In August, the Cleveland Tenants Organization, the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, and the Alliance of Cleveland HUD Tenants asked all the candidates running for Mayor of Cleveland eight questions regarding homelessness and housing. The Homeless Grapevine presents the responses from the two candidates who survived the primary. We present the two candidates answers in alphabetical order.
1. Affordable housing. The results of the 2000 U.S. Census indicate that over 51% of occupants in Cleveland are renters. Other studies show that over half of Cleveland renters pay over 30% of their income on rent, with a quarter paying over 50% of their income on rent. Additionally, approximately 33,000 families in July applied to get on a waiting list for the CMHA run tenant based Section program. The need for more affordable housing is obvious for both tenants and homeless people. If you are elected mayor, what will you do to alleviate the affordable housing shortage? Related to that, do you support a universal living wage tied to the cost of housing in a community?
As Mayor, I will work with our neighborhood organizations to identify the affordable housing issues facing each neighborhood and develop a neighborhood housing issue facing each neighborhood and develop a neighborhood housing strategy that addresses each community’s need for new housing, both affordable and market rate. I will work with the private and non - profit developers and CMHA to develop mixed income housing projects such as the proposed Hope VI Riverview redevelopment, which integrate income in new development. I will set aside City funds to match federal funds available for the development of affordable housing and will aggressively seek those funds for Cleveland. I will focus the community’s attention on our declining multi-family housing stock and work with our neighborhood organizations and our development community to identify and implement strategies to preserve, restore, and manage affordable multi-family housing. I support the City’s living wage legislation, which provides for a cost of living increase tied to the Consumer Price Index.
As Mayor, I would work with other city county and state administrators, and secure additional funding to assist those paying a disproportionate share of their monies toward housing. This would include working to implement changes in TANF and P.R.C. programs to utilize funds to assist those moving from welfare to work with their housing needs. I fully support a universal living wage that would reduce the earnings for our poorest citizens
2. Homeless pain. How would you as the Mayor of Cleveland bring homeless people, grant makers, government entities, business and social service providers together to develop a plan to end homelessness and expand the affordable housing available in Cleveland? Since homeless people come from all over the region how would you involve the suburban communities in a plan to end homelessness?
As I indicated in the first question, I would begin by working with our neighborhood organizations to develop community-housing plans, which identify the housing needs and opportunities in each neighborhood. I will expect these plans to address the housing needs of the current homeless population and strategies to preserve existing affordable housing and expand affordable housing options. I will expect these plans to comprehensively address social services, drug and alcohol treatment, mental health services, and job training for homeless persons, whether or not they are in shelters.
Issues of affordable housing and homelessness impact the suburbs as well as the city. I would work with our County Planning Commission to identify affordable housing needs, opportunities, and strategies countywide and with our County Commissioners to develop the resources necessary to meet this challenge both in the City and in the suburbs.
As mayor, I would ensure that the Det. Of Public Health is capably staffed with the highest qualified individuals to administer to the health and well being of the citizens of Cleveland. My staff would be proactive and responsive to in addressing the needs of our community members who are homeless. I recognize that those needs are often complex, and require coordinated efforts of social work professionals, caseworkers, government agencies and department (e.g., housing, safety), mental health care professionals, and community volunteers. I would enable my Department to work closely with county officials who distribute federal and state funds that go to care for our most needy citizens. I would enlist teams from our department of health to collaborate with those on the front lines caring for our homeless. Only if the circumstances warrant, my Department would work with others to locate the families of those who are homeless so to hopefully provide a stronger safety net. I would continue our efforts to bring not only federal and state monies to Cleveland to address homelessness, but also seek out private resources.
3. Temporary labor. What would your administration do to end the exploitation and low-income people by the downtown temporary labor companies?
I would support efforts to organize the workers in those companies and would consider regulations that the city can enact to ensure fairer treatment of these workers. I would also work to make sure that every Clevelander has basic primary health care coverage.
