A neighborhood’s ‘revitalization’ cannot come at the cost of those who have called it home for generations: Chardonnay Graham

A neighborhood’s ‘revitalization’ cannot come at the cost of those who have called it home for generations: Chardonnay Graham

CLEVELAND, Ohio — In July of 2021, cleveland.com released its Data Central update on the housing market in Cuyahoga County. The map illustrated a huge area of property sold for under $100,000 within and around Cleveland. Less than a year later, cleveland.com released a similar map that illustrated areas that have seen an increase in home purchases. The recent study not only shows the increase in home purchases, but specifically highlights homes that were purchased by business owners. If you bet the areas were the same, you guessed right.

The current housing market has been a real estate investor’s dream. Those who have had the capital to purchase their first home within the last five years have likely seen a steady increase in their home’s value. While those who are still renting property are taking the hit. If you’ve been on the market as a renter in Greater Cleveland within the last five years, you’ve likely seen an increase in your rent, but not as steady of an increase in the amenities, safety or walkability of your neighborhood.

Please note, I am no politician or city official. There are many housing laws and building ordinances that I won’t attempt to comb through. I admit this to say my “expert opinion” here is based on firsthand observation of the East side neighborhoods in Cleveland and data maps, such as the ones referenced in this column. What I see is a slew of out-of-town investors, raising the cost-of-living for their profit, but doing little to nothing to improve the living conditions of the surrounding communities. Enter the age of the slumlords.

Owning real estate is one of the many entrepreneurial avenues heavily pushed by mainstream media to make passive income. While this is true, the average person barely has beginner level knowledge about real estate or property management, which is why many mortgage companies frown upon first-time home buyers purchasing solely to rent. Depending on the type of loan, some mortgage companies require you to occupy the home for the first year. But how would they know?

Consequently, we’ve seen an influx of individuals who form LLC’s and buy homes to begin their real estate journey. This is a smart move for young professionals if they have the capital and time to manage the properties. However, what we’ve witnessed in neighborhoods like East Cleveland are individuals and businesses buying up land, homes and buildings and leaving them desolate…for now.

The National Civic League states, “one of the most important types of public investment that spurs gentrification is public transit. Neighborhoods near subways, light-rails, buses, and other forms of mass transit attract affluent people in dense metros.” East Cleveland is a goldmine attracting investors from all over the country because it’s the last stop on RTA’s Red Line – a straight shot all the way to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, stopping through major areas like University Circle, Downtown Cleveland and W. 25th Street to name a few. Hungry investors have swarmed these areas, once classified as the ghettos of Cuyahoga County, to gobble up the low-cost real estate and create cheap, stylish lofts for the young professionals that aspire for a modern-day luxury lifestyle.

Meanwhile, instead of cities putting in provisions to ensure investors have the communities’ best interest at heart, they allow them to cut corners on permits and taxes, generate little to no accountability to keep their properties up to par and continue to suck money out of the community instead of investing in it. The pressure then falls on the municipalities and the non-profits of these spaces to pay for signage, lighting, trees, parks, etc., and to market the areas to new residents.

These neighborhoods that glitter like goldmines for investors today are the same neighborhoods that have been cast out, neglected and robbed of their resources by redlining. The revitalization of neighborhoods is a good thing, and necessary to combat the shortage in affordable housing and starter homes. It becomes bad when the natives that have held those communities together by their threads are pushed out by higher property values and are no longer able to afford their homes. Can you imagine your property taxes doubling in only a couple years, leaving you no longer able to live in an area you’ve called home for 25-plus years? Many of the East Cleveland residents are second-generation families. They have continued to fight for the limited resources and to keep pride in that community. They deserve edification and inclusion where decisions are made, and to be at the center of the revitalization.

The mere courtesy and human approach I speak of here seems to be more common sense in other countries. Just around the corner, we’ve seen Canada take such measures by banning foreigners from buying homes for the next two years to “cool off their surging real-estate market.” In some African countries, foreigners are not permitted to buy land unless they purchase with a native of that land.

“Ghana is a country that has outsiders’ partner with a native in order to build,” said Kode Ransom, Community Activist for the Greenwood District formerly known as Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “There’s a system that ensures the community is involved in what will be put next door. Communities should be built from the inside out,” said Ransom.

So, when people ask how we stop the damage that gentrification causes indirectly, the answer is simple: Long standing residents should not have to endure their property taxes or rent to rise at the same rate as new homeowners and lessees. Create grandfather clauses that protect the upstanding citizens, who have maintained their residence or business in those areas. Require new investors to give back to these communities to offset the rising cost.

Failure to put such provisions in place makes “diversity, equity, and inclusion” efforts appear to be lipstick on a pig. Protecting people is not hard. It’s just not as profitable. Yet repeatedly, we’ve seen how putting profit over people never ends well.

Chardonnay Graham is a Cleveland native, born and raised on the East Side. She is a marketing and public relations specialist, poet and wine enthusiast. Keep in touch with Chardonnay on Twitter @char_acter.