Building community: University Settlement continues its Broadway Rising vision

Last October, University Settlement and NRP Group broke ground on a $20 million
mixed-use, mixed-income multifamily housing development and new 20,000-square foot home to University Settlement.

University Settlement executive director Earl Pike called the four-phase Broadway Rising project the largest investment in Slavic Village—one of the poorest neighborhoods in Cleveland—since World War II and a “game changer.”

5115 The Rising apartment homes under construction5115, a new building located at 5115 Broadway Ave. on the site of the former St. Alexis Hospital (and later St. Michael Hospital), will bring to the neighborhood a new home to University Settlement and more than 20,000 square feet of commercial space, as well as 88 affordable apartments and townhomes comprising 18 one-bedroom, 48 two-bedroom, and 22 three-bedroom units.

One year after breaking ground, Pike says the first phase of the four-phase project is moving along well, with the townhomes “well under way” and framing and infrastructure taking place on the main building and the entire site.

Even though phase one isn’t scheduled to be completed until December 2022, Pike says the activity has already stimulated the neighborhood.

“It's very clear already that the intended goal of this [project], which was to catalyze economic development in North Broadway, is already beginning to happen without the building even being complete yet,” he says. “It’s just awesome to watch happen. What we're really doing here is building a community, and the building and the project are a physical manifestation of that. But the real work is building a community, and without the community the building can’t survive.”  

Pike estimates that phase two will being in January or February of 2023 with the construction of 150 additional affordable housing unit and 10 to 20 homes for sale. He says phases three and four are still conceptual at this point but will focus on building commercial and retail businesses in the neighborhood.

What we believe is starting in phase twobut especially in phase three and fourwe need to pay increasing attention to commercial opportunities,” says Pike. “We need to pay attention to things like is there a good laundromat? Is there a good barber shop? What are the things that make community? It's restaurants. It's a coffee shop, it’s some places for teens to hang out. So, we're going to begin looking.”

Revitalizing a community
Before the coronavirus pandemic in 2019, Slavic Village was already experiencing hardship. With a poverty rate at 43%, with 23% of people in deep poverty, earning less than $6,000 a year, University Settlement provided services to more than half of the neighborhood’s 22,000 residents.

5115 The Rising apartment homes under constructionCOVID-19 further aggravated the economic situation. But Pike says Slavic Village resident are resilient and are already pulling themselves up. Despite the economic struggles, he says residents have come together in the past six months to revitalize the neighborhood and show their community pride.

Pike says a group of about 20 residents formed a North Broadway Community Group to discuss concerns and what they want for the future of Slavic Village. The group meets every Thursday night and has become quite active in planning activities, engaging the community, and taking action where they can.

“It’s just a really incredible group of people and folks are getting much more involved in the community,” he says, citing a neighborhood-wide effort last summer to humanely trap and get rid of an influx of groundhogs that were destroying their properties. Pike says it may have seemed funny from the outside, but the residents chose the issue to focus on.

“Instead of people like me coming in and saying here's what you need, it is the community defining that for themselves,” he stresses. "But it's also in this very logical way, people protecting their assets. If you're a resident of North Broadway and your house is worth $25,000, and in fact that’s the norm, then protecting your house from groundhogs really matters.”

Pike cites as an example a member of the North Broadway Group who is the mother of an 11-year-old daughter. “Mom was very concerned about the economic issue because it's literally the one asset—this $20, 000 house—that she has to leave to her 11-year-old-daughter,” he explains. “So, she wants to protect that. When you're thinking about people coming together to protect the small assets they already have it's really quite significant. It’s just another example of how the community is coming together to do cool stuff.”

University Settlement teams, as well as Pike, also go to residents in their homes to build what he calls “existential outreach” to better understand what people want in Slavic Village.

“What I always say is, if you have three half-hour conversations with three people, as opposed to 30 three-minute conversations with 30 people," says Pike, "I'd much prefer the former than the latter. I mean we want to know the community better.”

New amenities
Last summer Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) announced it would place its Tri-C Access Center, which provides community-based educational and workforce training, in the new University Settlement building.

“They're actually going to supply some resources to help build [the Access Center] out and provide some ongoing resources to help program the space,” explains Pike. “We'll have a computer lab, a technology lab, in our building and we'll be able to do college classes in the community.”

Pike says he’s encouraged by Tri-C’s commitment to the neighborhood renaissance. “I can't tell you how thrilled I am,” he says. “It really says something to the members of the community. It says, 'we're coming to you.' You don't have to travel outside your community anymore. We want to be in your space with you. I'm thrilled by that.”

The North Broadway Thursday Night Residents Group Additionally, Earl says plans are underway to build a market-based food pantry in the University Settlement building. The concept is that customers can come shop for the food they need, and want, as opposed to being handed a bag of random groceries they may or may not need or even want.

“It’s a pantry that feels more like a grocery store than a traditional food pantry,” he explains. “If you come to a pantry and you’re handed a bag of food, it doesn’t feel dignified, it feels like the choices are being taken away from you. And if I’m choosing your food items, maybe you won’t like 15% of it? If that 15% gets wasted and you multiply that by 100,000 bags of food over the course of a year, that’s a lot of waste.”

Pike stresses that the market-based pantry approach takes any shame out of the experience and patrons can select what they actually want.

Getting the lead out
At first, Pike says the vision was to create a safe, ideal neighborhood in Cleveland’s inner city. "We did say, from the very beginning, that if all this project did was create a new home for University Settlement and some lovely affordable housing, that would be nice,” he recalls, adding that he envisioned a sort-of “gated community within a low-resource neighborhood.”

But he says they quickly realized that vision was not only unrealistic, but dangerous. “Once you're on our property you feel safe, but outside the property there's still lots of crime and poverty,” Pike says.

Instead, Pike says they realized there were hidden dangers—such as lead paint in most of the neighborhood homes that were all built pre-1975. He says they found the lead toxicity rates in residents—especially the children—were extremely high.

Slavic Village residents have come together in the past six months to revitalize the neighborhood and show their community pride. So University Settlement and about a half dozen partners committed to the Slavic Village Healthy Homes Initiative—a plan to abate lead and asthma triggers from 250 homes in the immediate vicinity of the Broadway Rising project to create a virtual lead safe neighborhood in the next three to five years.

Pike notes that “lead safe” does not mean lead-free, as it is nearly impossible to rid the existing housing of lead completely. But the mission to create a lead safe neighborhood became a priority. “Lead safe means that all the lead contaminants in the houses and soil have been effectively mitigated to no longer be of harm,” he explains. “So, with this challenge of not being a gated community, we said we have to build the entire community—not just our little corner of it.”

Pike says the Healthy Home Initiative is a large step in creating a safe, healthy neighborhood that both residents and their children can establish as their legacies.

“If we're going to increase school outcomes and if we're going to improve behavioral health outcomes because lead is implicated in a host of behavioral challenges, [we decided that] maybe we should do that upstream rather than downstream and attack the problem at its source,” Pike explains. “So that will have a huge impact on the trajectory of kids’ lives in North Broadway.”

Pike says University Settlement’s portion of the $20 million project is $5.4 million. The organization has raised $4.2 million so far and has another $1.2 million to go. Pike says they are raising money by “creating a buzz” about Broadway Rising, and he has given about 150 site tours so far.

And while the group is open to donations for the project, Pike says anyone can have a tour—they just have to ask. “If they’d like a tour, with no obligation, they just have to contact us. We just want people to know about the project.”

Read more articles by 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.