MetroHealth goes all in on affordable housing for the Clark-Fulton neighborhood

Rendering of development on W. 25th St.MetroHealthRendering of development on W. 25th St.

Right now, Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority’s wait list for affordable housing is several thousand people deep.


That unmet need will soon be addressed in the Clark-Fulton neighborhood, thanks to MetroHealth’s recent announcement of a $60 million investment to construct three new buildings housing 250 apartments—along with community-centered amenities including a grocery store, job training center, childcare facilities, and more—near its main campus.


Up to 72 of those units will be designated as affordable housing—with one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments available to those earning 30 to 80 percent of the area’s median income. Located at W. 25th St. and Sackett Ave., the complex will be part of the state’s FHAct50 program and will be eligible for federal low-income housing tax credits.


“This will be the largest affordable housing [development] in Clark-Fulton in decades,” says Akram Boutros, M.D. and chief executive officer of MetroHealth.


Construction is set to start in 2020, and not a moment too soon, according to MetroWest Community Development Organization housing director Kris Harsh. He says that the city’s affordable housing has been declining overall since the late 90s, when public housing projects were torn down and replaced with mixed-income developments—but not at a one-to-one ratio. The result? Less subsidized and public housing.


“For a while, that was manageable because as the population of the city shrank, we were left with an abundance of old housing stock which was rapidly becoming affordable for lack of demand,” explains Harsh. “After the housing market collapse in 2008, we went on an unfortunately necessary demolition spree and have since cleared out a lot of excess housing. At the same time, wealthy people started moving back to the city, but that just led to the development of mostly upper-end units downtown while more affordable development has been neglected.”


Harsh adds that Clark-Fulton residents feel the dearth even more because most affordable housing is developed to accommodate those making 80 percent of the area median income (AMI), while most Clark-Fulton residents live at 35 to 50 percent AMI. “These people are our neighbors, and if we fill in all the cracks with new market-rate and ill-defined affordable units, there won’t be places for them to go,” says Harsh.


Boutros says MetroHealth wants to ensure that doesn't happen—not only by building affordable housing, but also with the launch of the Institute for H.O.P.E. (Health, Opportunity, Partnership, and Empowerment). Designed as a neighborhood hub, the Institute will offer a variety of programs and resources such as a grocery store and food pantry, legal aid services, financial literacy training, and more.


The two projects will be closely integrated, as many of the Institute’s offerings will be based on the lower levels of the new buildings upon their completion. MetroHealth will also relocate its police station headquarters to one of the new complexes.


“In every community survey and meeting we’ve done [in Clark-Fulton], the two top priorities have been safety and career opportunities,” says Boutros. “That’s the reason we’re moving our police station to the outside of the hospital—to help increase the coverage area.”

On the career opportunities front, the project will introduce an Economic Opportunity Center offering skills training on Internet usage, resume writing, and interviewing. MetroHealth is also partnering with Cuyahoga Community College to open an Access Center that will prepare Clevelanders for jobs in healthcare, public safety, information technology, and more.

“It has been gratifying to see other Cleveland neighborhoods grow and become healthier,” Boutros told the crowd at MetroHealth’s annual stakeholders meeting on June 28. (See the full speech here.) “We believe it’s now Clark-Fulton’s turn.”

Part of realizing that goal includes attracting new residents to Clark-Fulton along with helping its existing residents thrive. Set on W. 25th St., the two other buildings will house 190 market-rate apartments (one- and two-bedroom) offering direct access to MetroHealth’s campus and 12-acre park—creating an attractive walkable option for the health system’s employees. (The success of the 36-unit Lofts at Lion Mills bodes well, as nine MetroHealth employees and their families moved in when it opened in September 2017.)

According to Boutros, more than 900 employees currently live within three miles of MetroHealth’s main and Old Brooklyn campuses. The goal is to increase that number to at least 1,300, says Boutros, through a new Employee Housing Assistance Program. The program will offer incentives of up to $20,000 for employees who buy homes near the main campus and up to $8,500 for employees already living in the area who want to upgrade their homes.

“We hope to have 100 new medical residents and another 300 employees [purchase homes] through the housing program,” says Boutros.

As more MetroHealth employees move into the neighborhood, MetroWest’s Harsh says it will be important to strike the right balance between attracting new residents without displacing current ones. He says that many of the homes in Clark-Fulton are worth $35,000 or less, making the market ripe for house hunters following new investment.

“Will they sell to a doctor from Metro who offers them $70,000 because it could be a really nice house with a $50,000 rehab? Maybe some will,” says Harsh. “So the fear is that if we create those market forces then we will create the circumstances for low-income families to sell, thus eliminating another market for low-income homeowners.”

That said, Harsh says the three new apartment complexes will help create a positive domino effect of supply-and-demand. "Part of the solution to affordable housing is having more housing in general," explains Harsh. "As new units come online, some of the older units may become more affordable."

He believes MetroHealth's affordable housing focus will also ensure that new investment doesn’t squeeze out lower-income residents.

“Investors want to make money so they target high-end tenants,” says Harsh. “What MetroHealth is doing will provide units in the middle [income range], and in doing so, possibly create more wiggle room at the lower end of the spectrum as well.”

For his part, Boutros is excited about the prospects created by the area's redevelopment—not just that led by MetroHealth but across all of Clark-Fulton—and the emergence of La Villa Hispana as a cultural hub. He says the area has truly done a 180-degree turn from when he began working at MetroHealth six years ago. “There were a lot of boarded-up houses and businesses in bad shape,” recalls Boutros.

Now, with the vision for W. 25th St. coming to life and MetroHealth an integral part of that, Boutros says that’s no longer the case.

MetroHealth is holding a series of community meetings to gather feedback from local residents about the redevelopment plans. One is being held tonight, July 10, at the Family Ministry Center in Ward 14 (3389 Fulton Rd.) at 6 p.m., and another meeting will be held Tuesday, July 16, at the Cleveland Public Library South Branch in Ward 3 (3096 Scranton Rd.) at 5:30 p.m.

MetroHealth will also host three community open houses in MetroHealth’s Campus Transformation Center (2500 MetroHealth Dr.) on August 6, 8, and 15 at 6 p.m.

This article is part of our On the Ground - La Villa Hispana community reporting project in partnership with Dollar Bank, Hispanic Business Center, Esperanza Inc., Greater Cleveland Partnership, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, and Cleveland Development Advisors. Read the rest of our coverage here.

Jen Jones Donatelli
Jen Jones Donatelli

About the Author: Jen Jones Donatelli

As an enthusiastic CLE-vangelist, Jen Jones Donatelli enjoys diving headfirst into her work with FreshWater Cleveland. Upon moving back to Cleveland after 16 years in Los Angeles, Jen served as FreshWater's managing editor for two years (2017-2019) and continues her work with the publication as a contributing editor and host of the FreshFaces podcast.

When not typing the day away at her laptop, she teaches writing and creativity classes through her small business Creative Groove, as well as Literary Cleveland, Cleveland State University, and more. Jen is a proud graduate of Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.