My administration will not sanction any temporary labor companies who have demonstrated a track record of unfair wage and labor practices against the homeless, who do not offer a living wage to workers, or fail to ensure the health and safety of their workers. I would diligently enforce any fair labor, health and safety laws whenever there is evidence of exploitation of our most vulnerable.
4. Intra-Governmental affairs. Welfare reform and the de-institutionalization of people with a mental illness have traditionally been under the direction of the County or State of Ohio, but the impact of the decisions made by these other government officials have had extremely negative consequences for the City of Cleveland. Would you involve yourself as Mayor in the affairs of other governments if the decisions have a major impact on Cleveland?
Of course, I would. I believe that a Mayor must assertively advocate the interests of the people of Cleveland to the other governments whose actions impact the city- the county, the state, and the federal government. I have always advocated the interests of the people I have represented and would continue to do so as Mayor of Cleveland. As former State Representative and a County Commissioner, I believe that I am uniquely qualified to undertake the mission of working with these other levels of government on behalf of Clevelanders.
I would most definitely involve myself in the affairs of government when the best interests of Cleveland are at stake. My work in Washington, D.C. and as general counsel of LT V Steel (where I worked with City Council during the company’s bankruptcy proceeding in the 80’s) demonstrate that I am one who will, and has the capacity to work
in the best interests of those with whom I am charged to assist. My first priority as Mayor will be to restore a spirit of professionalism, collaboration, and civility to City Hall. I look forward to working with City Council, state and county officials (such as the Board of Mental Health and Mental Retardation), with members of Congress (as I have in the past), to address issues such as access to and affordability of health care, particularly mental health as it plagues our homeless population. I would work with others who support a demand that the federal and state continue to do their fair share to ensure the care of treatment of those afflicted with mental illness.
5. Development. Over the past decade, Cleveland has undergone immense revitalization of the downtown area to attract and benefit middle and upper income residents and suburbanites. Cleveland’s professional sports teams have received three new complexes through extensive benefits and incentives offered by the City. Would you consider requiring that all development projects on city owned sites or developments requiring government assistance pay into an affordable housing fund to help maintain and/or develop affordable housing?
Creation of an affordable housing fund linked to downtown development is one way some cities have chosen to address the need for affordable housing. Given the current state of Downtown development in Cleveland, a linkage program will not work. A more successful strategy, I believe, will be to support mixed income housing developments, to require that all multi-family housing developments – new and rehab – include affordable units, and to work with our neighborhood organizations and non-profit developers to preserve existing affordable housing and to create new affordable single family housing units that are knit into the fabric of our communities.
As Mayor I would create a Neighborhood Endowment for the 21st Century dedicated to investments in housing, technology, neighborhood retail, industrial development, historic restoration, and cultural projects. This fund would be capitalized by the proceeds of Chagrin Highlands development, repayments from outstanding economic development loans, and an annual contribution from CDBG matched by resources from the private and foundation communities. I would leverage this fund to compete for federal and state development money available to support housing development, site remediation, and infrastructure.
My major concern is how the rise id Cleveland’s housing stock value has taken a toll on housing affordability for our citizens who are homeless, cannot work, or are working but paying up to 50% of their earnings for housing. I too have been concerned about the seemingly reckless use of tax abatements downtown, and strongly feel we need to re-energize our commitment to residential and economic development in our neighborhoods. Partnering with City Council, community development corporations, and other governmental entities, my administration would seek to take advantage of commercial and residential development tools such as tax credits under the 1997 Tax Relief Act, the Ohio Community Development Fund (both for rehabilitation projects, environmental study and remedy), HUD’s American Dream Down payment (and several other initiatives recently approved by Congress), and Housing trust funds – each of which can be used for public or private developers in the building and rehabilitation of our neighborhoods. Our City can be more aggressive in securing funding from these and other sources to assist in housing assistance. I would work hard to implement conditions, which tie business location in Cleveland to housing assistance.
