Much of Cleveland’s occupied housing stock earned an “A,” “ B” or “C” grade in the latest survey of city properties, officials from the Western Reserve Land Conservancy and the City of Cleveland announced Thursday during a news conference.
The survey, conducted between last October and April, examined 162,000 parcels, including occupied and vacant structures, empty lots, schools and parks. The survey also examined sidewalks and tree canopies.
The information has been compiled in a database and can be reviewed here.
The survey builds off a 2015 property review and is intended to help city officials and others better manage and direct housing resources.
The survey also found that properties owned by out-of-town landlords earned lower grades than those of in-state landlords.
“It’s going to give us more tools to crack down on predatory out-of-state landlords and investors,” Mayor Justin Bibb said at the news conference. “It also is going to beef up our ability to address the lead paint crisis that we see in our homes all across the city.”
Removing hazardous homes, making a plan for vacant lots
Cleveland Building and Housing Director Sally Martin O’Toole said her priority is to remove blighted homes from neighborhoods. The city has $21 million available for demolition.
“I don’t want a Clevelander to live next door to a derelict property that’s falling down,” O’Toole said.
This raises a concern for Isaac Robb with the Land Conservancy. He said as the city continues to demolish homes, there needs to be a plan for how those spaces are rebuilt. Planting trees or replacing buildings with new affordable housing through programs such as the Cuyahoga County Land Bank’s side yard program, can all improve a neighborhood with many vacant lots, he said.
Many Clevelanders live next to empty land. One-fifth of the city’s parcels are vacant lots, according to the survey.
“We also then need to think about the long-term implications of what the increase in demolition will look like and the amount of vacant lots that that will create,” Robb said.
O’Toole said that while her priority is “addressing the worst of the worst,” she also hopes to save some homes from the wrecking ball. The new data from this survey will also help the city connect residents with resources to fix their homes.
“We have unprecedented low-interest loan funds out there,” O’Toole said. “And we want to not be punitive, but to help residents access those dollars to repair their homes.”
The Bibb administration and Cleveland City Council have approved $15 million in ARPA funds for loans and grants to help residents fix their homes. Of those funds, $5 million will be used to focus on homes in the city’s Southeast Side.
O’Toole said she expects more funds to become available as the city works with the land bank, community development corporations and banking partners.
“We want to save everything we could save,” O’Toole told Signal Cleveland. “And now there’s a little bit of money to do that.”
Concentrated enforcement on lead hazards, out-of-state landlords
Surveyors saw 336 lead placards on properties, indicating a house needs to be vacated due to lead hazards. The surveyors suspected about 75% of those properties had people living in them.
Robb said organizations and city departments working to address the lead paint problem in Cleveland can use survey information like peeling paint and bare soil along with publicly available information on the age of a home to monitor properties in a more concentrated way.
Bibb said the city’s new chief of housing enforcement, David Roberts, is tasked with figuring out how to hold out-of-state landlords accountable.
Out-of-state owners hold about 7.6% of Cleveland’s parcels, but those properties, on average, are in worse condition than properties owned locally.
“It’s not a punitive direction that we’re heading in,” O’Toole said. “Unless you are a very derelict, neglectful out-of-state owner, in which case watch out – we’re coming for you.”
The survey process and past survey results
On a sunny, warm mid-April morning, one of the surveyors, Steve Lang, walked along the sidewalk on West 86th Street, pausing in front of every home and observing details like chipped paint, checking for broken windows and looking at porch steps and floors. He looked at the condition of the driveway, the garage and the lawn and landscape, recording information about these aspects of the home on a tablet.
Before answering survey questions, Lang would walk out toward the side of the house and take a photo at an angle. He tried to capture as much of the home as he could.
The last question on the survey asked him to grade the property – A, B, C, D or F. Most properties Lang surveyed in the West Boulevard neighborhood he graded a C or D, with an occasional home getting a B grade.
Lang stopped at a house missing a gutter. He noted the chipped paint on the porch trim and the cracks and holes in the driveway.
“Hopefully by all this being done [now], some of these issues can be addressed [in the future],” Lang said.
For the 2015 survey, the Land Conservancy used temporary workers who went through a week of training. The surveyors this time around are experts at inspecting homes, said Adrian Marti, lead surveyor with the Land Reserve.
Many of them work for the Cleveland Building and Housing Department. Others are with the Cleveland Healthy Homes Initiative, which has been assessing Cleveland homes for lead and other safety issues.
Because of this, Marti expected survey results to show more properties rated D and F, he told Signal Cleveland in April.
“We’re noticing that the grades are a little harsher than [the] previous [survey],” Marti said in April, as surveyors wrapped up their work.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correctly identify the city’s chief of housing enforcement, who is David Roberts. Mayor Justin Bibb incorrectly referred to him as Dennis Roberts during a news conference on the survey.
Signal Cleveland talked with housing department officials to better understand what happens when a house or apartment building is rundown beyond repair and what are some of the barriers that stall board up and demolition.