Cleveland’s International Services Center (ISC) will work with the Cuyahoga County land bank in a joint effort, called The Discovering Home Program, to pair refugee families with some of the area’s many vacant homes. There are about 15,000 vacant and abandoned houses in Cuyahoga County. Currently the Cuyahoga Land Bank lists many of these houses (most requiring extensive rehab) on its website, along with an application, for sale between $5-10K. Fannie Mae, the government-sponsored mortgage finance company, kicked in $50,000 to fund some of the repairs and to jumpstart the program. ISC will require refugees to invest “sweat equity” in helping to renovate the homes – similar to how Habitat for Humanity works to build homes for low-income families. The details are found in an article in The Plain Dealer:
CLEVELAND, Ohio — Within the collection of abandoned houses haunting the region stand some unpolished gems, sturdy structures that lack only a caring family to again become a home. Where will those families come from?
They’re already here.
That’s what the International Services Center told leaders of the Cuyahoga County land bank…
…”We have all these empty houses. These people need homes,” said Karin Wishner, executive director of the International Services Center, the region’s oldest resettlement agency. “This seems to be a good answer to both problems.”…
…That was intriguing news to Gus Frangos, president of what’s formally called the Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corp. He has more vacant houses than he knows what to do with. The usual solution, demolition, costs his agency $10,000 to $20,000 per house…
…The program, called “Discovering Home,” will begin modestly this winter with a single family moving into a house on the northeast side of Lakewood.
In November, the land bank began renovations on the narrow yellow two-story house at 1443 Hopkins Avenue, which has stood vacant for years. Fannie Mae, the government-sponsored mortgage finance company, kicked in $50,000 to fund some of the repairs and to jumpstart the program.
Plans call for the land bank to turn over the deed to the ISC, which will manage the property until the tenants — who are expected to earn sweat equity — are deemed ready to be homeowners…
…Frangos said he hopes to renovate 11 more doomed houses next year, in cooperation with the ISC, match them with refugee families and then take stock.
“My vision is, every year, I’d like to give 10, 15 houses over to their families,” Frangos said. “I think we can bring back some of these neighborhoods.”
From his perspective, the cost is manageable. Money he would have spent on demolition he will plow into renovation.
The ISC, a struggling nonprofit agency, will need additional revenue to cover its new costs as a landlord and property owner. Staffers hope the program will attract public support and donations… Read more here
I like the idea of the program since it could be a win-win for everyone – vacant homes find a use, which better uses the demolition costs, refugees get homes, raising the tax base, thus helping to stabilize the City’s neighborhoods. There is the issue, however, of local crime and the safety and quality of the local schools. That’s a question that the State Department and the private resettlement agencies need to consider before they place refugees in various cities – refugees in Cleveland are no doubt already dealing with those issues while living in low-income rentals. Also, the program will need quite a bit of money along with the “sweat equity” for things such as appliances, duct work, paint, pipes, and electric, HVAC, and plumbing repairs and installations. The ISC will need now-how and skill to deal with the possible variables – managing the money, dealing with contractors who may try to overcharge, theft and vandalism between repairs and the move in date, and acting as a landlord while the refugees pay down the costs. From a PR standpoint it would be best if other local agencies were offering similar opportunities to other low-income residents — but that’s a larger problem.