Heravon Williams Sr. in a grey Ohio State t-shirt and black ball cap stands outside the abandoned house next door to where he lives on Kinsman Road on Monday, May, 2023. WIlliams Sr. was excited to see the house will finally be demolished this week.
Heravon Williams Sr. stands outside the abandoned house next door to where he lives on Kinsman Road on Monday, May, 2023. Credit: Stephanie Casanova / Signal Cleveland

Over the next year, Signal Cleveland will be reporting on how vacant homes impact community safety. We also want to hear from Cleveland residents and property owners about their experiences with vacant and condemned homes. To share your stories, tips or concerns, contact Signal Cleveland community safety reporter Stephanie Casanova at stephanie@signalcleveland.org

Heravon Williams Sr. had a big smile on his face as he walked along the street to his neighbor’s house two doors down late Monday morning, avoiding the dirt mounds left in the path of a bulldozer. 

The bulldozer was parked outside the house next door, a house that has been an eyesore for at least five years, he said. 

That’s how long Williams Sr. has lived next to the boarded up two-family home at 10906 Kinsman Road. It went viral on Reddit and Instagram after someone spray-painted a message across the entire front of the house ahead of last year’s Labor Day Parade. 

“Mayor Bibb, please, please, please tear this house down,” the message said in bold black paint against the white boards. 

Demolition of the house is set to start this week, city officials told Signal Cleveland.

A white, two-family home with a message asking Mayor Bibb to tear it down, with one of the boards removed at 10906 Kinsman Road on Friday, May 8, 2023.
A home with a message asking Mayor Bibb to tear it down at 10906 Kinsman Road on Friday, May 8, 2023. Credit: Helen Maynard / Signal Cleveland

“I was shocked when I opened up the door this morning,” Williams said. “I didn’t even hear them come get the dumpster or roll this thing up in there.” 

The vacant residence worried him. He sometimes wondered what would happen if a body was found inside the home, or if someone trying to stay warm on a winter night decided to start a fire and burned the house down. 

A different type of paint job

So Williams Sr. decided to raise a spray paint red flag, of sorts. Last year, “I turned it into a billboard,” he said, standing on the sidewalk, right in front of the bulldozer. 

“I ain’t got nothing to lose,” he said, admitting he sprayed the post on the front of the house.

He said he believes the spray-painted message helped move the process along faster. 

“I just put it in my mind that it’s time to go,” he said. It seemed to him nobody was going to invest in rebuilding that house.

With traffic on the main road and the Labor Day parade route passing the house, he expected the message to reach downtown faster than if he called City Hall and was “passed around from department to department,” he said. 

“A can of spray paint did more than trying to reach someone downtown,” he said. 

Cleveland Building and Housing records show the property owners were last approved for three permits in April 2022. The owners were authorized to bring electrical up to code and install toilets, water heaters, bathtubs or showers and furnaces. 

A fourth permit was issued April 22 for rehabilitation work on the property. It gave the owner 48 hours to secure the property, 60 days to correct exterior violations, and 180 days to finish other required work and remove debris. “Failure to adhere to this rehabilitation plan could result in prosecution or demolition,” the document states. 

‘Sooner is better than never’

Signal Cleveland visited the property early Friday morning to check on the building’s status.

Red tape that read, “Danger, Asbestos may cause cancer,” surrounded the lot . About midday, a group of asbestos removal workers put respirator masks over their mouths and noses, pulled coveralls over their boots and clothes, and then put on hardhats. 

They entered the home and started to work. 

Asbestos workers in white coveralls and hard hats work on a home at 10906 Kinsman Road on Friday, May 8, 2023.
Asbestos workers work on a home at 10906 Kinsman Road on Friday, May 8, 2023. Credit: Stephanie Casanova / Signal Cleveland

Heravon Williams Jr., who has lived with his dad for about two years, said seeing the property razed will be good for the community. 

“It’s been long enough, honestly, but sooner is better than never, I guess,” Williams Jr. said. 

Tearing the house down means there will be fewer places for suspicious activity, Williams Jr. said.

Hope for a better future

“I think somebody should buy the land, maybe try to do something productive with it, get another house,” Williams Jr. said. “There’s a lot of homeless people in the city. There’s a lot of people in the city working hard looking for housing, so another house right there would be good.”

He said he’s seen people hanging out in the driveway or porch at night. Mice from the abandoned property were coming into the Williams home. 

Scavengers over the years have gutted the place, Williams Sr. said. He once saw a guy pull up a truck and take a slab of limestone from the front steps. 

“And then people started dumping stuff back there,” Williams Sr. said, nodding toward the backyard, where junk was piled up the side of the back fence. “It’s packed back there.”

He said he’d be OK with living next to a vacant lot once the home is torn down. “They plant some grass seeds, I’ll keep it cut,” he said. 

An East End Neighborhood House car pulled up to deliver Williams’ daily lunch. 

“Hey man, what’s up,” Williams Sr. said to the driver, “Did you see my new car?” 

He laughed, pointing at the bulldozer behind him. 

“I’ma get me a chair and some beer,” he said, “sit on my grass and watch them tear it down, finally.” 

Criminal Justice Reporter (she/her)
Stephanie, who covered criminal justice and breaking news at the Chicago Tribune, is a bilingual journalist with a passion for storytelling that is inclusive and reflects the diversity of the communities she covers. She has been a reporter and copy editor for local newspapers in South Dakota, Kansas and Arizona. Stephanie is also a Maynard 200 alumni, a Maynard Institute for Journalism Education training program for journalists of color that focuses on making newsrooms more equitable, diverse and anti-racist.