CH revitalization effort seeks to stabilize neighborhood

A workman finishing the deck of a duplex conversion on East Derbyshire. Photo by Sarah Wean.

The city of Cleveland Heights has chosen a troubled section of East Derbyshire Road, one block between Lee Road and Cottage Grove Road, as the focus of a housing initiative that will convert existing two-family homes into renovated condominiums.

The innovative concept converts sturdy, well-built 1920s duplexes of approximately 2,500 square feet on each side and transforms them to modern condominiums without losing their historic charm.

The goal is to create a broader mix of incomes and a higher concentration of owner-occupied homes on the street. Currently, only 12 of the 46 homes on the block are owner-occupied.

Offering $20,000 in down payment assistance to qualified buyers, and 100% tax abatement, the city is also offering $5,000 for landscaping improvements in the target area.

“Since 1998 with the introduction of Section 8 [the federal housing program now known as the Housing Choice Voucher Program], this section of East Derbyshire became primarily low-income rental housing,” explained Rick Wagner, housing manager for the city of Cleveland Heights during an October FutureHeights tour of its first completed unit. “We saw a marked increase in drugs, violence and police reports.”

Decreased housing prices due to the current economic downturn has enabled the city, with a budget of $750,000 in Community Development Block Grant Funds, to purchase three of the two-family properties and begin renovation and remarketing to owner-occupants.

The condominium agreement worked out when the First Suburbs Consortium converted an up and down double into side by side condos on Beachwood Avenue a couple of years ago gave the city a legal model for condo conversion of its duplexes.

When the city sells its first renovated unit, the proceeds will be recycled into the program enabling the purchase of additional homes on the block.

Cleveland Heights has 13,000 single family homes within its boundaries, 1,260 doubles and 386 apartment buildings.

According to Wagner, currently 150 housing units are in active foreclosure, 200 or more have no recorded deed and 373 are bank owned.

The city hopes that concentrated programs like the East Derbyshire initiative will turn the street around. If it is successful, there are other areas the city would like to target.

“We’ve already seen improvements,” said Wagner. “Police calls are down by half.”

For more information about this and the city’s other housing programs, call Lori Sanford, housing counselor for the city of Cleveland Heights, at 216-291-4869.

Deanna Bremer Fisher is executive director of FutureHeights and a 15-year resident of Cleveland Heights.

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Volume 1, Issue 9, Posted 1:16 PM, 10.25.2008