Despite cities' efforts, vacancies persist in South Euclid, Mayfield Heights: The House Next Door (

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Despite cities’ efforts, vacancies persist in South Euclid, Mayfield Heights: The House Next Door (

August 6, 2015 [Sara Dorn,]

MAYFIELD HEIGHTS, Ohio — Driving the streets of Mayfield Heights can be like a real estate time warp.

Rows of near-identical bungalows with window awnings sit on tiny square lots. In 1951, the year Mayfield Heights was incorporated, those bungalows cost about $7,000.

A half century later, styles have changed, but a large part of Mayfield Heights’ housing stock hasn’t. That’s in part why the housing crisis hit the city — like neighboring South Euclid, Lyndhurst and Richmond Heights — especially hard.

Further east in more affluent communities including Gates Mills, Highland Heights and Mayfield village, foreclosed homes take care of themselves. They generally fly off the market before they can become a nuisance.

Nearly a decade after the housing crisis began here, the inner-ring suburbs, the ones that touch Cleveland, still have hundreds of vacancies.Here’s how the numbers looked in the Sun Messenger communities in the last quarter of 2014 and 2010, according to a Western Reserve Land Conservancy analysis of data from the Northeast Ohio Community and Neighborhood Data for Organizing:

  • South Euclid: 413, up from 401 in 2010.
  • Richmond Heights: 129, up from 115 in 2010.
  • Mayfield Heights: 126, up from 91 in 2010.
  • Lyndhurst: 95, up from 94 in 2010.
  • Highland Heights: 48, up from 44 in 2010.
  • Gates Mills: 74, up from 57 in 2010.
  • Mayfield: 15, down from 24 in 2010.

Mayfield Heights and South Euclid have introduced new inspection and registration rules that allow city officials to track problem homes, crack down on owners who don’t clean them up or demolish them as a last resort. South Euclid has acquired millions in grants and developed programs to market its neighborhoods, while Richmond Heights has used grant dollars to try and save a street abandoned by the developer.

South Euclid city officials point to a 6-percent increase in home sale prices in 2014, according to data from Keller Williams realty. Mayfield Heights notes a new violation complaint system and four demolitions last year as signs of success. While Richmond Heights has invested in a new economic development director who hopes to tackle vacant commercial and residential real estate.

Mayfield Heights tamps down on negligent owners

The house on Longwood Drive in Mayfield Heights is engulfed in overgrown foliage, shingles are missing from the roof and weeds sprout from cracks in the driveway. In a couple months it will likely be a plot of green space.

The owner stopped caring for it and ignored the countless violations the city delivered to the doorstep, so the city, in partnership with the Cuyahoga County Land Bank has decided to knock down the decrepit structure.

Mayfield Heights began partnering with the land bank, formally the Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corp., last year to tackle eyesores. They demolished four homes in 2014, and in July, City Council approved plans to tear down the Longwood bungalow and another on Mayflower.

Eddie Bednar, who has lived across the street from the Mayflower home since 2006, said it’s been vacant for about four years, with 20-30 cats living inside at one point.

Building Director Tom Jamieson said neighbors like Bednar and concerned council members, who let the city know when there’s a problem, are often the first line of defense against problem houses.

“If there’s a house that’s getting bad, we hear from the neighbors,” said Building Commissioner Tom Jamieson.

Earlier this year a city rolled out a new online reporting system on its website where residents can go to notify the city of misfit properties. The city also registers and tracks foreclosures.

And in an effort to tamp down on flippers who buy deeply discounted, dilapidated homes and sell them to irresponsible owners who exacerbate the problem, council recently increase the amount sellers or buyers must agree to pay to correct violations.

Instead of $15,000, the parties must set aside money equal to the cost of repairs to receive a point-of-sale inspection. 

South Euclid beefs up marketing, community spirit to boost housing stock

Around 2008 Mayor Georgine Welo began building a team to battle the foreclosure crisis that decimated large portions of the bedroom community. South Euclid has founded dozens of programs, raised millions in grant money and partnered with multiple county-wide organizations to deal with the problem.

To market the city as a whole, the city has branded neighborhoods with signs, started a glossy magazine to promote the community, spiffed up streetscapes with planters andcommunity gardens, and is constantly promoting its efforts through other agencies and associations, both regionally and nationally.

The city adopted stricter inspection and registration policies and founded a community development corporation, One South Euclid, with the primary goal of finding permanent owners for abandoned homes.

The city received $1.3 million in grant money in 2009 from the First Suburbs Development Corp. and the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program. It used the money to fix up five homes, equipped with environmentally friendly amenities including rain barrels, pervious pavement and rain gardens. Some of the funds also went to building community gardens and creating green space.

“The idea was to take a vacant/foreclosed property that would have to be demolished,” Community Services Director Keith Benjamin said. “So we not only saved a home, but in essence we saved a neighborhood.”

Using the newly renovated homes as a sales pitch to potential owner-occupants and investors who promise to sell to owner-occupants, One South Euclid began acquiring and selling vacant houses through the land bank.

“The public money was used to show private investors they can come in and do the same thing — make a profit and help stabilize the neighborhood,” Benjamin said.

The organization offers potential homeowners five-year, 75-percent tax breaks to those who plan to build new, revamp or expand their lots by buying up adjoining parcels where the land bank helped tear down homes too far gone to repair.

One South Euclid sold at least seven homes under these programs, and 16 more are for sale on its website.

Richmond Heights partners with management of ailing mall

The city has been sliding for years, reflected by the financial woes at City Hall and in the school system, its increasingly empty mall and declining population. The housing stock is no exception — 129 homes were vacant in Richmond Heights in 2014 and new residential construction is a rarity.

Richmond Heights also received Neighborhood Stabilization Program dollars to install sanitary sewers in a neighborhood abandoned by the developer, and bought, renovated and resold several homes.

Like South Euclid, Economic Development Director Christel Best is hoping to turn the city’s real estate troubles through a new marketing campaign with Richmond Town Square Mall, which lost its anchor store Macy’s earlier this year and several national-brand stores.

The city will promote vacant homes it owns and is trying to sell and available commercial real estate at the mall event Aug. 26, 5-7:30 p.m.

It will also use $100,000 from Cuyahoga County’s property demolition program to tear down nuisance homes. Richmond Heights and South Euclid were among 20 communities to receive demolition dollars from the county earlier this year. South Euclid was awarded $400,000.