Do the right thing

Early 20th-century developers envisioned Cleveland Heights as an upper-class “garden suburb.” Given real-estate market realities, however, mansion districts soon gave way to subdivisions with smaller lot sizes, varied dwelling types and lower prices. By 1921, when Cleveland Heights received its city charter, housing stock determined that we would be an economically mixed suburb.

In 21st-century Cleveland Heights, "diversity" most often refers to the city's mix of races, religions and LGBTQ+ residents. Economic class is something of an elephant in the room, all the more so since income disparity has grown; in 2023, 16.2 percent of our residents lived in poverty. Wealthy, middle-class, moderate-income and low-income residents tend to be segregated by neighborhood. Obviously, the wealthiest have the most options for how and where to live. Those who choose Cleveland Heights clearly value our diversity or they would live elsewhere.

Limiting The Ascent at the Top of the Hill and The Marquee at Cedar Lee to “luxury” apartments, therefore, constituted major missed opportunities. And, according to Assistant Director of Economic Development Brian Anderson, rents in the upcoming Cain Park Village Revitalization Project will be exclusively “market rate.”

It’s depressing enough for an historic property like the Taylor Tudors to be sold to a developer for $1, as Cleveland Heights has done. That the city exerts no influence on rents to be charged is even more unfortunate.

To fully embody the reality and values of our community, these projects should have been designed to attract and accommodate residents of every class and stage of life. Is this hard to achieve when developers and financiers seemingly hold all the cards? Yes, but it is a vital goal.

The one truly mixed-income area we can see in Cleveland Heights developed over four decades around the Severance ring road. Severance Tower, providing subsidized apartments to qualified low-income residents, opened in 1979. It is bookended by the moderately priced Concord Apartments (1974) and Kensington Place (1989). Severance Place, a condominium conversion of the former Kaiser medical building, opened in 2006. Townhomes in The Courtyards at Severance (2005) and the Bluestone Community (2012), across Mayfield Road, offer more upscale options.

The economic integration of Severance apparently occurred without intention on the part of the city, at least early on. With income levels varying from building to building, and without public spaces to create a shared sense of place, it is a hodge-podge of mostly aging dwellings surrounding a half-dead mall (which still does conveniently provide groceries, hardware, sundries and medical care to local residents). The economic diversity of housing at Severance, however, is precious. In this one respect, Severance provides a model for all of Cleveland Heights that demands to be preserved once the city gets site control and redevelopment begins. 

The city also must require the nearby Park Synagogue project to accommodate a full range of incomes and household sizes and types. In addition, we desperately need single-floor housing for older and disabled residents.

Real-world incentives support economically segregated development, along with gentrification of struggling neighborhoods. We need to change the rules of this game. The city must seek out development partners who share this vision of true diversity, and have the drive, knowledge and creativity to bring it to fruition.

SAVE THE DATE: On Thursday, June 13, at 6 p.m., city council will host the 11th Annual Cleveland Heights Democracy Day Public Hearing in Council Chambers. Democracy Day was created when city voters overwhelmingly passed a 2013 ballot issue stating that corporations are not people and money is not speech, and supporting a U.S. constitutional amendment to that effect. Look for additional info on the city calendar soon.

Deborah Van Kleef and Carla Rautenberg

Deborah Van Kleef and Carla Rautenberg are writers, editors and longtime residents of Cleveland Heights. Contact them at

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Volume 17, Issue 5, Posted 10:15 AM, 04.29.2024