Habitat for Humanity leading effort to rehab vacant houses on two Cleveland Streets

Media Reports News

Habitat for Humanity leading effort to rehab vacant houses on two Cleveland Streets

April 4, 2013 [Michael O’Malley, The Plain Dealer]

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Greater Cleveland Habitat for Humanity, which has been building homes for low-income people for 25 years, announced Thursday it is shifting from new construction to renovation.

Since 1988, the nonprofit organization has been building eight to 10 houses a year. It has also done some rehabilitation. But now Habitat is putting its full resources into buying dilapidated foreclosed properties, renovating them and selling them to needy families that qualify for the program’s no-interest loans.

“Our mission is still the same,” said Habitat director John Habat. “We’re still providing affordable housing.”

Joined by Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, some council members and other city officials, Habat said during a news conference Thursday that Habitat is buying six abandoned houses on Clement Avenue in the Slavic Village neighborhood and six on Colfax Road in the lower Kinsman neighborhood.

He said the six on Colfax will be ready to occupy by this summer; the six on Clement by the end of the year.

The news conference was held at a 109-year-old empty house on Clement that was donated to Habitat by the Cuyahoga County Land Bank.

“This new initiative is a great shift in a new direction,” Jackson told the news conference. “If not for Habitat, [this house] would have been torn down or continued to be blighted.”

Over the past six years, while Habitat was building houses, the city was tearing down vacant ones.

Jackson said in February that the city had spent $50 million in the past six years on demolition and still had about 9,000 condemned structures to raze.

Over the years, Greater Cleveland Habitat, which operates on a $2.5 million annual budget, has built 170 new homes, the last one currently under construction in Lakewood.

Habat said the average cost to build a new home is $200,000, three times more than when the organization first started to build.

In comparison, buying and rehabbing a dilapidated house costs between $50,000 and $60,000, he said, noting that rehabbing makes more sense in a city that has been tagged the epicenter of the national foreclosure crisis.

The Slavic Village and Kinsman neighborhoods, with their boarded-up houses and empty lots, were the worst-hit areas.

“There’s such an abundance of vacant houses, it’s sort of a no-brainer focusing on rehabs,” said Habat. “Our goal is building sustainable communities.”

To get started, Habat said he hopes to rehab about a dozen houses a year. “The need is there to do 25 a year,” he said. “We can’t get to that number by tomorrow. But we’re starting to kicking in.”

Habat said he believes that the Greater Cleveland affiliate of Habitat for Humanity – a worldwide organization — is the only one putting new construction aside for rehab only.

Ryan Miller, director of Habitat for Humanity of Ohio, said there has been a national trend among the organization’s affiliates to venture into home rehab and repair programs, but, among those in metropolitan areas, he said, “Cleveland may be the only one focusing on rehab only.”

Families that qualify for a rehabbed home would be paying about $500 a month for an interest-free mortgage, taxes and insurance.

“Fixing up six homes not only helps six structures but six families as well,” said Councilwoman Phyllis Cleveland who represents the Kinsman neighborhood. “This will really have an impact on the community.”

Cleveland, along with her colleagues, council members Kevin Kelly and Tony Brancatelli, presented Habat with a $50,000 check to kick off the rehab initiative.

The money came from the city’s Community Development block grant fund.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter: [email protected], 216-999-4893