Sunday, June 19, 2011

Affordable Housing Forum in June

Cuyahoga Affordable Housing Alliance Meeting June 6, 2011

Four guests appeared at the June 6, 2011 Cuyahoga Affordable Housing Alliance meeting to talk about affordable housing issues in suburban communities. NEOCH assists in hosting this meeting every first Monday of the month unless there is a federal holiday. This is a venue in which government regularly meets with advocates and housing providers to talk about the state of affordable housing in the Greater Cleveland. This is a chance to exchange information in order to prevent any further loss of affordable housing in our community. We review possible troubled property and have regular reports from key community stakeholders such as the Housing Authority, the City of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County Community Development. These meetings are a fixture in the community for the last 12 years.

In June 2011, we invited representatives from the largest suburbs around Cleveland. There are five communities (Cleveland Hts, Euclid, East Cleveland, Lakewood, and Parma) all are designated entitlement communities by the federal government. This means that they are a sufficient size and have enough people living in poverty to need additional help from the federal government. This additional help (Community Development Block Grant) is available to assist with housing emergencies, homelessness, eviction diversion or other similar programs. Those who were able to attend included:
  • Mary Leigh--Chair of Economic Development in Lakewood,
  • Sally Martin--Housing Manager of South Euclid and co-chair of the First Suburbs Housing Committee.
  • Karen Knittel from the Cleveland Heights Planning and Development Department,
  • Don Graves Assistant Building Commissioner for the City of Parma.
About 30 people attended the event, and each of the four presenters gave a short presentation before chair Phil Star of Cleveland State University opened up the forum for questions.

Cleveland Hts.
They fell below 50,000 residents as a result of the foreclosure crisis after the 2010 Census. It is estimated that Cleveland Hts. is now a community of 46,000 people. They are hoping to remain an entitlement community, but that is a decision made by HUD Washington. Cleveland Hts. does fund housing programs for low and moderate-income residents. They have staff to assist seniors & the disabled with issues. Code violations are making it difficult to meet the home buying assistance goals also the age of the housing stock and the problems with lead paint also are complicating the City's efforts.
  • Down Payment Assistance fund helped 30 people last year.
  • Neighborhood stabilization fund helped to renovated 12 homes.
  • Now they are working to sell these newly renovated homes to those with a modest income.
  • Demolished 13 homes that are severely distressed
Mary Leigh of the Community Development Office runs all the federally funded programs and is following their local consolidated pPlan. They are working to try to increase home ownership in Lakewood, which has been a challenge over the last three years. They also have CDBG funds, HOME funds from the federal government, Neighborhood Stabilization funds (federal help to confront the foreclosure crisis). Lakewood does a great deal of code reinforcement and supportive service by partnering with Lakewood Community Services. They also fund fair housing activities through Housing Research and Advocacy Center. They are attempting to strategically analyze impediments to housing stability in Lakewood. The City funds CTO for rental help and dispute resolution. Lakewood is trying to encourage the development of ADA accessible housing for seniors. They have a low interest loan program and a senior deferred loan program for seniors. Lakewood has a first time homebuyer program to encourage renters to become home owners. They are distributing rental assistance through Lakewood Community Services as part of the federal stimulus. There is a financial education program, and a home weatherization assistance.

South Euclid
South Euclid was the only non-entitlement community represented at the forum. Ms. Martin is the current chair of the First Suburbs Coalition which is a group of 18 Inner-ring suburbs. South Euclid has gone through some of the same problems associated with the foreclosure crisis as the others. They have 700 residents at risk and 380 homes being foreclosed on with 9,600 homes hard hit by the downturn. NPI helping map out the city to show where there are problems. Non-entitlement communities rely on the County government to assist with housing issues. South Euclid was part of the $1.5 million grant from the county from Neighborhood Stabilization to assist the first suburbs governments. South Euclid has created a program called "Make the Bungalow Hip Again" to try to encourage families to move back into the aging South Euclid bungalow housing. They also have a green building initiative that they are advertising. South Euclid has a public private partnership with the completion of four green homes.

Ms. Martin described the pain within the suburbs with many homeowners hurting – there are lots more people on Food Stamps and struggling to pay the mortgage. She described the Housing department as becoming more of a social worker staff. They have sent letters to everyone in danger of foreclosure trying to get them help before it is too late. She and senior South Euclid housing staff have walked with representatives from ESOP through the neighborhood to offer help to those facing foreclosure. They created some community gardens where houses have been come down due to foreclosure. City officials have had to deal with 240 Foreclosures that now have been declared not fit for human habitation.

