by Chuck Hoven
(January 2019, Plain Press) Residents of Ohio City, gathered to share their vision for the future of the neighborhood, made it clear they would like to see their neighborhood serve as a home for people of all income groupings. They also readily listed the amenities they like in their neighborhood and what attractions and services they would like to see available in the future.
Are the two visions compatible? A recent article in CityLabby Richard Florida titled “How Urban Core Amenities Drive Gentrification and Increase Inequality” says “a growing body of research by leading urban economists provides evidence that behind both the wealthy’s back-to-the-city movement and the spatial inequality it brings are the cluster of high-end amenities – like restaurants, theaters, concert halls, and other institutions that are uniquely available at the urban core of superstar cities.”
While the research Florida cites, refers to superstar cities like New York and Boston, some Cleveland neighborhoods experience similar trends. In this issue of the Plain Press, Near West Side residents attend a meeting to learn how to challenge property tax increases that are unaffordable. A letter writer from the Southside (W. 12thin Tremont) says high property taxes may force her out of a home that has been in her family for a century. The letter writer notes the half million dollars houses and expensive apartments with 15-year tax abatements going up in her neighborhood. She believes that Community Development Corporations, rather than helping residents stay in their homes, end up benefiting from foreclosed properties by obtaining them and turning them over to developers for profit.
Florida’s article says, “As the affluent and educated move back downtown to take advantage of this unique bundle of amenities, they drive housing prices up, which hits hardest on the least advantaged. As a consequence, these low-income residents are driven out of these increasingly expensive areas.”
Florida concludes his article saying, “If left unaddressed, the economic divides within cities will only grow, leading to an even greater backlash against developers, tech companies, politicians, and the “urban elite,” which threatens not only urban revitalization, but is also likely to stall the very engine of innovation and economic progress.”
The question raised by Ohio City residents’ desire to have an economically integrated neighborhood, as well as urban amenities close at hand, presents a difficult dilemma. If market forces are left to their own accord, more low-income residents will be driven out of the neighborhood as affluent residents move in to take advantage of the amenities. Development corporations incentivized by development fees will tend to favor continued building of new more expensive homes and providing more amenities for new residents. The City of Cleveland and its policies such as 15-year tax abatements are a demonstration of the city officials desire for high income residents and the payroll taxes they bring to city coffers.
As for addressing the needs and desires of low-income residents to stay in their neighborhoods and to also enjoy the growing amenities, there are few incentives for either development corporations or the city of Cleveland to work to address their concerns.
An article in this issue of the Plain Press outlines the Cleveland Lead Safe Network’s plan to use a ballot initiative to address lead poisoning in Cleveland rental properties. The ballot initiative is the result of stalled efforts to get the City of Cleveland to address lead paint poisoning children in Cleveland rental properties. This is just one example of the lack of urgency the City of Cleveland has when an issue impacts largely low-income families.
Is there a way to offer an incentive to community organizations to address the needs of Cleveland’s low-income residents?
A Democracy Voucher Program in the City of Seattle that was designed to increase democracy on the local level may provide an example of a way Cleveland could use incentives to spur attention to the needs of its largely low-income population. Each resident of the city of Seattle receives four $25 democracy vouchers that they can give to a candidate of their choice. Politicians running for city council positions are forced to talk to residents to convince the residents to give the voucher to their campaign. The democracy vouchers have increased the number of candidates able to run for office as well as the participation of residents in local elections.
A similar program using Community Development Block Grant and property tax dollars in Cleveland could help provide the incentive for community organizations to pay greater attention to low income residents and for the City of Cleveland departments to design policies to meet their needs. Two $25-dollar vouchers could be given to every man, woman and child in Cleveland. This would amount to just over a million dollars per City Council Ward (each ward has roughly 21,000 residents). Community organizations and city Departments that qualify for Community Development Block Grant funding or city tax dollars would have to convince residents that their programs would best serve the residents in order to receive the voucher.
Perhaps such an initiative would provide a way for Cleveland residents to get programs to help low income residents to stay in their homes, avoid foreclosure or evictions, and stem the lead poisoning of Cleveland’s children.
Editor’s Note:For more information on the Democracy Voucher Program, see the City of Seattle website at Seattle.gov.