6. Vacant Structures. The 2000 Census also indicates the number of vacant housing units in the city is approximately 11%. What plans does your campaign have to reutilize these structures for the public good, or encourage private owners to appropriately use the structures?
My administration will work with our neighborhood Development Corporation and non-profit developers to identify vacant units that can be restored to productive use. We will move aggressively to demolish unsalvageable residential sites and redevelop those sites for new, mixed income housing.
As mayor, my administration would take a leading role to assist in the rehabilitation of vacant housing. I would negotiate with private owners of vacant homes, to arrive at purchase agreements that are fair, reasonable, and in the best interests of all parties. I would redouble our efforts to remedy our brown fields, and restore blighted areas in our neighborhoods. Partnering with City Council, community development corporations, and other government entities, my administration will utilize the development tools identified in my response to question 5 so to convert such structures for public benefit. Eminent domain, I feel, should only be used as a last resort, after extensive, good faith negotiations with vacant homeowners fail. However, my administration will not be afraid to enforce its rights, and use existing laws to ensure that landowners who fail to take lawful responsibility for their properties are appropriately sanctioned.
7. Housing Inspection Services:
a. Cleveland has many aging elevator systems in high-rise apartments. Elderly residents especially are fearful of the constant malfunctioning elevators. What will you do to ensure that owners maintain, renovate or replace aging systems?
b. Lead based paint is a significant problem in Cleveland. City housing inspectors frequently cite landlords and owners for peeling and chipping paint. There is no coordination however, with the city inspection services that work on lead paint reduction. What will your administration do to better coordinate inspection services relating to maintenance and environmental health issues?
c. The city condemnation code is very broadly written, allowing great subjectivity in deciding when to notify tenants of the condemnation, leaving many tenants living in condemned apartments without their knowing about it. Will you make any changes to the condemnation and tenant notification policies if you become mayor?
My administration will fully staff inspectional services, including elevator inspectors, and will prosecute aggressively those owners who do not maintain their elevator systems properly.
Eliminating the source of pediatric lead poisoning will be a top propriety of my administration. I will task my Director of Health to lead an interdepartmental team dedicated to eliminating lead paint on the systematic, worst/first basis. We will reorganize the delivery of services to our neighborhoods to ensure that the inspectors from Health and Building and Housing work more closely together and we will use the power of the City’s GIS system to more accurately track progress in eliminating lead from our environment.
It is essential that the City establishes and maintains a consistent policy of notification to tenants in condemned properties. As Mayor, I will review the City’s public notification processes to insure that these important processes are implemented fairly and uniformly.
A. Elevators. I would look into increasing periodic inspections of elevators. I would also compel landlords who must comply with ADA, and other regulations to ensure that their elevators are in accordance with all local, state, and federal laws. I would direct that our city’s housing department strictly, diligently, efficiently, yet fairly enforce these laws, and would urge our courts to issue per diem sanctions for landlords failing to remedy any problems.
B. Lead Paint. Our Health Department needs not only coordinate with residential inspectors, but we should also be using to the fullest extent county and state resources to assist us in identifying and enforcing the reduction of lead based hazards.
C. Condemnation Code. I believe we can do better in the tenant notification process. I would direct my departments to examine how we could best assist tenants with relocation services and/or transitional housing.
8. Tenant Rights. Cleveland has just passed an ordinance that supplements the Ohio Landlord/Tenant law to provide more protections and remedies for tenants. How will you assure residents that their rights under the new law will be protected and enforced, especially in relation to security?
As the city’s chief administrative officer, the Mayor takes an oath to enforce the City of Cleveland fairly and impartially. If I have the privilege of being elected Mayor, I intend to adhere to the letter and the spirit of my oath and will enforce this, and all other ordinances to the best of my ability.
My administration will examine how to best endure that tenants are made aware of their rights as Cleveland residents, and I would work with our court systems to determine how we can best assist tenants in enforcing their rights under our new ordinance.
Copyright NEOCH published 2001 Cleveland Ohio Issue 50