Cleveland To Fund Outreach Corps To Help Bring Housing Up To Code

A house with a front porch in Cleveland, house next door is boarded up
A house stands in Cleveland in 2015, in need of repairs. [Nick Castele / ideastream]
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Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson’s administration hopes to improve housing conditions by placing outreach workers with nonprofits across the city.

The $1 million program would fund 14 “engagement specialist” positions with community development corporations, the nonprofit groups that help with neighborhood planning and other local work. The engagement specialists would send letters to property owners and work with homeowners and landlords to fix up housing in need of repair. Cleveland would spend another $500,000 to pay residents back for repainting home exteriors.

The city aims to connect property owners with resources, “not to issue tickets to people who cannot afford to make the updates to their homes, and then fill housing court," said Tania Menesse, Cleveland’s community development director.

City officials presented the plan to the City Council’s development committee Tuesday. Community development corporations plan to post job descriptions in the coming weeks. The specialists would start work in December.

The city also plans to hire three people to support the program from City Hall. The program would distinguish between Building and Housing Department staff — who are authorized to issue tickets for code violations — and the new outreach workers, Menesse said. 

“We’re hoping people will invite them into their homes and let them, over time, build a relationship and work with them,” she said of the outreach workers. “That takes a long time, and many people will be reticent, or just will never do it, we know that. But they’re more likely to if they are seen as separate from building and housing.”

The new staff would work for the community development corporations, which the city would then reimburse. The plan resurrects an earlier code-enforcement program the city discontinued in 2016 after the federal government determined it was ineligible for funding, according to Councilman Tony Brancatelli.

While it is not meant to be a completely lead-paint focused program, lead mitigation efforts would benefit from the new work. Outreach specialists would receive lead renovation, repair and painting training, enabling them to look out for potential lead paint hazards and to help property owners address them.

The specialists also would administer the city’s paint refund program. Low- and moderate-income homeowners could apply for up to $1,500 in reimbursement for paint and supplies. Tenants can apply for up to $750.

But many properties would not be eligible for subsidized paint. Menesse said the city’s law department had advised that general fund dollars couldn’t be spent on paint for properties owned by landlords who hold more than three housing units.

That was a sticking point for Brancatelli, the committee chair.

“This is going to affect a significant part of the population we’re trying to help,” he said. “So this is a huge hiccup in us being able to implement this program.”

Brancatelli asked administration officials to look into whether the city could spend casino revenue money to reimburse residents ineligible for general fund dollars.

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