Slavic Village turns the corner with affordable rehabbed housing

When the national housing crisis hit its peak a decade ago, Chris Alvarado, executive director of the nonprofit Slavic Village Development, says “a couple of years went by” when there wasn’t a single arm’s length transaction in the entire Slavic Village neighborhood.

This means that during this time, there were no “regular sales” of homes using a realtor, bank, appraiser and title company in this southeast Cleveland neighborhood. Instead, with the market upside down, homes were dumped for rock-bottom prices by banks, sold for cash by investors for prices that were often less than a used car, or quit-claimed among family members.

Today, the situation is different: Cleveland’s proud but battered Slavic Village neighborhood has witnessed a 30% price jump in home sales in the past five years, and many of the sales are now arm’s length transactions. This is a somewhat stunning turnabout for an area that was dubbed the “epicenter” of the foreclosure crisis in 2007, when journalists discovered that the highest number of foreclosures in the country was happening in the ZIP code 44105.

This modest recovery is due in large part to Slavic Village Rediscovered, a partnership launched in 2013 between Slavic Village Development, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, Forest City Enterprises (bought by Brookfield Asset Management in December), and RIK Enterprises. So far, the program has rehabbed more than 60 homes in a 530-acre section of Slavic Village. Perhaps even more significantly, it has done so without using any public subsidy.

“What we’ve done since starting this program was not just to rehab houses and to reclaim vacant and abandoned homes–primarily ones that have gone through tax foreclosure–but also to move the values of homes upwards,” says Alvarado. “Typically, we’re getting $80,000 to $90,000 appraisals for these homes, and we’re putting in $60,000 to $70,000 of work, so the homes are net neutral from our standpoint.”

“We’re not doing as many units as I thought we might, but the end result has been incredibly successful,” says Ward 12 councilman Tony Brancatelli, who praises the “patient capital” of investors like Forest City and RIK Enterprises. “We’re doing exactly what we anticipated, which is repurposing homes that would have ended up getting bulldozed. These were not typically condemned or trashed houses, but they would have been torn down if not for the program.”

Take the house at 6902 Indiana Ave.: For $89,900, buyers get a completely rehabbed home with a new kitchen, refinished hardwood floors, natural woodwork, three bedrooms, one and a half baths, a two-car garage, and an attic that would be perfect for an office, extra bedroom or playroom. It could have met the wrecking ball, but instead it’s still standing on a classic brick street off of Fleet Avenue and East 65th Street in the heart of the old, historic neighborhood.

Slavic Village Development acted as developer on the house, bringing in contractor and resident Anthony Andreoli to oversee construction. Andreoli is in the process of purchasing a building on Fleet Avenue to expand his growing contracting business. “It helps to have a local contractor who is committed to the neighborhood and raising a family here,” says Alvarado.

Knowing their limits

Although the original goal of Slavic Village Rediscovered was to rehab up to 200 homes over four years, Alvarado says few Cleveland neighborhoods outside of Ohio City can absorb 50 rehabbed homes per year right now. A dozen homes per year is more realistic, he says. Whereas in the past, Slavic Village Development held onto houses for up to four years, they’re now to the point where they’re rehabbing them as soon as they receive possession from the Cuyahoga Land Bank.

The Warner-Turney area of Slavic Village.Slavic Village Development has recently begun renovating homes in the Warner-Turney area, which is another one of the stronger market areas in Slavic Village. “We wanted to demonstrate to private investors and others that this is possible, that you can fix up homes here and make money doing it,” Alvarado says. “Our goal was to move the market and values to get other developers to come in.”

Now, Alvarado says that’s beginning to happen. Through Neighbors Invest in Broadway, Slavic Village Development has sold more than 90 homes to rehabbers and homeowners in the past five years. The group sells the homes in as-is condition with a set of specifications and cost estimates, and it does not transfer title until everything’s done in order to make sure work is done properly. Homeowners as well as investors creating quality rentals have used the program, Alvarado says.   

“That’s a separate need,” he says of creating safe, rehabbed rental housing. “Some families just aren’t ready for homeownership, and it’s a family stability issue.”

Blighted sections next up

Now that the Slavic Village Rediscovered partnership has seen some results, the nonprofit Slavic Village Development hopes the private market will take the ball and run with it. Alvarado wants to steer the organization in the coming years toward new construction or rehabbing homes in more blighted parts of the neighborhood. “Five years ago, that was a pipe dream, but we’re in a better position now,” he says.

With the high volume of houses that have been torn down in Slavic Village, new construction could help infill vacant lots in existing communities. In the Trailside development, a partnership between Slavic Village Development, Third Federal Bank and Knez Homes, homes are selling in the mid $100,000s. This price point attracts buyers to Slavic Village instead of higher-priced parts of the city.  

“If you took the same house and put it in Ohio City, it would appraise for $300,00 if not over $300,000,” says Alvarado, citing the success of Knez Homes south of Lorain Avenue.

The dog training school Boss K9 is one of the bustling businesses on Fleet Avenue in Slavic Village.Flurry on Fleet Avenue

In addition to new construction, Slavic Village Development is seeing more commercial activity on Fleet Avenue, which was heralded as the city’s first complete and green street several years ago. New or revamped businesses include dog training school Boss K9, Daisy’s Ice Cream, and Brittany’s Record Shop. Some of these business owners have bought properties on the street, and some even live above their stores or nearby. These businesses add to already-successful enterprises such as Saucisson Butcher Shop and longtime staples such as Seven Roses Polish Deli and Red Chimney Restaurant.

For Alvarado and others involved in neighborhood revitalization, the neighborhood’s recovery efforts are an issue of social equity. They hope the modest housing appreciation that has occurred here in the past five years will help some of the families, especially African-American ones, who invested in homes but lost their equity during the recession.

“When the Great Recession came, it wiped out the wealth for first-time home buyers, who were typically African-American, not only for them but also for their families,” says Alvarado. “Now we’re rebuilding confidence.”

Read more articles by Lee Chilcote.

Lee Chilcote is the author of the poetry chapbooks The Shape of Home and How to Live in Ruins. His writing has been published by Vanity Fair, Next City, Belt and many literary journals as well as in The Cleveland Neighborhood Guidebook, The Cleveland Anthology and A Race Anthology: Dispatches and Artifacts from a Segregated City. He is a founder and former executive director of Literary Cleveland. He lives in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood of Cleveland with his family.
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