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 firstname.lastname@example.org
The number of vacant, deteriorating properties in Cleveland has significantly dropped in the last eight years. But for people living near such a property, that doesn’t matter. Many say they feel unsafe living near a property where crime is more likely to occur.
A city-wide survey in 2015 showed there were about 12,000 vacant properties in Cleveland. Cleveland Building and Housing Department officials now estimate that number is down to between 1,000 and 3,000.
The numbers may be down, but for anyone living next to one of these, it’s one too many.
Clevelanders are speaking up about safety concerns with the remaining vacant properties and taking action.
On a rainy March morning, a group of neighbors cleaned up around a vacant property on the corner of East 65th Street and Sebert Avenue, where they found enough syringes to fill a red medical waste canister and where they lined the curb with trash bags, broken toys and even a mattress.
And in Fourth District police community meetings – a district that includes the Union-Miles, Mt. Pleasant and some of the Slavic Village neighborhoods – tensions rise when the topic of vacant and condemned homes comes up.
So much so that the area’s police community liaison asked officials from Cleveland’s Building and Housing Department to come to the monthly meetings and address residents’ questions and concerns.
And residents have a lot of questions. One Mt. Pleasant resident who frequently attends the meetings has repeatedly raised concerns over a house she says she’s called on for months. Officials have told her it is condemned. She wants to know why it’s not boarded up.
“How long? What is the process?” she asked at the January meeting.
The housing official starts to tell her about the process to get a house condemned. She paused and said, “Is that what you’re asking?”
“No, the question that I’m asking is, the house is already condemned. This house is unsafe for everyone, our police, everyone,” she said.
In a back-and-forth between her and a housing official, her frustration becomes evident in her voice.
“I am just, I’m tired. The residents are tired. And we want something done and we want it done now,” she said.
The housing official took the address of the house and said she will get the chief building inspector for their district to inspect the home.
As in most of these meetings, housing officials are not giving answers residents want to hear.
The answers are complicated. Because most of the properties in question are privately owned, the city has to take every precaution to make sure they’re not violating the property owner’s rights.