Basheer Jones eyeing up mayor’s race
by Bruce Checefsky
(Plain Press, May 2021) Ward 7 Councilman Basheer Jones was elected in November 2017, representing an area which includes the historic Hough district, as well as the St. Clair-Superior, Midtown and Asia Town neighborhoods. His first order of business once in office was to open a food distribution center called the Imani Food Distribution Center, in honor of his late mother, Imani. Since then, he has led the charge for Cleveland to recognize Indigenous People’s Day and called for reforms at the Cuyahoga County jail.
Jones just wants a fair shake for his accomplishments as a councilman when considering the Cleveland mayoral race. In less than four years, he’s initiated over $500 million in development in Ward 7, produced and fought for legislative policies in City Hall, some of which has taken place during COVID19, plus there’s an outdoor art gallery in his ward along Hough Ave. Changing the culture of expectations has been his most successful political platform, according to him.
“We’re changing the culture by changing how we do business. I ask myself what to expect from residents in the neighborhood and find out what they expect from me,” he said. “They should expect that love translates into action.”
People are suffering every day from poverty and crime, underemployment, and social disenfranchisement. The current administration isn’t helping people navigate the difficulties, as far as Jones is concerned. Ward 7 represents a microcosm of the entire city, in his view, with areas of homelessness, extreme poverty, alongside homes valued at $500,000 and areas that have been focused on like Chester Avenue with areas not as developed as St. Clair/Superior.
“You have places where roads are being paved and other places that are not,” said Jones, adding, “I don’t stand in the way of progress like on Chester Ave where all the developers want to build but at the same time you can’t build buildings without building people.”
Following his election in 2017, Jones created the Hough Community Land Trust with financial support from the Cleveland Foundation and guided by a national consultancy. His first project was a $30 million planned complex with studio, and one-and two-bedroom units on the corner of Hough Avenue and Ansel Road, just west of E. 105th Street and Rockefeller Park. Signet Real Estate, developers for the project, agreed to a long-term lease of the land with the New Village Corporation, a subsidiary of the community development corporation Cleveland Neighborhood Progress that facilitates complex real estate transactions with public and private partners.
“The community owns the land. It belongs to the people. They can take proceeds from the project towards fixing up their homes or building whatever is needed,” Jones explained.
Jones believes city government has to help to create opportunities in areas of the city hit hardest economically like southeast Cleveland in the Harvard and Lee neighborhoods, and on the westside, with Kamm’s Corner and other struggling neighborhoods.
“We have to work as one city,” he said. “Your success on Kamm’s Corner is my success on the corner of 79th and Hough Ave, and your pain in Glenville is my pain in Tremont.”
The leadership of Cleveland has not paid enough attention to individual neighborhood issues, in Jones opinion, and have not provided solutions to help people struggling with day-to-day issues like poverty and crime. The City of Cleveland needs to become a place where the process of doing business isn’t stagnated by politics and plans that don’t go to City Hall and then just die, according to him.
“Plans should come to City Hall and be given life,” he said. “We don’t need a billion-dollar company to build in Harvard or Superior. What about the small businesses? Are we making it easier for them?”
Cleveland is eligible to receive more than $541 million over two years as part of the federal coronavirus relief bill. Mayor Frank Jackson has reportedly proposed spending $371 million in 2021 on police, firefighters, and public safety. The money must be spent by 2024. Jones would like to see a more effective process to move the funds quickly into the community.
“I’m fearful the money will be spent in a way that is not going to be beneficial to the city,” said Jones. “It takes leadership from the city government to see the potential. We should be building up our neighborhoods, not just downtown. Let’s make it easier for small businesses to become more successful.”
Jones believes the $541 million could be leveraged into $5 billion. Commercial banks that take part in the economic opportunity should be required to use the Community Reinvestment Act, a federal law enacted in 1977 to encourage depository institutions to meet the credit needs of low-and moderate-income neighborhoods, to make sure the money is used to support Cleveland neighborhoods. He would use the funds to remove blight from the city which causes social and emotional damage, according to him, to the people that have to live with decay and abandonment.
“We can’t have crater-like potholes on major streets of Superior and St. Clair Ave, Buckeye and Kinsman Road. We need to look at investments in small business, health programs, wealth building programs, and fixing homes. Clevelanders are too poor to fix their homes, but too rich to receive funding from the city, state, and federal government.”
Home ownership is the quickest way of passing down wealth from one generation to the next. Families that cannot pass down homeownership end up passing down debt which can result in tax foreclosures and selling their homes to third party investors for pennies on the dollar. Jones would like to see city government become more proactive rather than reactive in preventing foreclosures by giving people a chance to overcome poverty. And he wants to eliminate food deserts that stretch across large sections of the city.
“We can end food deserts in our city and make sure that we have fresh fruits and vegetables in every single corner store. These are the things that will change Cleveland overnight,” he said, emphasizing that, “every dollar must be spent to eradicate structural racism.”
Jones isn’t sure if it’s possible to use the federal coronavirus relief bill funds to buy down back owed property taxes for some of Cleveland’s most vulnerable residents, including the elderly and longtime homeowners, where a $2000 or $5000 past due tax bill because of a recent property tax increase might force them out from their homes, but he’s willing to consider it. Providing jobs and education, making sure the water is lead free, and that Cleveland police are dealing with the community in a just and fair way are just a few of his proactive core values.
Lakefront development is not that simple, Jones is quick to point out. Closing the airport is not essential for development to continue along the eight square miles of prime lakefront property. Still, more creative ideas are needed.
“Cleveland is not the mistake on the lake. It will become the greatest location in the nation,” said Jones. “When choosing the next mayor, don’t look at what people say they will do, look at what they’ve done. As an activist and voice for the people, no one can compete with what we’ve done in Ward 7 on behalf of the community.”