Housing and Neighborhood Character
From The Master Plan - Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation
Housing, perhaps more than any other element in the built environment, defines the health and character of a neighborhood. Through a quick examination of a neighborhood’s housing stock, one can assess not only the style(s) and period(s) of time in which a neighborhood evolved, but also the current level of investment and property maintenance efforts undertaken, the amount of pride and neighborhood interaction taking place, and the sense of safety and security felt by the community.
According to the City of Cleveland’s 2006 land use inventory, approximately 44% of the land in Old Brooklyn and Brooklyn Centre is devoted to residential uses. Single-family homes predominate in Old Brooklyn, with high concentrations found in the southern, eastern, and western portions of the neighborhood. The highest concentrations of single-family homes in Brooklyn Centre are found in the south central portion of the neighborhood. Two-family and three-family homes, many of which are located on residential side streets, are scattered throughout the neighborhoods. Multi-family buildings are frequently located along major thoroughfares, although some are interspersed between other housing types in the heart of residential districts.
According to the 2000 US Census, owner-occupancy rates vary by sub-neighborhood, with rates in much of Old Brooklyn and southwestern Brooklyn Centre ranging from about 60% to 75%. Rates in areas such as South Hills, southeastern, southwestern, and western Old Brooklyn are approaching 85% to 95%, while rates in northeastern Old Brooklyn and northern Brooklyn Centre, at about 30% to 35%, are much lower.
The primary periods of home construction also vary by neighborhood, and range from the early 1900’s though the 1950’s in Old Brooklyn and the late 1800’s to the 1930’s in Brooklyn Centre. While limited housing construction continued to occur in both neighborhoods throughout the remainder of the 20th century and into the present, Old Brooklyn, particularly the southeastern portion, was the primary site of the majority of that construction.
The national housing mortgage crisis has had a significant impact on all communities in Cuyahoga County, and especially the city of Cleveland. One measure of the impact is the declining median sales price of houses sold the area. The median sales price of single-family houses peaked in 2004 and 2005, and since has steadily declined across the Northeast Ohio . According to the Cuyahoga County Auditor’s records, the median sales price of single-family homes in the Old Brooklyn neighborhood has fallen 53% from a high of $99,700 in 2004 to $53,334 in 2008. In Brooklyn Centre, the drop has been 43% from a high of $62,000 in 2004 to $26,667 in 2008. In addition, there are a number of issues that have been occurring in portions of the neighborhoods over the last several years that are indicators of concern, including a lack of home maintenance, an increasing rate of foreclosure, and some units that are vacant and abandoned.
The key to creating, maintaining, and strengthening the well-being of the neighborhoods and ensuring that they remain desirable places to live is tied to a strong housing market where properties are seen as solid investments, the neighborhoods are promoted as great places to live, and there is an adequate supply of housing stock with a range of housing choices.
Goal 1: Ensure that neighborhood properties are solid investments.
Many of the homes in the Old Brooklyn and Brooklyn Centre neighborhoods are architectural gems; solidly built and adorned with interior and exterior details that are cost-prohibitive to replicate in today’s new construction market. But many of these structures are also over 70 years old; complete with aging roofs, worn out heating, electrical, and plumbing systems, and outdated kitchens and bathrooms.
Ensure that all properties are well maintained.
It is essential to ensure that all properties are properly maintained though a three-pronged approach of education, investment, and enforcement by initiating some of the following strategies:
Continue to promote existing housing rehabilitation and technical assistance programs.
Encourage owners and landlords to continue to invest in the housing stock by marketing the myriad home rehabilitation programs offered through the Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation, the City of Cleveland (particularly the Departments of Community Development and Aging,), the Cuyahoga County Auditor’s and Treasurer’s Offices, the State of Ohio, and various other non-profit corporations including the Cleveland Housing Network, Cleveland Housing Solutions, Cleveland Restoration Society, and Neighborhood Housing Services of Cleveland. These entities offer a wide range of financial and technical assistance from “…housing rehabilitation and weatherization programs, code compliance repairs, new construction (project development), landmarks historic district assistance, and referrals to City of Cleveland service departments” to a tool loan program, paint rebates, and CHORE workers, who “…provide a variety of home maintenance tasks and transportation services.” See Appendix B for a comprehensive list of housing related programs. The OBCDC currently includes links to many of these programs on its website.
