Back from the Brink
The Cuyahoga Land Bank regularly transfers blighted properties to local CDCs, which renovate and restore them into attractive, affordable housing opportunities. The Metro West Development Organization, which serves Cleveland’s Stockyard, Clark-Fulton, and Brooklyn Centre neighborhoods, is one of the most creative and productive CDCs in town, using a combination of strategic partnerships and grassroots efforts to ensure its neighborhood’s vibrancy.
“The national foreclosure crisis in 2010 hit Metro West’s service area hard, leaving hundreds of blighted homes in its wake,” says Ricardo León, Managing Director of Metro West. Nearly 45% of the homes in Metro West’s footprint went through tax foreclosure, and vacancy rates soared to 17 percent. “Pre-recession, we had relatively high home values in the neighborhood, with a median home value of around $68,000,” says León. “In 2010 those numbers dropped to around $22,000.”
Metro West’s approach to accelerating the recovery process and attracting new homeowners to the area was two-fold: targeted demolition and an innovative renovation program.
“The Cuyahoga Land Bank has been the best partner in demolitions with hundreds of demolitions in our three neighborhoods alone,” says León. “The Cuyahoga Land Bank has really stepped up in our community – getting rid of the worst homes that are a detriment to the health and safety of our community.”
In 2011 Metro West launched a grassroots Housing Rehabilitation Program aimed at reducing the number of vacant and abandoned homes within its neighborhoods. Through the program, Metro West acquires blighted homes, and after a thorough assessment, carries out an open competitive bid process to find a buyer. The organization maintains a development database of more than 350 pre-screened, eligible individuals and investors with interest in purchasing a home in the area. Priority is given to proposals which create owner occupancy, contain a quality scope of work, and comply with green building standards. Families at or below 80 percent of the Area Median Income also receive consideration. The bid proposal with the highest priority and the best scope of work is selected.
Since the program’s launch, the group has acquired and sold more than 180 houses from the Cuyahoga Land Bank, averaging 20-25 homes per year.
Today, the efforts of Metro West are paying off, with vacancy rates now down to about 9 percent. “We see incremental improvement year in and year out,” says León. “And, we’ve seen a 10 percent growth in housing prices every year.”
León believes that the sweat equity model of the Rehabilitation Program – where in most cases homeowners perform the labor themselves – empowers the homeowners and is an attractive option for individuals who may not qualify for traditional financing. “Because of the low value of these homes, banks aren’t interested in financing these types of projects. Through our program, families often pool their money to purchase the home, buy materials and do renovations together. They can custom renovate these homes and move in, often without a mortgage.”
“The Cuyahoga Land Bank makes it possible for us to keep this program going,” says León. “Together, we are not only improving neighborhoods; we are giving people an opportunity to create wealth.”