by Bruce Checefsky
(Plain Press, October 2019) Ward 14 Councilwoman Jasmin Santana assured reporters at a September 17th meeting held at the South Branch of the Cleveland Public Library that she was very excited about the MetroHealth project and its positive impact on Ward 14. The meeting was organized on behalf of Metro West Community Development Organization and Councilwoman Santana, The City of Cleveland, The MetroHealth System and The Cleveland Foundation. Media representatives were invited to discuss the unprecedented, collaborative process to revitalize the Clark-Fulton neighborhood.
“We hope to have an energetic dialogue with the public and we want the media to be a partner in our effort,” the invitation stated.
Director of City Planning Freddy Collier and representatives from The MetroHealth System, The Cleveland Foundation and LAND Studio, as well as Ms. Santana and Ricardo León, Executive Director of Metro West Community Development Corporation were present at the meeting.
Local media was represented by reporters from Plain Press and Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Ward 14 City Council Representative Santana began by describing her journey living in Ward 14 for 27 years with her husband and two children. Her story included life in a neighborhood where resources are limited, historically disenfranchised, with no parks or business to service the Latino community. Her passionate plea to stay in the neighborhood to build those amenities into the fabric of the community is the reason why she continues to advocate for the rights of longtime and new residents. She stressed that residents could create change and make a difference.
“We’re getting investments in our neighborhood and it’s an exciting time for change,” she said. “We have a population of 23,000; our medium household income is $23,000 per family. 43% of families live below poverty. We have no safe or healthy parks, no recreation or wellness centers. We have high levels of lead poisoning in our homes, a high rate of crime, and we’re a virtual food desert.”
With investments from MetroHealth that might change, she suggested.
“The neighborhood is becoming a place where people are coming back to live. We’re collaborating with non-profits, government, major institutions, community development, philanthropy, and more importantly, community engagement and residents.”
The MetroHealth master plan proposes to add housing, health, economic development, parks and other community amenities to the area.
“Shoulder to shoulder, we will work with stakeholders and government to make sure the voice of residents is at the table. Equity, empowerment, and resiliency is at the core of our mission,” she added.
Ricardo León, Executive Director of Metro West Community Development Corporation, has been designated as the primary leader to engage the community. Director of City Planning Freddy Collier will play a leadership role in the planning efforts. Both León and Collier are longtime residents of Cleveland and promise to engage the community in a public conversation about the needs of residents.
León stressed the monumental importance of the MetroHealth master plan to the community, a neighborhood that has been overlooked for years and, for the first time in a long time, is drawing attraction from other parts of the city. But it’s coming at a cost, according to him.
“We’re a neighborhood that’s sandwich by three neighborhoods that have changed significantly in the last 20 years. Housing values have increased dramatically. What we’ve seen is a significant amount of displacement, whether voluntary or involuntary,” he said. “Our neighborhood is the last neighborhood for the working-class family. You can actually afford to live and send your kids to school here. We’re at the right time and right place to bring the community together, to put aside our egos, and collaborate with each other. We understand how important it is to create a plan that speaks to our residents while encouraging investments.”
A resident driven, community focused plan is central to the success of their collaboration, according to León.
“We need to tell stories about our residents ultimately changing the public perception of the neighborhood.”
Gregg Zucca, Director of Economic & Community Transformation at The MetroHealth System, reminded everyone that MetroHealth has been in the community for over 150 years. Many of MetroHealth patients come from the Clark-Fulton and broader community. Transformation health care delivery, with better health outcomes, is driving the MetroHealth transformation. Health and wellness programming, focusing on the social determinants of health, with an understanding that as much as 70 to 80% of health outcomes are determined by the socio/economic factors people deal with, along with daily behavior like smoking or eating unhealthy foods.
“Housing vulnerability is one of the indicators of infant mortality according to recent research. We know that housing has a role in people’s health. We found that by minor interventions like replacing the air filter or changing pillowcases, we had less emergency room visits,” he said. “We’re not housing experts, but we know we have a role to play in that. That’s why we’re making direct investments in housing.”
Mixed income housing without displacing people, while initiating a comprehensive approach to health will bring about major changes in the neighborhood, according to Zucca.
Director of City Planning Freddy Collier provided background on the plan itself, discussing the goals and principles they hope to achieve with the help of MetroHealth. He echoed the unprecedented nature of their collaboration, emphasizing the ‘hole in the doughnut’ unique scenario, flanked by Ohio City, Tremont, Brooklyn Center and Detroit Shoreway, with the opportunity to build off key assets while focusing on Mayor Frank G. Jackson’s Neighborhood Transformation Initiative (NTI) to target investment in fringe neighborhoods like Clark-Metro.
In 2017, Mayor Jackson leveraged $25 million in City bond funds to attract an additional $40 million in bank, non-profit, and philanthropic funds that are strategically targeted towards commercial, residential, and entrepreneurial and workforce training programs. The goal of NTI is to invest in disadvantaged neighborhoods just outside growth zones and encourage the private market to return to these areas without the need of public incentives. Initial efforts are concentrated in neighborhoods that were chosen based on the result of CORE Redevelopment Strategy Study done by the Cleveland Planning Commission, according to the City of Cleveland website. The selected areas are in proximity to large, anchor institutions that are interested and committed to transforming the neighborhoods they are located in, as well as provide job opportunities to their residents. Target areas include Circle North, Buckeye-Woodhill, Clark-Metro, East 79th Street (between Central Ave and Kinsman Rd).
“The organization structure we’ve put together for the project will include a steering committee, core project team, neighborhood ambassadors, and consulting team. We want to create a structure that creates a constant dialogue between individuals on all levels of the spectrum,” said Collier.