Educate residents, tenants, landlords, and other stakeholders on ways to improve the neighborhoods.
Enable residents and other stakeholders to improve their properties, as well as their neighborhoods, while reducing housing costs by giving them the tools to do so.
- Research and compile a series of best practices information sheets; post them on the OBCDC website and/or publish a catalog and market it to the neighborhoods’ block clubs.
- Sponsor other non-profit organizations that already conduct such workshops to teach residents the particulars of home repair and maintenance, weatherization, energy efficiency, and landscaping.
Encourage homeowners to maintain their homes through positive reinforcement.
Establish an annual awards program to honor homeowners who have demonstrated exemplary efforts in home preservation, improvements, landscaping, and/or property maintenance. Such recognition programs encourage homeowners to maintain their homes through positive reinforcement. The OBCDC and/or a committee of the OBCDC could develop award criteria, select award winners, and, along with the Ward Council members, present the annual awards.
Continue to manage databases of landlords and rental properties.
Develop a comprehensive inventory of rental properties that can be electronically sorted by address, permanent parcel number, and property owner/legal agent for every rental unit in the neighborhoods. Update it, as necessary. Having this type of information available in a searchable database improves the efficiency of handling property condition complaints, tenant complaints, and collaborating with the city’s Department of Building and Housing staff and/or the city of Cleveland’s Housing Court to target chronic code violation cases.
Encourage residents and block clubs to participate in code compliance.
Recruit and train neighborhood volunteers to conduct initial exterior inspections of residential property from the public right-of-way. In previous years, the city’s Department of Building and Housing staff provided the training, forms, and technical support. Training sessions involved watching side presentations that illustrated how to identify minor exterior housing condition problems, learning how to fill out the required forms, checklists, and diagrams, and participating in on-site practice sessions. Assemble teams of volunteers to conduct a systematic, address-by-address housing condition survey from the sidewalk. Volunteers can send letters to properties with minor condition problems to encourage voluntary compliance. The letters could include a copy of the completed checklist, a list of available assistance programs, and a completion date. The Department of Building and Housing is notified of properties with major code violations. While both neighborhoods now have their own code enforcement managers, a volunteer program can augment their work.
Work with the city of Cleveland’s Department of Building and Housing to continue and strengthen its efforts regarding strict building, housing, and zoning code inspections and enforcement.
Work with the Department to institute new pilot programs, such as conducting regular systematic inspections of multi-family structures and ticketing property owners for minor housing code and property infractions, as well as continuing to enforce the certificate of occupancy regulations and point-of-sale inspections for rental properties.
Reduce the number and impact of vacant/ abandoned houses.
While the Old Brooklyn and Brooklyn Centre neighborhoods have witnessed a lesser number of housing vacancies/abandonments compared to other Cleveland neighborhoods, it is still important to reduce the number and impact of vacant/abandoned houses as quickly as possible. Not only does vacant property cost the city and county millions of dollars in lost tax revenues, maintenance, and safety resources, but the presence of poorly maintained and vacant/abandoned homes negatively affects the morale of the surrounding property owners as well as decreases the value of contiguous properties, which leads to more disinvestment.
Demolish vacant and/or abandoned homes that have little chance for restoration.
Use criteria established by the city of Cleveland to identify vacant and abandoned homes that have little chance for restoration. Collaborate with neighborhood residents, the Ward Council members and the city of Cleveland’s Land Bank Program housed in the Community Development Department, the Building and Housing Department, and the Cleveland Housing Court to evaluate properties. Encourage these entities to expedite the demolition process and, where appropriate, transfer ownership of the property into the City’s Land Bank Program.
Work with the city of Cleveland’s Land Bank Program and the Cuyahoga County Land Bank to market vacant lots.
