Improvement plan: New CDC Neighborhood Platform outlines community needs to Bibb administration

The first 100 days of any new administration are about tone-setting and identifying local leaders who are supportive of the work ahead.

Cleveland Mayor Justin M. BibbAs Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb prioritizes hundreds of proposals set forth by his transition team, a band of community development corporations (CDCs) want to be part of the selection process.

A 2021 Neighborhood Platform, launched by Cleveland Neighborhood Progress (CNP) in the ramp-up to this past November’s election, is offering a host of policies for Cleveland’s newly minted mayor and city council to consider.

With an eye on the city’s long-standing problems and an agenda that advances the CDCs’ neighborhoods, the platform is centered on improving housing stock, encouraging equitable neighborhood investments, and fostering renewed public confidence in municipal operations.

Colleen Gilson, vice president of CDC advancement for CNP“While there has been revitalization and growth in some areas, there’s not been enough, nor has it been equitable,” says Colleen Gilson, vice president of CDC advancement for CNP, an organization delivering support, training and capacity building for CDCs. “The start of a new administration has underlined the importance of creating this platform.”

The group cites the Neighborhood Platform’s purpose as creating “specific policy recommendations that will improve quality of life for all residents in all Cleveland neighborhoods. These recommendations are actionable and can be achieved in four years. They will also lay a foundation from which all neighborhoods can grow and thrive.”

Local officials are excited about connecting with Cleveland’s first new mayor in 16 years—hoping to influence a sprawling agenda that includes pandemic recovery, police accountability, and bringing affordable housing options to residents.

CDCs in Cleveland act as “boots on the ground,” providing programs, services, and activities that promote neighborhood improvement. Considering most CDCs support business attraction, home redevelopment, and other community building activities, illuminating such efforts via a combined platform was an easy choice.

Edward Stockhausen, CNP’s vice president of advocacy and public policy“Flexing our joint strengths in advocacy for our neighborhoods is so important,” says Edward Stockhausen, CNP’s vice president of advocacy and public policy. “This platform is an opportunity to partner with all the CDCs who work daily to make life better.”

A unified front
Cleveland CDCs previously developed a community platform during the 2001 mayoral election—helping create business improvement districts and a lifeline between the Towpath trail and various neighborhoods. However, the city still carries fundamental problems—from underwhelming economic development to lack of broadband infrastructure—that continue to fester today.

The Greater Collinwood CDC serves Cleveland’s North Shore, Collinwood Village, Nottingham Village, Euclid Green and Glenville-East communities. Executive director Jamar Doyle and his staff have been involved with the new platform since early 2021, clarifying an agenda around racial inequalities and social disparities intensified by the pandemic.

The Greater Collinwood CDC Executive director Jamar DoyleIn 2020, Cleveland overtook Detroit as the poorest big city in the country with more than 30% of residents living below the poverty line, according to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Key concepts outlined by the platform encompass fair housing policies, as well as improved support of minority-owned small businesses.

Restoring commercial buildings or boosting homeownership through flexible mortgages—as suggested by the platform—meet Collinwood’s needs while extending well beyond the community’s borders, notes Doyle.

“Right now, our role is to keep the platform in front of the mayor and decision-makers,” Doyle says. “This is not something we just put together during the election, but a template for key community concerns. Long term, it’s about enacting as much of this platform as possible. We see it as a living document that we can adjust as the situation arises.”

Rosemary Mudry, executive director of the West Park Kamm’s Neighborhood Development serving Ward 17According to proponents, CDCs are best positioned to mobilize Cleveland communities due to their well-honed reputations as trusted residential resources. Rosemary Mudry, executive director of the West Park Kamm’s Neighborhood Development serving Ward 17, says a region-wide effort is key in meeting the platform’s overarching goal of greater social equity.

“Once we knew there would be a change in leadership, we thought that unification was important,” says Mudry. “We can’t expect anything to happen if we’re not unifying in our communications about making the biggest impact in our neighborhoods.”

A willing and able partner
CNP spent months speaking with the CDCs on the document’s most intricate details. Although each Cleveland neighborhood faces distinct challenges, those tentacles have spread to negatively impact the entire region, the enterprise’s backers say.

Kamm's Corner“The platform is built on the belief that for Cleveland to thrive, we must commit to and deploy equitable development strategies that address a long history of structural racism and racial injustice,” the platform states. “Pursuing racial equity will lift the entire city, will strengthen our entire economy, and will improve quality of life in all neighborhoods for every resident.”

Overcoming ingrained issues such as rampant disinvestment and racial bias in home appraisals can begin to curtail Cleveland’s foundational poverty and a homeownership rate of only 41.6%. Mudry and her fellow CDC leaders are also pushing policies around municipal modernization—for starters, a refurbished City Hall website that allows residents to access common services more easily.

“Even little things like replacing trash cans would show that the city government knows what it’s doing,” Mudry says. “Early wins on the platform will make a big difference in places like West Park, where there a lot of active citizens paying attention to what’s going on in Cleveland.”
Delivering basic services would be a small but critical victory, says Gilson of CNP, who also understands the need for urgency on the larger issues upon which the document was constructed.

Though Cleveland’s problems won’t disappear overnight, Gilson is confident that the Bibb administration can be a willing and able partner in the years ahead.

“I’m excited that this platform has gotten attention from those in office,” Gilson says. “We’re inspired by the people selected for the mayor’s transition team, in terms of getting things done and making a change moving forward.”

This story is part of FreshWater’s series, Community Development Connection, in partnership with Cleveland Neighborhood Progress and Cleveland Development Advisors. The series seeks to raise awareness about the work of 29 Community Development Corporations (CDCs) as well as explore the efforts of neighborhood-based organizations, leaders, and residents who are focused on moving their communities forward during a time of unprecedented challenge.

Read more articles by Douglas J. Guth.

Douglas J. Guth is a Cleveland Heights-based freelance writer and journalist. In addition to being senior contributing editor at FreshWater, his work has been published by Midwest Energy News, Kaleidoscope Magazine and Think, the alumni publication of Case Western Reserve University. A die-hard Cleveland sports fan, he also writes for the cynically named (yet humorously written) blog Cleveland Sports Torture. At FreshWater, he contributes regularly to the news and features departments, as well as works on regular sponsored series features.