Communities at the Crossroads: A Survey of Five First-Ring Suburbs

Communities at the Crossroads: A Survey of Five First-Ring Suburbs examines housing market challenges and opportunities facing five of Cleveland’s first-ring suburbs – Euclid, Garfield Heights, Maple Heights, South Euclid, and Warrensville Heights – in the wake of the foreclosure crisis.

The report, released in January 2018, summarizes key findings from a property inventory and analysis conducted by Western Reserve Land Conservancy and Dynamo Metrics. The project was commissioned by the City of South Euclid and generously funded by the Cleveland Foundation.

REPORT

An online copy of the Communities at the Crossroads report can be found and downloaded here. You can also explore the report using the platform below.

Special thanks to Kent State University’s Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative for editorial and graphic design support of the project.

 

NEIGHBORHOOD INTEL TOOLS

Through the project, each of the five suburbs is equipped with Neighborhood Intel, a decision support tool created by Dynamo Metrics. This tool allows communities to monitor the impact of demolition and rehabilitation efforts, while easily identifying trouble spots so that targeted intervention strategies can be implemented. To access the Neighborhood Intel tools for each city, visit:

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The resulting report measures the assets of five first-ring suburbs within the context of larger economic and social trends affecting these communities and the entire region. This report also assesses the impact that demolition, rehabilitation, and other housing initiatives have on building inventories and the local tax base.

Positive Findings:

  • 98% of the housing inventory is rated in excellent or good condition in these five suburban municipalities.
  • The most severely blighted properties have largely been addressed; there are very few blighted, abandoned structures awaiting demolition.
  • Mortgage foreclosures and sheriff sales have declined dramatically.
  • The number of vacant structures has decreased.
  • Median home sale prices are on the increase, although they have not regained either their peak 2005 or 2000 levels.

Areas of Concern:

  • Homeownership has been declining in all five communities since 2000, although the decline appears to be leveling off in Garfield Heights and Warrensville Heights.
  • Residential property tax delinquency is a serious problem for Cuyahoga County as a whole, but is increasing more rapidly in the five suburbs. If not addressed, this will lead to an increase in tax foreclosure and a new cycle of property abandonment.
  • While vacancy is decreasing, each suburb has homes that have been vacant for one year or longer. If these properties are not maintained, they could represent a new wave of distress that will undermine the housing market.
  • Median home sale prices have not regained either their peak 2005 or 2000 levels.
  • Access to bank financing for home purchase and home rehabilitation appears to be a challenge for the five cities. Addressing this issue will be important for increasing levels of homeownership and restoring a healthy housing market.

Proposed Action Agenda for first-ring suburbs:

  1. Monitor Property Conditions. While the vast majority of the properties surveyed are in good or excellent condition, it is critical that the cities in this survey maintain strong and viable building and housing departments that keep a close watch on property conditions on an ongoing basis to prevent a decline in property maintenance.
  2. Enforce Building Codes. Code enforcement and compliance is already high in the five suburbs. But continued vigilance is essential, especially in neighborhoods with many vacant houses and growing numbers of rental properties. Intact neighborhoods are essential for attracting new residents, so encourage rehab wherever possible and demolish only when necessary. For example, vacant property registration ordinances enable cities to keep track of property owners, inform them of maintenance requirements, collect registration fees and, if necessary, cite for violations that might occur.
  3. Reduce Tax Delinquency. Getting to people early in the delinquency period makes repayment plans far more manageable and prevents large, uncollectable delinquencies. Consider outreach to delinquent taxpayers in your communities; consider legislation to prohibit the registration of rental properties with delinquent tax balances; and work proactively with the County Treasurer to move severely delinquent properties through the tax foreclosure process.
  4. Expand Homeownership. The transition of a neighborhood from one of mostly homeowners to one with higher percentages of renters can be disruptive. Mortgage assistance and rent-to-own programs can help turn renters into homeowners. Consider adopting pro-integrative programs which can help discourage self-segregating behavior and promote neighborhood diversity.
  5. Market First-ring Neighborhoods. First- ring suburbs should invest in up-to-date market data about the kinds of households and businesses that could be attracted to your communities. If you know who you’re trying to reach, it is easier to launch targeted outreach efforts. For Cleveland’s first- ring suburbs to capture a larger share of the regional housing market, the advantages of these communities need to become better known, especially to the range of households who would be most interested in the housing and amenities found in the first-ring.
  6. Expand  Access to Home Mortgages. A lack of mortgage lending is turning suburban communities into cash markets, which suppresses housing values. Leaders must continue to work with local lenders to create a mortgage product for mortgages under $50,000.
  7. Expand Financial Tools for Home Rehabilitation. Cuyahoga County is uniquely positioned to create a loan loss reserve fund that could be used to enhance an existing home improvement loan program. People with weak credit scores are hard to finance, but statistics show that the majority of borrowers will make good on their loan obligations.
  8. Address Edge Conditions. Collaborative programs are needed to deal with edge conditions where inner- ring suburbs adjoin the cities of Cleveland and East Cleveland. This could include joint streetscape projects that provide visual continuity between city and suburb, and allow for greater connectivity of bike lanes and pedestrian infrastructure.
  9. Tackle Crime. Vacant homes can become magnets for crime and cause a lack of confidence in local housing markets. First-ring suburbs need to tackle crime aggressively, since people will not choose to live in a neighborhood where they feel unsafe. Communities can address blight early by staying ahead of unsightly houses, vacant lots, and abandoned automobiles. And the good news is that early blight remediation efforts have largely accomplished this.
  10. Foster Social Cohesion. Encourage residents to work together to promote their neighborhood’s identity and help market a neighborhood’s strengths. Some urban strategists recommend enlisting residents to become ‘sales agents’ for their neighborhood. Small, inexpensive improvement projects, sponsored by the local government, or perhaps the county government, could help to spark new interest in under-appreciated neighborhoods.  Encouraging community spirit through festivals and block parties can help to create neighborhood unity.

For more on the project, please visit: https://www.wrlandconservancy.org/articles/2018/01/28/communities-at-the-crossroads-report

Questions? Call Western Reserve Land Conservancy’s Thriving Communities office at 216-515-8300.