The City’s Land Bank Program offers non-buildable lots (lots with less than 40-foot frontages) to adjacent property owners for the very nominal fee of $1. Buildable lots are sold by the City for new home construction for $100. The City’s policy regarding areas with a concentrated number of vacant lots and/or tax-delinquent properties in the foreclosure process is to “bank” them for future development. The Cuyahoga County Land Bank, established in April 2009, is a non-profit land reutilization program that accepts or buys foreclosed or abandoned properties. The land bank will demolish properties beyond repair and hold others in a trust.
Purchase and rehabilitate residential properties in targeted locations.
When the early signs of neighborhood decline appear, it is often just one or two properties on a street or in a neighborhood where property maintenance has slipped dramatically or a property owner has fallen into foreclosure and has abandoned the house. Utilize the city of Cleveland’s Cleveland Action to Support Housing (CASH), Community Development Corporation Purchase Rehabilitation Program or other non-profit entities programs to purchase/gain title to the property, rehabilitate it, and resell it.
Develop/promote programs to maintain unkempt and/or vacant properties.
Work with the city of Cleveland’s Department of Parks and Recreation, the Ward Council members and/or a non-profit entity, such as Parkworks, to cut grass, trim bushes, and provide landscaping at vacant/abandoned properties and on vacant lots.
If the unkempt home is occupied, work with the owner to ameliorate the problem themselves or hire someone to do it. For income-eligible seniors, enlist Chore Services through the city of Cleveland, Department of Aging, to undertake property and/or yard maintenance.
Recruit volunteers to paint murals or window/door scenes on boarded-up buildings.
As part of the City’s board-up program for vacant and abandoned housing structures, recruit volunteers to paint scenes on the boards that are used to secure windows and doors. Trompe l’oeil, meaning “to fool the eye”, is a style in which a painted object is intended to deceive the viewer into believing it is the object itself. Paint the boards to resemble scenes found in occupied housing units, including window panes, lace curtains, flower pots, or a cat sitting in the “window.” Enlist the assistance of art instructors and their students at neighborhood schools, Art House, Cuyahoga Community College, or the Cleveland Institute of Art. From the street, the painted boards give the illusion of an occupied house.
Promote owner occupancy of single-family and two-family units.
Increasing homeownership is often stressed as a way to stabilize and revitalize neighborhoods. Homeowners, because of the high investment that they have in their homes, have a vested interest in ensuring that the neighborhoods in which they live remain strong. Therefore, it is important to employ strategies that will retain and increase owner occupancy of single-family and two-family units throughout the neighborhoods.
Conduct a marketing campaign (See Goal 2) to attract new homebuyers.
Promote the assets, location, and livability of the Old Brooklyn and Brooklyn Centre neighborhoods as a way to attract new homeowners and retain current ones. Target markets include:
- Persons employed at area businesses and institutions, especially MetroHealth, with 700 +/- employees.
- Immigrant groups that already have a presence in the area and/or are growing populations in the neighborhoods, such as Hispanics and Ukrainians.
Continue to promote housing education classes, homeowner counseling, and homeownership assistance programs
Continue to promote housing education classes, homeowner counseling, and homeownership assistance programs to potential and new homeowners, as well as existing homeowners. It is important to attract new homeowners to the neighborhoods who are educated about the advantages, disadvantages, and responsibilities of homeownership. It is equally important to retain current homeowners and ensure that they are savvy about the financial and maintenance issues of owning a home. Collaborate with the City of Cleveland, Division of Neighborhood Services and non-profit entities, such as Cleveland Housing Network and Neighborhood Housing Services, to provide information to new and existing homeowners about important topics such as housing counseling, financial aspects of home buying, understanding property taxes, reviewing loan documents, housing inspections and checklists, the importance of regular home maintenance, weatherization strategies, budgeting for home repair needs, and foreclosure prevention.
Establish a homeowner incentive program in areas dominated by two-family rental units
Establish a homeowner incentive program in areas dominated by two-family rental units to strengthen the neighborhoods. Areas to promote the program include the Memphis Avenue area west of Pearl Road and residential areas along Broadview Road.
- Encourage the establishment of a citizens group to increase homeownership pride and provide landscaping along streets.
- Find funding sources to offer incentives for owner-occupancy for two-family housing, similar to the Winslow Road preservation initiative in Shaker Heights, which offers grants to owners and assistance in tenant screening and landlord training.
