Old Brooklyn

The faces of Old Brooklyn are changing and diversifying. Here's why.

When LaRaun Clayton and his husband decided to buy a house, they went looking for a neighborhood where they’d be comfortable and fit in.

“For us, it was about finding a place where we weren’t going to be the only ones,” shares Clayton. “Sometimes, being a same-sex couple—not to mention African-American—puts a target on you.”

The couple looked in familiar places: Lakewood, Fairview Park, and Gordon Square (where they already lived). But the home prices were at the top of their budget, Clayton says.

LaRaun ClaytonSo their real estate agent took them to another neighborhood: Old Brooklyn. “We had no idea Old Brooklyn even existed,” Clayton says.

But the houses were good and affordable. The neighbors seemed friendly. So the pair settled down and settled in, buying a home on Spring Street.

Still, their friends didn’t understand: why would African Americans want to buy a house on the West Side?

“There is a big lack of understanding of composition of the neighborhood,” Clayton says. “ A lot of it was like, ‘Are you guys going to be safe over there?’ There’s a perception that there’s not a lot of [African Americans] over here, which is probably true.“

Yet in fact, more African Americans and Hispanics are planting roots in the historically white, blue-collar Old Brooklyn neighborhood. In 2000, census figures showed about 34,000 people lived in the neighborhood. Most of the residents (88 percent) were non-Hispanic whites. Hispanics made up six percent of residents and African Americans comprised two percent of the residents.

Ten years later, though, the composition of the community had changed. The census showed Hispanics accounted for 14 percent of the community’s 34,000 residents, while African Americans were 8 percent. Newcomers like Clayton are making Old Brooklyn one of Cleveland’s more diverse communities in a region where segregation still holds sway.

In fact, the neighborhood's recently released Community Health Needs Assessment asserted that Old Brooklyn has the fastest-growing population of African Americans in Cleveland, and the fastest growing community of Hispanics in all of Northeast Ohio.

Why Old Brooklyn?

Before moving, Clayton and his husband spend time researching the neighborhood, going to restaurants—driving down the side streets, and even hanging out on their eventual home's front porch for several hours. "We kind of hung out until the neighbors were visible," shares Clayton. "The area seemed to be cool, and the price was attractive.”

Jeff KippThose price points are one of the community’s biggest selling points, according to Jeff Kipp. He’s lived in Old Brooklyn for 17 years, and presently works as director of neighborhood marketing for Cleveland Neighborhood Progress.

Kipp notes Old Brooklyn remained relatively stable during last decade’s housing downturn. Now the community has a leg up as homebuyers search for affordable residences.

“A lot of times for a neighborhood to skyrocket, you need to hit bottom first. In a lot of our neighborhoods—even including the Tremonts and Ohio cities—they were really challenged. There was a lot of disinvestment," says Kipp. "Fast forward to today, [when] we see a skyrocketing housing development activity in those neighborhoods. You’re moving into trendy neighborhoods with new construction, and you tend to see price points go much higher.“

Kipp also notes Old Brooklyn isn’t far from established Hispanic neighborhoods, like La Villa Hispana. Moving to a new home doesn’t mean leaving friends and family behind, and he suspects that’s why Old Brooklyn is so attractive when those residents want to buy a home or get a larger place.

“It’s much easier to move from Clark Fulton or just south of the Cuyahoga Valley to settle in [Old Brooklyn] because your world doesn’t change that much. It’s a more drastic move to go from Mt. Pleasant or Lee-Harvard,” he says.

Angela Miller and a group from Furaha Forever ProductionsWhen Angela Miller came to Old Brooklyn seven years ago, she’d lived on the East side before renting briefly in Archwood-Denison. But she wasn’t a newcomer to the parts of the city west of the Cuyahoga River, as she’d lived on W. 84th and Lorain several decades ago.

She established ties she didn’t sever, even when she moved away. She had joined Mega Church on Scranton Ave., and she maintained that membership. So when she returned to the West side, she already had a network in place. But she didn’t discover Old Brooklyn until she and her husband decided to buy a home. Like Clayton, she and her husband got questions from their friends, but the neighborhood’s convenience helped cement their decision.

“Everything is close for me,” says Miller, who lives on Woburn Ave. and operates Furaha Forever Productions from her home. “You have the Walgreens [on State Road]; on Biddulph, you have the Giant Eagle. There’s Ridge Park Square, and that’s at 480. We’re right here at [Interstates] 90 and 71.”

The thoroughfares crisscrossing the neighborhood are a huge plus for Clayton, too. He works in University Circle, and his husband works in Willoughby. He says neither has an arduous commute because Old Brooklyn has access to so many highways. But the community doesn’t feel like too urban, and that’s part of its charm for Clayton. He’s originally from Youngstown, and his husband is from Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

“That’s what I was looking for: a place that felt like home but wasn’t completely dense, like an Ohio City or a Tremont. [Old Brooklyn] is a perfect blend. Like being in a city, being able to see the skyline, and being close to downtown, but also having that country/suburban feel,” he says.

Multicultural appeal

The small-town atmosphere in a big city is also why Mariela Paz believes Old Brooklyn is the right spot for her cafe, Sabor Miami. The intimate venue is located at 4848 Broadview Road, tucked between a convenience store and a tire shop.

Mariela Paz of Sabor Miami CafePaz is a native of Honduras, but she lived in Miami for 14 years before moving to Cleveland. Her cafe is Latin-American Caribbean fusion, with a menu featuring Cuban sandwiches—pork, cheese, ham and pickles—and a range of empanadas like she ate growing up.

She expects more Hispanics will move to the neighborhood, and she believes it will become even more multicultural. As proof, she points to the types of restaurants nearby.

“There’s El Rinconcito Chapin, which is Guatemalan. There’s an Ethiopian restaurant,” she says. “It’s a multicultural neighborhood close to everybody.”

Miller doesn’t see Old Brooklyn becoming another Tremont or Ohio City, where condos and townhouses sit side-by-side with older houses and two-flats. “You don’t see a lot of new homes being built,” she says. “It still feels like the property is affordable.”

Kipp doesn’t see the neighborhood gentrifying either. But he does expect Old Brooklyn to become one of the city’s truly diverse neighborhoods.

“Minorities—both Hispanics and African Americans—are moving in, they’re being welcomed. And the neighborhood is still trending upwards. I think the neighborhood will be a model of how to integrate diverse residents in the urban core.”

This article is part of our On the Ground - Old Brooklyn community reporting project in partnership with Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation, Greater Cleveland Partnership, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, Cleveland Development Advisors, and Cleveland Metropolitan School District. Read the rest of our coverage here.

Read more articles by Afi Scruggs.

Afi Scruggs is a local freelancer and a Gerontological Society of America Journalist in Aging Fellow. Her diverse body of work spans more than 25 years and has appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the New Yorker, Cleveland Magazine, and the Atlanta Journal Constitution among many others. Visit her page for more information.
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