Tremont residents should examine how to maintain a diverse neighborhood
by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, October 2022) Tremont residents should be encouraged to participate in Ideastream’s Justin Glanville My Changing Neighborhood discussions where there is an examination of how to maintain a diverse neighborhood when gentrification is occurring.
The Tremont neighborhood could use some discussion of how people with different views, different standards and different lifestyles can co-exist in a neighborhood.
Currently, in Tremont, there seems to be a divide on how to interact with neighbors who might not conform, for whatever reason, to the expectations and norms of other residents. Residents, who are critical of those nonconformist residents, seem to have a great deal of influence in the local development corporation, in City of Cleveland’s government, and at the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s office.
The artistic free spirits, for which Tremont was once known, have found over the past few decades that some of the newer residents will not tolerate outdoor art sculptures and gardens of native plants. Others in the community remember a time when community organizers and artists came to Tremont for joyful outdoor parties to celebrate that very spirit of artistic freedom and tolerance for those that hear the beat of a different drummer—like Frank.
Frank is one elderly resident in Tremont who recently was involved in an incident involving a number of neighborhood youths resulting in Frank being charged with a crime. The community’s reaction to the incident highlights the divide in the community.
In the minutes of a March 17th, 2022, Tremont West Development Corporation Board of Trustee’s Meeting’s Safety Committee say they are looking to “clean up” Frank’s [current] property and made some unnecessary disparaging remarks about him.
This is unfortunate, as Tremont West Development Corporation and a former City Council Representative, in an effort to take an earlier property that Frank owned, participated in an effort to demolish his house—leaving Frank with no other alternative then to move into his mother’s house next door. Frank’s mother has since died leaving her house to Frank.
Frank is not the only person in Tremont to experience harassment from overzealous code enforcement that to many residents was obviously not an effort to get the property up to code, but rather to force the person to be unable to maintain ownership of the property. While Tremont West Development Corporation does participate in referring residents to assistance available to help maintain their homes, it seems those referrals are selective – with not all residents getting the same level of help to continue to be able to maintain their homes.
Another disturbing factor in the recent incident is that the Tremont West Development Corporation’s Auburn Lincoln Park Block Club had a discussion with a representative of the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s office about Frank at their August 15th Block Club meeting concerning his upcoming sentencing. This is curious because Frank does not live in their block club area, nor was the crime he committed located in the block club service area. Several days later, Tremont West Development Corporation received a letter from the prosecutor’s office which contained misleading information which would have led readers of the letter to infer that Frank had committed an act that a jury had already found him not guilty of committing. With this false information, the prosecutor’s office was encouraging community members to support the prosecutor’s office in asking for more time than the already mandatory sentencing of 11 years in prison Frank was facing. Wittingly or unwittingly, TWDC staff passed on the letter to the leadership of the Auburn Lincoln Park Block Club.
Someone posted the letter on the internet, and for the first time, residents, who wanted to help the elderly community member, learned of his crime and the penalties he faced at sentencing. The judge received 37 letters of support for Frank and at his sentencing, eight community members showed up for his support. The block club leaders of the Auburn Lincoln Park Block Club showed up to assist the prosecution.
This again shows a divided community in need of serious dialogue. The dialogue should include the role of Tremont West Development Corporation and its block clubs in bullying some Tremont residents. It should examine the issuance of reparations to residents whose property has been “taken” or who have been forced out of the neighborhood through code enforcement. The dialogue should also include a discussion of how to access or create resources and programs so low-or-moderate income residents can continue to live in the neighborhood as property taxes and rents continue to escalate.
The neighborhood should also look at how development pressures and those seeking to build in the neighborhood influence decisions about code enforcement and efforts to force individuals to sell their property and face being driven out of the neighborhood. They should look at the role of the development corporation and its block clubs in pushing an agenda of code enforcement.
A significant examination of the appropriateness of the development corporation being considered the representative of the neighborhood in City of Cleveland hearings about zoning variances or historic preservation should also be discussed.
For these, and many other reasons, community dialogue would benefit the Tremont neighborhood. Those participating in such a dialogue about how to live in harmony in a changing neighborhood, should examine the mission statement of Tremont West Development Corporation and its original articles of incorporation. In doing so, they should determine if the organization has lost its way and no longer resembles the organization that community organizers from Merrick House and community members from the South Side (Tremont) strove to create in 1979.
Organizers from Merrick House and Tremont (South Side) community members who worked to help start Tremont West Development Corporation (TWDC) in 1979 had a vision which is spelled out in the organization’s mission statement which is displayed prominently on the TWDC website. The mission statement says TWDC “is a non-profit CDC whose mission is to create an inclusive community, build a unified neighborhood and promote Tremont as a unique destination.”
The Articles of Incorporation of what is now TWDC (then named West Side Development Corporation) included noble goals such as “obtaining financial assistance for residents” and “obtaining justice, equal rights and equal opportunities for all citizens; and providing other social services and counseling.”
Such goals are still worthy goals to strive for today. Imagine a neighborhood with people living in peace rather than in constant conflict. Imagine a neighborhood where, with the right social supports, individuals with low or moderate income, individuals with physical or mental disabilities and individuals with a variety of lifestyles and standards for how their property looks can live in harmony. Imagine a neighborhood that works through its organizations to help assure recovery for those in crisis so they can achieve their goals and live full lives as contributing members of the community. Image the Tremont neighborhood as a “Bullying Free Zone.”