Displacement: The hidden cost of the Irishtown Bend Project

There is a lot of celebration for the proposed construction of Ohio City’s Irishtown Bend project. There have been radio interviews, newspaper articles, and community forums, although with very few public details about this new park. Despite all of this publicity, nothing is mentioned of the 20 to 35 people who are experiencing homelessness who live on the riverbed, some for upwards of 20 years.

The 17-acre proposed park would be cover most of the riverbed of West 25th Street from Detroit Ave to Columbus Road. The first phase of the project is a massive stabilization of the land, which will cost $49 million. The second phase, the actual construction of the park has no public price tag yet. Despite money flowing in from many agencies and foundations, the cost of relocating the Irishtown Bend residents - which NEOCH estimates would cost around $18,000 - is not a part of their budget.

NEOCH is appalled by the fact that the human cost of this massive project was not a top priority. We believe that the project organizers have both an ethical and legal obligation to relocate these residents.

In a recent meeting between NEOCH and Ohio City Inc., we were told that there was no money available in the current funding for relocations but that they would try to find some. Did none of the funders or grant seekers consider that these residents would need a new place to sleep at night? Do they not consider these residents to be valuable neighborhood constituents? 

Under the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Act of 1970, if federal money is used in a project, there is a legal responsibility to offer relocation money to those affected. In the meeting, Ohio City Inc. said they do not plan on using any federal money to stabilize the riverbed and they don’t know where the money is coming from to build the park. This is false. The Plain Dealer reported that the Lake Link Trail, funded by a $3.3 million federal grant, already has plans to be located in the Irishtown Bend. Clearly, there seems to be plans to use federal money in the second half of the project.

NEOCH believes this is a tactic to avoid legal responsibility. It allows them to start the work with non-federal money, and then bring in federal money after the people have been displaced.  We believe courts have found this shifting of when federal resources are used to be in violation of the spirit of the relocation law. If the organizers do not prioritize the people who call the Irishtown Bend home, they are at risk of losing all federal grants, including the one designated for the Lake Link Trail.

The residents of Riverbed road each have their own human story. There is no one uniformed reason why they have chosen to make a home in this location. One couple has chosen to remain together as they try to make their way back down south to where they are from. The shelter system does not have an option for couples to remain together as they attempt to overcome homelessness. They would be forced to separate.  Another man does not want to lose his dog. He has already lost everything he had through homelessness but remains committed to his companion. If he would enter the shelter system, he would be required to separate from his best friend. 

We at NEOCH are prepared to defend the legal right of those who live in this location. We are voicing our concern because the residents continue to ask our outreach workers about what they should do. They have very few options available to them for housing and fear being forcefully displaced and having their property destroyed.

If and when this project receives adequate funding to relocate people in a dignified manner, NEOCH is prepared to offer our assistance in these efforts. We have coordinated the main homeless outreach collaborative in the city for years. In so many ways, we are the most experienced and equipped to support such efforts. We have strong relationships with the residents of Irishtown Bend.

Rather than zip lines and boulder scrambles, the funders of this project need to center their work on the individuals who live there. Just as Irishtown Bend offered refuge to Irish immigrants fleeing the Potato Famine of the 1800s, this location continues to be a refuge for those who have no place to call home. NEOCH demands that these women and men are offered just and timely relocation. 

Update as of 9/6/2017: 

Since publishing this post, there has been a successful advocacy campiagn to make sure that funds will be provided for the resident. The local media picked up the stories and there were stories written by Scene Magazine, and WKYC. 

On August 31st, NEOCH's members and supports showed up at a community meeting to demand relocation for the residents that live on Riverbed Rd. You can check out our twitter post here.  During the Q & A, the Executive Director of Ohio City Inc. publically promised to find the money to relocate people.  You can watch the video below.  

Subsequently, on 9/6/2017, Representative Nickie Antonio called together a meeting between all the stakeholders in the project (The City of Cleveland, Councilman McCormack, The Port Authority, The Office of Homeless services, the Metro parks), the service providers ( Care Alliance, Frontline, Metanoia, and NEOCH) along with some of the residents. We discussed the timeline for the start of the hill stabilization. It was clear that the start date has been pushed back to the spring/summer of 2018.  Ohio City Incorporated has taken on the role of convening the social service providers and facilitate the process. We will continue to pressure to make sure that this process happens, is transparent, and incorporates the voice of those residents who are currently living on Riverbed Rd. Furthermore, during the course of the meeting, the residents of Riverbed Rd, who were present, asked the group to have NEOCH facilitate the relocation.  It was stated that "We trust NEOCH more than any other service provider and want them to be the one's facilitating the relocation plan." We are honored by this comment and would be willing to facilitate the relocation of the residents as long as there are funds available to develop a dignified relocation that allows for the residents to have agency in the relocation options available to them.   

by Chris Knestrick

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