The Greater Cleveland Habitat for Humanity president/CEO believes the residents in the area take pride in their homes. He saw potential on the vacant lots, promise in cleaning up blighted areas and hope in rehabbing existing homes.
When Cleveland Habitat began working in Buckeye Woodhill in 2016, the organization said it committed to rehab 25 to 30 houses and help 100 existing residents. By the end of 2018, the nonprofit exceeded its goals. It rehabbed 27 houses and assisted 220 existing residents.
“At first some were skeptical of Buckeye Woodhill,” says Habat. “They wondered why we would go into the neighborhood in the first place. People wondered if we were really going to do what we said we would do. They are no longer skeptical.”
According to Habitat statistics, homes are appraising for an average of $75,114 in the area, with an average monthly mortgage payment of $390, taxes and insurance included.
“In any work when you are trying to revitalize neighborhoods, there are always things that could distract you,” says Habat. “But when you see all of the families we are helping and the impact we have on communities, you know you are focused on the right thing.”
In 2019, Cleveland Habitat will continue its commitment to the area with its Greater Buckeye Phase II initiative. For the first time in five years, Cleveland Habitat will shift its focus from rehabbing old homes to building new ones.
Over an 18-month construction period from Jan. 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020, Cleveland Habitat proposes to build 10 new homes on vacant lots on eastern Grandview Avenue.
According to Habat, the fundraising package for the homes is 80 percent complete thanks to the combination of funds from the City of Cleveland Mayor’s transformation bond funds, St. Luke’s Foundation, Federal Home Loan Bank of Cincinnati, Greater Cleveland Habitat reserve revenues and Church of the Savior United Methodist on Lee Road. Church of the Savior is Cleveland Habitat’s first home sponsor. “We are reintroducing new construction as one of the tools to strenghthen our neighborhood revitalization efforts.
“We aren’t going to stop rehabbing homes,” Habat adds. “When we find rehabs that make sense, we’ll do them. When we find clusters of vacant land, we are going to look at those seriously for new construction.”
Pastor Ernest Fields of Calvary Hill Church of God in Christ is thrilled with the work Cleveland Habitat has done in his community. Fields, whose church is on Woodhill Road at the corner of Shaker Boulevard, has been working with his parishioners, surrounding churches, community leaders and local residents to revision, reclaim, revitalize and renew Buckeye Woodhill. He formed the Buckeye Ministry in Missions Alliance in 2012, which includes local pastors James Bannerman of Greater Prayer Tower Church of God in Christ and Otmous Howard of New Life Gospel Center.
The Buckeye Ministry in Missions Alliance (BMMA) has been meeting biweekly for the past five years at Calvary Hill, where Fields is pastor. Regular attendees include representatives from Cleveland Habitat, Thriving Communities of Western Reserve Land Conservancy, Home Repair Resource Center and Ministry of Reconciliation, along with street club and local government representatives.
Early in the group's formation, Fields contacted John Habat to seek advice on rehabilitating distressed and abandoned houses in the church's vicinity.
“He told us there was no need to reinvent the wheel since Cleveland Habitat was already working to revitalize other area neighborhoods,” says Fields. “We are grateful. God has blessed us and brought other people to partner together with us.
“The church is part of the community, and an improvement of the community is an improvement in the church as well. It has given our congregation a greater sense of our real mission — to help people and spread the gospel in a tangible way.”
Cleveland Police Fourth District Commander Brandon Kutz oversees the Greater Buckeye area. He says the positive changes in the neighborhood have led to a decrease in crime rates and complaints.
“We are down double-digit numbers in all of our major crimes from 2017 to 2018,” says Kutz. “The Fourth District community is engaged, organized and they care about working with police to solve problems. They clearly express their support for my officers and desperately want them to be around.
“The places where we have seen the greatest reduction in crime, fear and anxiety are those places where the community is engaged, whether its homeowners or business owners — they know their neighbors and community stakeholders.”
Since Kutz took over as commander in the Fourth District in October 2015, one of his goals has been to strengthen community relationships. He believes he’s achieving his goal backed by support of leaders like Habat and Fields.
“I have been taken aback by how supportive the people in the Fourth District are,” says Kutz. “I support anyone in the Fourth District 100 percent if they are making a significant investment in the community.”
As the Greater Buckeye Initiative Phase II begins, the campaign to rehab 100 houses in Cleveland will be wrapping up. The final homes will be completed in early 2019 on Roehl Avenue in the Stockyards Fulton area.
In its first 25 years, Cleveland Habitat averaged six houses a year. From 2016-2019, it has averaged 28 houses a year.
“Nine times out of 10, things are positive, so are you going to focus on the nine times out of 10 or the one disappointment?” says Habat. “We have to focus on the nine times out of 10.”