It usually takes partnerships to get things done in Cleveland, as in most cities. A united effort between nonprofit organizations, government entities and the private sector can have powerful results. But, we all know that those relationships don’t always work out as planned. Uneven contributions, different operating procedures and opposing viewpoints can throw a wrench into the most idealist and well-meaning collaborations.
That’s why when a joint effort works well, Clevelanders need to appreciate the partnership and hang on to it for all it’s worth. One such success story has been the relationship between Greater Cleveland Habitat for Humanity and Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corp., commonly known as Cuyahoga Land Bank.
“It’s a symbiotic relationship,” says Gus Frangos, Cuyahoga Land Bank president and general counsel. “We acquire homes and are a feeder of homes to Habitat. We transfer the houses to Habitat because it is nonprofit and mission based. Habitat fills a really important niche for affordable housing. Everyone wants affordable housing, but you can’t always make the numbers work in some neighborhoods with comparable values and the amount of work that has to go into a house. The people who Habitat helps have a hard time getting into homeownership.
“But Habitat, because it is a philanthropic organization, plus the fact that it has the talent and ability to self-finance and service loans, closes that gap,” Frangos adds.
Cuyahoga Land Bank acquires vacant and abandoned foreclosure properties through several sources, including banks, government agencies and donations. The properties are made productive once again through rehabilitation, demolitions, sales to private owners or creative uses, such as community green space.
According to “Cuyahoga Land Bank: 10-year Economic Impact Analysis,” prepared by Dynamo Metrics and published in June 2019, Land Bank showed $8 in beneficial economic impact for every $1 of expenditure. But, dollar amounts don’t tell the whole story, Frangos suggests.
“The beauty of it is that people who go into a Habitat home now have an address and the kids have a school district, plus all of the benefits that come with all of that,” Frangos says. “That’s different from just always renting or moving around and dealing with the logistics of having different addresses all the time. And, a Habitat home is more than just a fixed home, which is nice enough, but the home changes lives.”
John Habat is president and CEO of the local Habitat for Humanity. His relationship with Cuyahoga Land Bank goes back 10 years when he stepped into his position.
“Land Bank had some really good, low-hanging fruit back then. They had an inventory of houses relatively easy to rehab. You might pick up a house, and it would cost $25,000 to $30,000 to rehab, not $100,000,” Habat says. “Sometimes, we acquired houses for a buck. Those days are long gone. But, Land Bank has always been one of my chief partners. They have been generous and responsive to us. They have such a professional staff with a can-do attitude that knows how to get things done.”
Today, Greater Cleveland Habitat has 21 active building sites despite construction complications due to COVID-19. Home production is “down 35 to 30 percent of what it was supposed to be at this time of year,” says Habat, adding that the organization is still in excellent shape and primarily partnering with Cuyahoga Land Bank on projects that involve new houses.
Habitat homebuilding campaigns in the Buckeye-Woodhill area and in a former failed housing development (a victim of the 2008 housing foreclosure crisis) in Cleveland’s Metro West area have been completed. Six fully finished East Side homes on Grandview Avenue will be completed by the end of this year.
“I’m really excited about the West Side area,” Frangos says. “There were all of these vacant lots just sitting there whose titles were clouded by mortgages, taxes and liens. Gradually, over the years, the Land Bank looked at what was possible for long-term assembly. With contiguous, assembled lots, we could plan a block and make a nice development rather than create a patchwork of vacant lots. I asked Habitat if they had an appetite for the idea, and they did. So now, we are in the predevelopment phase, and the whole neighborhood will be transformed.”
Frangos is currently promoting his organization’s Construction Gap Grant Program for experienced developers constructing new, single-family homes in designated parts of Cuyahoga County. At least $1.2 million in grant funding is available to help fill appraisal gaps for new home construction in emerging markets. Grants range from $10,000 to $30,000 per house. Those interested in the program must file an application by Nov. 15.
“A lot of people and organizations want to partner with us,” Habat observes. “The leadership at Land Bank is forward-thinking and has a real sense of partnership. There are a lot of nice people out there, but they aren’t always helpful. Land Bank also is always trying to evolve to be responsive to different circumstances and how it can be a more active player in the county’s and city’s redevelopment.”