City Holds Hearings on the Future of Affordable Housing

Compiled from notes and a transcript from the Hearing by the Cleveland Tenants Organization.

Cleveland Ward 5 Council member Frank Jackson staged a second hearing on affordable housing. While the last hearing was reserved for testimony by officials from Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority, the local Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the City of Cleveland, the hearing on May 6 featured testimony from community groups and local citizens about the changes in the federal housing policy.

Jackson outlined the current situation, painting a bleak picture of the future of affordable housing both locally and nationally. He said that there would be massive budget cuts at HUD to balance the federal budget, including a 25% reduction in staff. “One of the areas that they are going to take money from is housing, especially housing for poor people.”

“In Cleveland, they are talking about tearing down, demolishing 1,000 units,” Jackson explained. He continued, “Now mind you, that tearing down 1,000 units in Cleveland of public housing when they have 10,000 people on the waiting list.” At the first hearing, CMHA officials testified that they are going to have to start renting to those that can pay $200 or more to balance their budget.

Jackson noted that there are $10 billion of federal contracts due in the next two years, and the federal government has no way of paying this bill. After laying out the situation in which Cleveland residents find themselves today, he opened the floor up for comment from people affected by the cuts.

Kathleen Norwood testified that she was moved out of a subsidized unit and given a voucher. She was moved from a place with appliances and that included utilities to an apartment without any appliances, where she had to pay for the utilities. She had no increase in her income, and now cannot afford to buy any appliances and cannot afford to pay for the utilities.

One woman who lived on Quimby for seven years said, “I am being displaced. They are giving me a certain amount of time to be out. I haven’t found a suitable place to live.” Jackson said he has heard many similar stories of HUD foreclosing on projects that they feel are substandard, and giving people 60 days to leave.

Ward 7 Councilwoman Fannie Lewis complained “This property didn’t just get unsafe. HUD is one of the worst property managers there is anywhere. We need to call a moratorium on everything until we decide where these people can go.

The director of For Hope project in Hough said, “If you don’t do things the way the system says do them, which is not necessarily good for you—you are out. The housing changes that the federal government is doing are not only dropping poor people in the cracks (but also) throwing sick people on the streets.”

Terri Hamilton, Director of Community Development for the city of Cleveland, said, “We have had conversations with officials from the local HUD office and they have assured us that they are not going to kick people out of their homes.” She did note that this seems to be different from the information that they are telling residents.

One Blainewood resident was told that she no longer qualifies for a four bedroom apartment, and the CMHA relocation program has not been very helpful. She claimed that they were showing her substandard housing with no bathtubs and chipping paint.

A Lupica Towers resident, Cleo Busby, talked about the $25 minimum rents that many of the disabled residents cannot afford. He explained that many disabled people are no longer eligible for cash assistance, but receive medical assistance. Now that food stamps are being restricted, these people can’t even sell their food stamps for the $25 rent. He said, “It is criminal that ADC (the management company for Lupica Towers) can charge a minimum rent for those (who) have no income.”

One resident of Ward 7 said that her Section 8 voucher was paying her landlord $729 for a three bedroom place in Cleveland. A number of City Council members were surprised by the $700 rent, and one claimed that a person could buy a $45,000 house for that amount of money.

Councilwoman Lewis said that each one of these complexes had to put money aside for repair and maintenance. “We need to have them explain what they did with this money. HUD is responsible for this,” Lewis said.

Carlos Vernon, a worker with Catholic Charities was concerned about the bureaucracies and paperwork that people have to go through to get in a place. He said, “They are working. They meet all the profiles, but they are still sleeping in the shelters.”

A study released about the West Side Rental Housing completed earlier this year was presented. Anita Brindza of the West Side Housing Study team presented the results of the survey. She said that of the 2,500 units surveyed there were 311 vacant, and 27 of those are actually on the market.

Brindza showed that at $7 per hour an individual needs to find a place for $375 per month to be able to confidently remain in the unit. The study showed the scarcity of these units especially those for larger families.

Brian Davis, Director of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, testified that if housing is not addressed on the local level, the number of homeless will dramatically increase. He said, “(We need) to view this as a regional crisis that needs to be addressed in much the same way that we addressed the Cleveland Browns leaving the city. The construction or rehabilitation of affordable houses and apartments has to be a top priority for greater Cleveland.”

Mary Schmidbauer, Outreach worker at the Cleveland Tenants Organization, put the day in focus by suggesting that a task force be established to confront the problem of destroying affordable housing

Units. She said, “We have bought affordable housing on a credit card, and now that bill is due.” She cautioned those in attendance not to view affordable housing as slum properties. She said that across the country only 25% of the low income housing is in disrepair, and only 10% of federal subsidized housing is substandard.

Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine and NEOCH, Issue 21, Cleveland Ohio June 1996