Danforth might discard essential housing preservation tools

Cleveland Heights’ first elected mayor will have to rebuild the city’s housing department and programs. The need is especially critical for those neighborhoods that have long suffered blight and disinvestment.

A candidates’ survey by the Greater Cleveland Congregations Cleveland Heights Housing Team (https://chhousingteam.wordpress.com) provides a useful glimpse into the thoughts of Barbara Danforth and Kahlil Seren on housing policy.

I was dismayed to read that Danforth would consider two policy changes in particular:

1) “The interior point of sale inspection process needs to be evaluated to ensure that it is not an obstacle to homeownership,” Danforth stated in the survey. Is Danforth open to removing what is, in fact, an important protection for homebuyers? Houses changing hands would then have to conform only to the codes that address their external condition. A house might sport a fresh coat of paint and a manicured yard, but conceal costly and dangerous code violations in its electrical, plumbing, heating and other systems. Such a move would eliminate the city’s only way to ensure that owner-occupied single dwellings conform to housing codes both inside and out. (Rental properties are inspected throughout every few years.)

2) Danforth also stated, “[Staff could] explore the opportunity for the lending institutions to provide the incentives for the rehabilitation contractors in lieu of the annual foreclosure bond payment of $15,000.” Currently, when a house becomes vacant due to mortgage foreclosure, the bank that holds the title must pay the city a bond of $15,000. The city uses these funds to cover maintenance of the property, should the bank fail to maintain it. It’s not clear what Danforth means by “incentives,” but given the history of neglect that necessitated foreclosure bonds in the first place, her confidence in the banks seems misplaced. 

We have point-of-sale inspection and a foreclosure bond ordinance because residents fought hard for them. If used rigorously, they are proven tools for ensuring safe housing and viable neighborhoods. It appears that Danforth is getting her advice on housing policy from people in real estate and banking—sectors not often known to act in the long-term best interests of neighborhoods and communities.

If elected, Danforth could undo the results of decades of citizen advocacy by dismantling essential programs for protecting our housing stock. We can’t afford this risk. Seren will move our housing programs forward, not backward. He is the right choice for Cleveland Heights in 2021.

Deborah Van Kleef

Deborah Van Kleef is a writer and folksinger. She and her husband have been owner-occupants of a Cleveland Heights duplex since 1985.

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Volume 14, Issue 10, Posted 11:00 AM, 10.01.2021