The train wreck at Noble Station
The recent Noble Station train wreck is the result of failure on several levels. The proposed affordable housing development didn’t travel far, and its slow derailment was painful to watch.
The sequence of events started when an out-of-state developer, TWG Development, approached the Cleveland Heights administration with an offer to purchase city-owned land at the corner of Noble and Woodview roads to build a new 52-unit affordable-apartment building.
Cleveland Heights City Council, in December 2022, unanimously passed an ordinance authorizing the mayor to execute a purchase agreement with TWG.
Cleveland Heights-based Start Right Community Development Corporation (CDC), TWG's partner in the project, then fumbled the opportunity to secure community buy-in—a fundamental role of any CDC.
In May 2023, the project’s primary funder, the Ohio Housing Finance Agency (OHFA), awarded TWG highly competitive Low-Income Housing Tax Credits for the project.
TWG then produced a project design that was mediocre, at best, which then caught the attention of Cleveland Heights residents, council members, and other reviewers of the project.
Council slammed the brakes on the project with a 5-2 “no” vote at its Sept. 18 meeting, at which TWG mounted a last-minute effort to secure an approved development agreement, presented as necessary to finalize the OHFA funding.
All participants limped away with nothing accomplished.
Noble Station is a textbook example of how not to manage an affordable housing development.
Sadly, affordable housing is always (unnecessarily) controversial; the mayor should have expected resistance. Stamping approval on an unsolicited offer to buy a city-owned parcel, which council unanimously did, was not the way to go.
As it did for many previous development opportunities elsewhere in Cleveland Heights, the city should first have solicited input from the Noble community, issued a Request for Proposal to multiple qualified developers, selected the best proposal, then worked with the developer and the community throughout the development process. This is not the high-speed route, but it is fair and effective to citizens and the developer, if properly done.
The mishandling of the Noble Station opportunity is a sad setback for a community that would benefit from new, high-quality affordable housing.
At a minimum, it further tarnishes the image of affordable housing and our city leadership; at worst, TWG may have to return to OHFA the coveted tax credits, valued at more than $11 million, which is highly unusual in the world of affordable housing.
OHFA will no doubt think twice about awarding another project in Cleveland Heights. As for TWG, let’s hope that it isn’t preparing litigation papers to serve City Hall.
Mike Bier is a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights and has been developing affordable housing for more than 20 years.