It is no secret that Cleveland was hit hard by the foreclosure crisis. Subprime/predatory lending, robo-signing, foreclosures themselves, and a rise in vacant and abandoned properties made an example out of Cleveland. All this, coupled with Cleveland’s existing population issues, ensured that our city became a blatantly visible victim of the meltdown. Though the problem here is glaringly obvious, it is not without solutions. In fact, Cleveland is a shining example of the things cities can do right in the midst of such chaos.
Admittedly, I am a little biased. The foreclosure crisis was almost a daily topic of conversation when I was still living with my parents, one of whom works at the Housing Court. In 2010, when the crisis was at its peak, I was still in high school and unaware of how incredibly responsive Cleveland was (and still is) as a whole. There are so many examples of positive reactions to the crisis, including the Housing Court and Slavic Village, Frank Ford and the Vacant and Abandoned Properties Council, NEO CANDO’s data accessibility project, the elusive Valdis Krebs and his network mapping,and the smart folks over at the Levin College on Urban Affair, just to name a few.
Another success story is that of Thriving Communities, a program of the Western Reserve Land Conservancy. We know that safe, beautiful neighborhoods matter, right? And when vacant houses are left standing with no one to care for them (and there were about 15,000 of them when the foreclosure crisis hit), they become potential breeding grounds for crime, threatening the existing neighborhood structure. Thriving Communities serves as a network for county land banks throughout Northeast Ohio. Land banks are organized in such a way to acquire foreclosed and vacant properties and clean them up for future use, improving both the property and the neighborhood. Jim Rokakis, Director of Thriving Communities and the Vice President of the Western Reserve Land Conservancy, has been an advocate for Cleveland communities for some time. As a city Council Member (at age 22!), he implemented many changes that helped Cleveland neighborhoods, including redeveloping downtown, establishing the Housing Court and addressing chronic neighborhood blight. As County Treasurer, he improved the County’s property tax collection system and changed how Ohio counties collect delinquent property taxes. Overall, he seems like a real stand-up guy who cares about this city and is doing what he can to make it prosper.
Alex Kotlowitz, in his 2009 New York Times article about Cleveland’s foreclosure nightmare, says “in a place like Cleveland, hope comes in small morsels.” I don’t think this was true then and I certainly don’t believe that philosophy stands now. I think Cleveland is a place where hope thrives. Our city is small enough that someone with a vision for our future can act on it in a meaningful and impactful way. While we may still be the butt of many jokes for those ignorant few (many?) who still refer to us as a polluted, blighted, laughingstock, we will continue to take it in stride. They fail to realize that, despite our challenges, we’re constantly and collaboratively trying to improve our neighborhoods. In this foreclosure crisis instance, we’ve even managed to serve as a national model for our ability to respond and take meaningful action. And that’s something to be proud of.
I hope you’ll join us for Jim’s talk on August 15 - Building a New, Better Cleveland in a Post-Foreclosure World. It is a good example of someone who takes a giant morsel of hope and actually does something about it.
You can hear Jim talk about land banking when he was here at the City Club in 2010.
Photo Credit: ThrivingCommunitiesInstitute.org