Forest Hill residents consider autonomy
With the recent recall of East Cleveland’s mayor and city council president, along with that city’s struggles to stay afloat, some residents in the neighborhood of Forest Hill are voicing support to secede from East Cleveland and Cleveland Heights in favor of forming an autonomous municipality, The Village of Forest Hill.
These homeowners believe the creation of a self-governing entity is needed to combat the growing number of neglected and abandoned homes that are plummeting property values and contributing to a negative perception of Forest Hill as a neighborhood on the brink.
A number of toxic houses, many of which have been vacant for years, continue to blight Forest Hill—a direct result of the 2008 housing crash, foreclosure crisis and incompetent oversight.
One of the most egregious examples is the home at 15922 Forest Hill Blvd., in East Cleveland. This eyesore has sat vacant for more than a decade. The roof is caving in, the trees are taking over, and it appears that squatters may be using the house as a drug den. Tangled up in a complicated web of tax and legal issues, this house has fallen through the cracks of the city and county bureaucracies. Shockingly, its delinquent property taxes are in excess of $75,000 and continue to be assessed.
“How do we deal with vacant homes in an inner-ring neighborhood when the cities are powerless to act, the county is doing nothing but collecting taxes, the banks just sit on these houses, and our homeowners’ association is paralyzed to take action?” asked Mike Reilly, a 33-year resident of Blackmore Road in Cleveland Heights.
“Despite years of requests, Forest Hill has received no help from East Cleveland or Cleveland Heights,” said Michael Wells, who has lived on Glynn Road in East Cleveland for 26 years. “We need our own village to take care of the community and advocate for residents. Ohio law allows for community secession. How exciting it would be to put our energy into incorporating Forest Hill into a separate village.”
John D. Rockefeller established Forest Hill in the late 1920s as one of the first homeowner associations in the country with protective covenants in the deeds of all homes to maintain high standards and preserve and enhance property values.
“We are in a unique and powerful position because we have covenants to protect the standards, but no one is enforcing them,” Reilly added. “The implosion of East Cleveland, the layoff of staff in Cleveland Heights, and the hangover from the housing crash have made these covenants our lifeline to protect the community. Our well-meaning volunteer homeowner’s association is just not capable of cleaning up the dredge of bank-owned homes that have sat vacant for years.”
Westover Road in Cleveland Heights has numerous homes that are in decline; at least six properties on that street are rentals. Lower Newbury Road in East Cleveland, where former Mayor Gary Norton lives, has a number of homes that are vacant or abandoned, with dilapidated cars and trucks parked in driveways, street signs falling down, and rampant potholes. Short-sale vacancies dot the area, with no resolution in sight.
Representing residents of more than 1,000 homes in East Cleveland and Cleveland Heights, The Village of Forest Hill would serve as its own government agency and assume the responsibilities of the current Forest Hill Home Owner’s association.
“For many years, homebuyers flocked to Forest Hill because of the architectural charm and beauty of the homes and neighborhood,” said Rich O'Donnell, a 41-year resident of Blackmore Road in Cleveland Heights. “That didn’t happen by accident; it was the result of an active homeowner’s association enforcing standards and working with the cities to address code violations. Sadly, the attention to detail and to responsibility isn’t what it used to be. What they can’t or won’t do, residents can by creating a self-governing village. This requires a ‘can do’ attitude and we have that in spades.”
Eileen Smotzer, a seven-year resident of Rutherford Road in Cleveland Heights, said, “My husband and I are deeply concerned that city officials and our homeowner’s association continue to turn a blind eye to properties like 15922 Forest Hill that have fallen into extreme disrepair. With the lack of concern and action, we have little hope that our home values will do anything but decline. What does it take for city officials to realize that time is running out? Our only hope is to form a new entity, The Village of Forest Hill, that applies the covenants and a sense of urgency to protect our homes and our residents.”
In June, the Cuyahoga Land Bank was supposed to start renovations at 2558 Newbury Road, yet nothing has been done—even though Cleveland Heights Mayor Cheryl Stephens, a Forest Hill resident, is one of its directors.
Unlike Cedar Fairmount and Cedar Lee, there has been no city engagement in nor promotion of Forest Hill, which is why the Medusa Building is deteriorating, the Rockefeller Building is an underutilized retail space, Monticello Lee is turning into another Bedford Auto Mile, Severance Town Center is turning into a ghost town, and the housing stock continues to decline. For all intents and purposes, Forest Hill seems to have been written off by its very own cities. For more information, visit foresthillcampaign.com.
[WKYC-TV aired a segment on the Campaign for Forest Hill on Dec. 23.]
Fiona Reilly, a 33-year resident of the Forest Hill neighborhood in Cleveland Heights, co-founded The Campaign for Forest Hill with her husband, Mike Reilly.