PBS Puts Its Spotlight on Cuyahoga Land Bank

No one expected the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) would choose the Cuyahoga Land Bank to illustrate how America’s cities are responding to the foreclosure crisis – but perhaps we should have. After all, with some 13,000 vacant or abandoned houses – and another 20,000 to 30,000 more expected in the next several years, according to Gus Frangos, president of the Land Bank – few cities illustrate the urgency of the country’s housing problems more clearly than Cleveland.gus
But the PBS crews wanted to show more than houses being torn down: they wanted to illuminate Cleveland’s revival, with the work of the Cuyahoga Land Bank as one of the more creative drivers of that movement.
So on July 5, 2011, viewers across the country watched anchor Gwen Ifill introduce “Raze the Roof: Cleveland Levels Vacant Homes to Revive Neighborhoods,” an approach that PBS correspondent Paul Solman called a “test case of the tear-it-down approach.”
“Before you can stabilize something, you have to stop the hemorrhaging,” Gus Frangos, president of the Cuyahoga Land Bank, explained to viewers.
“We’ve never found ourselves in this situation before,” added Frank Ford, senior vice president for research and development of Neighborhood Progress Inc., referring to the inevitable demolitions of those abandoned properties that cannot be rehabbed. “[The magnitude] required a different strategy.”
bulldozerThe focal point of the program was the demolition of an abandoned house at 4071 East 146th Street – “a good house to demolish,” says James Maher, field service supervisor for the Land Bank. “It sat across the street from a beautiful new school, probably the worst in a neighborhood that’s been hard-hit by foreclosures, so it was a great house to take down.”
PBS’s Solman spoke of neighborhoods “on the doorstep of doom…” because of house [like the demo house], “sitting idle for years…On this block, 22 of 49 peoperties are abandoned.”
But Solman’s doomsday assessment was countered by anecdotes such as the one offered by Cleveland Housing Court Judge Ray Pianka, whose quest to hold negligent landlords accountable reached as far away as Cairo, Egypt, where he caught up with a Coptic bishop who owned property in Cleveland. “The bishop pled no contest, repaired the property and was fined,” Judge Pianka said – case closed.
Viewers learned more about the Land Bank’s productive approach to clearing abandoned properties for re-use and repurposing,garden thus preventing blight in Cleveland’s neighborhoods. One of the most creative re-uses presented was Mansfield Frazier’s one-acre vineyard, “Chateau Hough,” on which he planted grapevines after the abandoned property was cleared. Frazier is working to grow the best grapes possible; if they meet winemaking standards, Frazier will be able to sell his grapes to wineries in northeast Ohio.

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