go the findings of a 2018 report by the Western Reserve Land Conservancy that examined 13 Cleveland neighborhoods (including Fairfax, Slavic Village, and Shaker Square). The idea behind the study was to help city officials prioritize demolition and help blighted neighborhoods pull out of the effects of the crisis.
“The Land Conservancy is committed to fostering healthy cities that are nourished by vibrant natural areas,” explains Isaac Robb, the Land Conservancy’s manager of urban projects. “We recognize that data doesn't make us inherently smarter, but it does keep us more informed. Our property inventory program has been essential for tracking the progress of the region in the decade following the foreclosure crisis, and it provides indisputable evidence of the work that remains ahead.”
The work originally started in 2015, when the Land Conservancy surveyed all 158,854 land parcels within the city to assess the conditions of homes and number of vacancies on those parcels. In August 2016, the Land Conservancy issued Cleveland Neighborhoods By the Numbers with the findings.
The agency did it all over again in 2018. Armed with the 2015 data, the Land Conservancy identified 13 east side neighborhoods with 78,000 parcels it considered at-risk and measured the progress made in the past three years.
At-risk neighborhoods included Broadway-Slavic Village, Buckeye-Shaker Square, Buckeye-Woodhill, Collinwood-Nottingham, Fairfax, Glenville, Hough, Kinsman, Lee-Harvard, Lee-Seville, Mount Pleasant, St. Clair-Superior, and Union Miles.
Last month, the Land Conservancy issued its updated comparison report on the improvements.
Slavic Village home at 7409 Canton in 2018
“All of the trends we are pleased with,” says Robb, adding that he is not aware of any similar data collection projects done elsewhere in the country. “I think this is really important work. We have seen a great reduction in the number of vacant and distressed properties.”
The project as a whole has been a concerted effort. The original 2015 survey was conducted by a 16-member staff who underwent training, while the 2018 survey took 12 staff members 10 weeks to complete.
"We estimate that each surveyor worked approximately 300 hours on this project,” says Robb. “We also estimate that each surveyor walked about five miles per day.”
Robb adds that some neighborhoods used the 2015 data to enforce code violations, while others used it to inform residents on how to acquire vacant land next door to their residences. The team also identified illegal dumping sites throughout the city.
Robb notes that certain neighborhoods have made particularly large strides. He says Slavic Village and the St. Clair-Superior neighborhood, for instance, have seen marked decreases in D and F properties, while Mt. Pleasant median home sales prices increased by 100 percent—moving from $13,000 to $26,000.
“That’s a pretty big increase in a relatively short amount of time,” he says, conceding that the values are still low.
In Slavic Village, Robb has not only seen a lot of improved side yards (vacant land acquired by an adjacent neighbor, one with "an incredible garden"), but he says the Safe Routes to School program also accounts for some of the improvements.
“With the [construction of] the new Fullerton Elementary School and the Safe Routes to School program, the Cuyahoga Land Bank was able to demolish every distressed home within four blocks around the school,” says Robb.
Additionally, Robb says he sees more improvements in neighborhoods with strong community development corporations (CDCs) and active city council members. “Certain people know exactly who their CDCs and councilpersons are,” he says.
While based on empirical data, Robb also noted a correlation between improvements and the amount of public art. “Some neighborhoods have a fair amount of public art, and I could see that spill over into the neighborhood,” he shares. “Someone doing something really nice in that neighborhood.”
A significant piece in these studies is to have an ongoing documented record of the city’s building conditions. “We have records, and we have photos,” Robb says. “We can look them up and put them side by side. We’re using these number to advocate to state policy makers.” He adds that the re-evaluation provides insight into how the city is dealing with population loss and reduced demand for rapidly-aging housing.
“The city’s done a great job in making these homes a higher priority,” he says.
The 2015 survey was conducted in cooperation with Cleveland’s Department of Building and Housing, Cleveland City Council, and local community development corporations; it was funded by the Cleveland Foundation, the Cleveland Cavaliers, Quicken Loans, and JACK Entertainment. The 2018 update report was funded through a $100,000 grant from the Quicken Loans Community Fund.
Pending additional funding, Robb says the Land Conservancy plans to re-assess the remaining east side neighborhoods and the west side.