October 21, 2020 [Sarah Buduson, News 5 Cleveland]
CLEVELAND — Since the foreclosure crisis, Cleveland has demolished, rehabbed and sold condemned homes. But what about apartment buildings? Our exclusive News 5 investigation found hundreds are abandoned, vacant, and condemned. Housing experts say the buildings decrease property values, divert investment and create eyesores for residents.
Bigger buildings, bigger problems
There are 571 vacant and abandoned apartment buildings in the City of Cleveland, according to a recent data analysis by the Cuyahoga Land Bank. News 5 Investigators obtained city records and found 127 or 22% of those buildings are also condemned. Gus Frangos, Cuyahoga Land Bank President, said apartment buildings create unique concerns. “Apartment buildings are much more challenging for the simple fact that to demolish them or repurpose them is much more costly,” he said. He said tearing down an apartment building can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, due its size and environmental concerns, like lead. Frangos said fixing up the buildings can be just as expensive for the Cuyahoga Land Bank, which was created in the wake of the 2008 foreclosure crisis to demolish, rehab, and sell problem properties. Frangos said he only rehabs larger properties when a buyer is on board. For example, he said the Cuyahoga Land Bank only took over Randall Park Mall after Amazon agreed to purchase the property to become a fulfillment center. “One person’s garbage is sometimes another person’s treasure,” he said.
The perception gap
Khrys Shefton wishes more investors would see value in the city’s abandoned properties. Shefton is the Director of Real Estate for the Famicos Foundation, a nonprofit whose mission is to improve Cleveland through neighborhood revitalization and affordable housing. She said, “Cleveland is one of the cities in the U.S. that has some of the most amazing architecture and our architectural legacy is actively dying with every one of these buildings we demolish. “ Shefton’s office is in the Glenville neighborhood, where there are 83 vacant apartment buildings. We found 25 of those buildings are also condemned. News 5 Investigators also obtained records showing there are currently a total of 3356 condemned structures in the City of Cleveland.
Most of the buildings are concentrated on the outskirts of the city’s East Side neighborhoods, especially Buckeye-Shaker, Mount Pleasant, and Glenville, where Shefton’s office is located. “It tells me that there’s so much more work to do,” she said. “There is a place for everyone in Northeast Ohio, but there is a perception gap as I like to call it between the West and the East Side,” she said. She said investors often fear they won’t see a return if they invest in East Side neighborhoods. She said a part of her job is helping them see the opportunity in the old buildings. “We’ve had a lot of wins and success and rehab that’s going on and actively happening in portions of the neighborhood,” she said. “But it’s not enough.”
‘Bigger than COVID’
“It’s not that they have fallen through the cracks, it’s just that there’s so much money to go around,” said Frangos about the city’s condemned apartment buildings. “One large commercial building could clean out our budget… so you have to pick and choose what’s best on an overall scale and our focus was neighborhoods,” he said. According to a representative, the Cuyahoga Lank Bank has completed 8,829 demolitions, facilitated 2,435 renovations and sold 3,765 properties since its inception. However, whether it’s abandoned apartment buildings or homes, Frangos said significantly more public infrastructure investment from the federal government is needed to help revitalize Northeast Ohio. “This is bigger than COVID in my opinion,” said Frangos. “What I mean is COVID is not hindering us from re-purposing these properties, this problem existed before the pandemic. It requires a federal response then and it still requires a federal response.”
‘A recipe for disaster’
There is no condemned apartment building in Cleveland that has received more attention than 13000 Buckeye Road. The reason is in large part because of the efforts of its next-door neighbor, Brandon Chrostowski, who has continually raised awareness about the property’s longstanding issues. “The most troubling part for the last year has been the sandstone falling,” he said. “What also troubles me about it is watching people come in and out of that building who clearly don’t live there, clearly are not the landlords.” The chef and president of EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute , which trains former offenders for jobs the hospitality industry, sees the ingredients for trouble. “Whatever behavior is going on inside of there, it’s just a recipe for disaster,” he said.
Chrostowski purchased his property in 2015. Within about a year, he transformed the area. “In five years, we’ve refurbished apartments for 20 students, we’ve had a house remodeled for eight graduates, we’ve purchased two homes and built a butcher shop, bakery, a library and a fitness center,” he said. There’s even a small animal farm and plans for a park. “It’s doable to fix up… if you want to,” he said. By comparison, he said little has changed next door. “It’s been painted gray and they’ve now fixed the sandstone. In five years, that’s the only change that’s happened.” GIG6 LLC, the building’s owners, have a hearing in Cleveland Housing Court Thursday. Chrostowski hopes they’re taken to task. “There’s times when you see this whole process get a continuance after continuance, ‘Oh we’ll do it’ and then the can just keeps getting kicked down the road,” he said. He said it sends residents the message that their lives and their neighborhood are unimportant. “Buckeye’s not a dump, but right now they’re saying it’s okay to be a dump,” he said.
GIG6 LLC’s response
5 On Your Side Investigators requested an on-camera interview with a GIG6 LLC representative. Their attorney, Bradley Hull, sent us the following statement:
“Unfortunately, the neighbors are angry at the wrong owner. GIG6 LLC bought 13000 Buckeye Avenue on August 2, 2019 with the property in a condemned state after two former owners had let the property deteriorate for years, with a plan to quickly refurbish it. GIG6 LLC has fixed all exterior conditions and removed all safety hazards to the public. The City Inspector has found all outstanding code violations to be cured. GIG6 LLC has commissioned blueprints for further renovations. All work has been performed on the fastest possible timeline. Delays in the process caused by Coronavirus, the City permitting process, weather and reduced available revenue have not deterred GIG 6 LLC from carrying out its plans. It is a shame that several neighbors apparently do not recognize the progress that has been made or GIG6 LLC’s efforts. GIG6 LLC has been, and remains committed to being, a responsible owner of this property for the foreseeable future and to doing its share to revitalize the neighborhood.”
The City of Cleveland confirmed the building was condemned years prior to GIG6 LLC taking over the property. The city also confirmed the violation related to the condition of the building’s facade has been remedied. The Department of Buildings and Housing is currently reviewing its plans to rehab the building.
A changed neighborhood
A few year ago, Mario Evans, 56, moved back into the Glenville home he grew up in on Helena Ave. “Well, it was paid for, for one thing,” he said. “I wanted to bring back community for a long time. For a long time, I didn’t think I could do it, but I did.” He’s happy to be home but said seeing how his neighborhood has changed has been heartbreaking. “It hurts,” said Evans. “I wish I could… turn the hands of time back.” From his front stoop, he can see across a vacant lot to a row of condos along Parkwood Drive. Evans said they were once filled with families. “They were good friends,” he said. “We all had a good time.” Now, most of the buildings are condemned. “Nobody wants to stay in that,” he said. “Not even squatting. It ain’t even worth to squat.”