Don Graves a building commissioner filled in for Eric Tollup from Community Development who was called away. With the assistance of Neighborhood Stabilization funding they NSP purchased and tore down 26 houses. Employers have not fled as much as they have feared especially with the help of the bailout of the auto industry. Parma also has a first time home buyers program. They have senior services to help with utilities as well as property maintenance division and can help with seniors who are struggling. The City has to deal with around 300 vacant and foreclosed property. They are seeing more foreclosures because of people not being able to find jobs. ESOP and others present at Seniors Centers to offer assistance. Citizens are concerned about foreclosures and people abandoned properties. There was a great deal of discussion about properties not being taken care of by the banks or government entity which owns a vacant or foreclosed building. Most of the foreclosure assistance money given to the city was used to take down properties. Parma has developed a collaboration in which Fire/County Health Dept. and social workers all go out together when there is a crisis at a housing complex. They have a crisis intervention model to help with a need. Having all agencies present at same time reduces the runaround with ADAMS Board staff, housing inspectors, Police and Senior services all present makes it more likely that the person will be able to find the help that they need.

A number of questions came up including:
  • The question came up with regard to the relationship of the suburbs with the County Land Bank? Most said that they were just beginning to work with the Land Bank. South Euclid seemed to be the furthest along in trying to work with the County Land Bank.
  • Most of the communities did not see a change in the next two years in the state of housing.
  • There was near universal condemnation of the new process initiated by HUD Washington with regard to cutting grass complaints in Fannie Mae or HUD owned foreclosure property. Previously, the suburbs had one contact to call and they would immediately respond. Now there are a number of contacts and the response is very slow.
  • There is still no resolution of the shell game the banks are playing with filing a title on a house that has been retaken by a bank.
  • Parma and others have unpaid furlough days for staff, and yet they are all being asked to do more. Most of the suburban governments are suffering and just cannot keep up with the amount of work expected by taxpayers.
  • It is getting impossible to keep up with growing amount of work coupled with a lack of resources. Most communities had to lay off staff while their workload grew.
  • Some of the banks are trying to help, but others are acting in a disgraceful manner.
  • Banks are still stalling at living up to their obligations with regard to the foreclosures.
  • Suburbs are still seeing no end in the number of foreclosures and the tsunami has not ended.
  • Suburbs are still seeing strategic defaults where a homeowner walks away. This makes it difficult to keep up with maintenance on these properties.
  • Most of the communities are being aggressive with vacancies so that they do not get out of control and bring down property values even more. South Euclid has 600 vacant units-- Parma has 300 vacant units. South Euclid did see a couple of units burnt down in their jurisdiction.
  • Communities are just starting to implement the second stage of the neighborhood stabilization funding. They are trying to acquire the worst housing inventory to take down and reuse.
  • A few suburbs reported seeing squatters in their vacant properties.
  • Questions came up with regard to allowing Fannie Mae property owners to become renters. Most suburbs use their law department to help with these issues. A couple of communities mentioned contact with Hoarders.
  • All first time homebuyers have to use a traditional lender in the hope that they will not go through a foreclosure later. Also, most communities have a required financial literacy class to educate new homebuyers who receive suburban help.
  • The suburbs rely on the County Health Department to help out with bed bug issues.
  • There was a question about seeking project based housing units from the Housing Authority in the suburbs. (None have been offered in the last two years.)
  • Would the suburbs seek funding from a future County Trust Fund if it were created?
  • There was mention of a problem in which seniors took out the equity in their houses to help out their kids, and now they are stuck with an unaffordable mortgage. Or young people will not allow their senior parents to take out a reverse mortgage because there would be no inheritances left.
  • They have seen an uptick in the number of single family homes being turned into rental units in the last three years. They have not seen the number of for-profit rent to own schemes in the suburbs like they saw in the past, but it is not a huge problem.
  • There was some resistance to building departments taking over lead safety enforcement. This is a health department issue, and the building departments do not want to oversee the issue.
Next meeting is July 11 (because of the holiday), and we will hear from State Representative Mike Foley and the City of Cleveland Community Development staff Bill Resseger. All are welcome to attend.

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