January 9, 2021 [Eric Heisig, cleveland.com]
CLEVELAND, Ohio — A Westlake developer plans to build 100 houses over the next several years in Hough, a majority-Black Cleveland neighborhood long known for its crime and poverty issues that officials are working to transform.
Jeff Crawford of Cleveland Custom Homes said his plan involves buying property owned by the Cuyahoga Land Bank, five at a time, to build houses on them. The homes – which would be scattered between East 59th and East 71st street, and Chester and Superior avenues – would be 1,200 square-foot ranches and 1,600-foot two-story structures that start at $250,000. Cleveland Custom Homes, which is known locally for building the Northeast Ohio house for the annual St. Jude Dream Home Giveaway, is marketing the houses as part of what it calls “The American Dream Series.” Crawford said they are aimed at homeowners who do not have the budget to build a custom home but still want to own a house.
The first five homes are set to go up around East 66th Street and Linwood Avenue, near the newly reconstructed League Park. Crawford hopes construction can start next month, though he has not yet received the required approvals from the city planning department. Both Crawford and City Councilman Basheer Jones, with whom he is working, called the housing initiative “Hough Uprising,” a nod to the 1966 riots. Jones noted that some neighborhood residents had referred to the riots as the “Hough Uprising,” but the name also references the idea that the new homes could improve the area’s prospects in years to come. “This is an attempt to develop housing that the average Clevelander, who’s a nurse or a teacher or a fireman or police officer, has the ability to purchase,” Jones said.
Crawford plans the first phase to be 25 homes and hopes to build 100 houses in three to five years. He said he already has a buyer lined up for his first home and has a few dozen more prospective buyers. The initiative is just the latest sign of what could be a renaissance in the neighborhood. The Hough riots, which was borne out of frustration by overcrowded neighborhood residents faced discrimination and police harassment, have loomed large for more than a half-century.
There appears to be a renewed interest in the neighborhood, or at least planning for a future where it will be a highly desirable area. Sheila Wright, who once led the Cleveland NAACP and now operates Frontline Development with her business partner Angela Bennett, plans to build 15 homes, 46 brownstones and two buildings with apartments and retail on the first floor near League Park. Wright held a groundbreaking ceremony in October for the first six 1,800 to 2,200 square-foot homes to be part of what has been dubbed Allen Estates. It’s not just homes, either. In November, the City Planning Commission approved the Cleveland Foundation’s plans to build its new 54,000-square-foot, three-story headquarters at the northeast corner of East 66th Street and Euclid Avenue at the edge of the Hough and Midtown neighborhoods. City officials hope the new headquarters will act as a neighborhood anchor and spur additional development. The Cleveland Public Library also plans to build a $4 million new branch in the neighborhood by spring 2022.
Khrys Shefton, real estate director for Famicos Foundation, the development corporation serving Hough and Glenville, said that while Hough is seeing a lot of activity, the city as a whole has more work to do to convince people to return to areas long abandoned for the suburbs. It’s not enough to build the houses and hope they come, she said. “I think that the East Side of Cleveland generally has a long way to go from a perception standpoint,” Shefton said, adding that she does think 100 houses can be filled in the neighborhood. Jones said he’s optimistic, though. In a nod to fears about gentrification, the councilman said the hope is for residents of differing socioeconomic statuses and cultures to be neighbors with each other, and for their children to play together. Crawford also said that “the goal is to use this as a nucleus or anchor to build up that area for housing.” The long-term hope is that East 66th Street between Euclid and Superior avenues will turn into a significant stretch of the city’s East Side. “Our goal is to really build Hough,” Jones said.