Preserve the architectural character of the neighborhood’s building stock.
Old Brooklyn and Brooklyn Centre possess numerous structures and sites that have historical and architectural significance not only for the respective neighborhoods, but to the city of Cleveland as well. See Goal 12 in the Community Heritage and Identity section for a complete discussion of preservation issues.
Ensure that the designs of residential developments/improvements are compatible with the surroundings.
Some of the best ways to ensure that new residential developments and improvements to existing structures are compatible with the surrounding properties is to put policies and mechanisms in place that ensure compatibility with the existing character and create an understanding of good design and preservation.
Expand residential design review committees for exterior improvements.
The Brooklyn Centre neighborhood already has a local design review committee for that portion of the neighborhood that has been designated as a local landmark district. The same is true for a portion of Old Brooklyn due to its designation as a Business Revitalization District. More local design review could be achieved if the local landmark area in Brooklyn Centre was expanded and/or parts of the Old Brooklyn neighborhood were to be locally designated. See Goal 12 for further discussion on expanding local landmark designations.
Educate residents and business owners about preservation and the principles of good design.
Develop educational materials and slide shows, sponsor speakers and hands-on demonstrations, and promote financial programs that help educate residents and business owners about preservation and the principles of good design.
- Encourage property owners and developers to balance the need for new housing with the need to preserve existing neighborhoods and properties.
- Stress the use of high quality designs and materials that complement existing buildings and incorporate design elements that are compatible with the varied architectural styles found in the neighborhoods.
- Encourage the retention or restoration of original architectural building elements, such as front porches, original wall and roof materials, and other exterior and interior details.
- Disseminate information on financial and technical assistance from entities, such as the Cleveland Restoration Society, for building restoration advice on topics such as: appropriate period paint colors; supply sources for appropriate period materials; tips for restoring porches and porch details, including lattice, tongue and groove flooring and ceilings, spindles, railings, and columns; window and door maintenance and restoration; and room additions that complement the existing architecture.
Goal 2: Promote the neighborhoods as great places to live.
The architectural styles, unit sizes, and price ranges of homes and apartment units found throughout the Old Brooklyn and Brooklyn Centre neighborhoods provide a variety of housing choices for everyone, regardless of budget, aesthetic taste, or space requirements. Additionally, the neighborhoods are adjacent to parks, recreation, and open space (city parks, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Cleveland Metroparks Big Creek Reservation, the Towpath Trail and other trail connections); are close to downtown, major employment centers, shopping, and medical facilities; and have convenient and accessible public transportation.
To retain existing residents and attract additional residents, it is important to promote the neighborhoods as great places to live.
Develop a marketing campaign to promote the neighborhoods as great places to live.
A review of the housing and neighborhood statistics indicates that the Old Brooklyn and Brooklyn Centre neighborhoods are very strong, stable neighborhoods that have many characteristics more like Cuyahoga County than the city of Cleveland. However, many residents agreed that the wonderful attributes of both neighborhoods are not well publicized. Developing and implementing a well-defined and targeted marketing campaign is one primary method to not only retain current residents but also attract future residents.
Develop promotional materials.
Develop promotional materials for distribution. Distribute information via brochures, websites (OBCDC, and CNDC, City of Cleveland, and CSU links), advertisements in area publications (Cleveland Magazine and Northern Ohio Live), and local theatre playbills; and work to have positive articles about the neighborhoods featured in local newspapers.
Recruit “neighborhood ambassadors.”
Recruit “neighborhood ambassadors” from the community to talk positively about the neighborhoods. There are over 60,000 people living and working in the Old Brooklyn and Brooklyn Centre neighborhoods, many of whom have lived and/or worked in the neighborhoods for years, are very familiar with the area, and love the community. Draw on this army of “neighborhood ambassadors” to spread positive public relations.
Showcase the neighborhoods through organized events such as tours, festivals, and other celebrations.
Collaborate with area organizations and institutions to sponsor and host events (farmer’s markets, house and garden tours, ethnic food festivals, collaborations with the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, outdoor children’s theater, band concerts, ice cream socials) that will draw people to the neighborhoods. Develop walking tours of the area’s period architecture, historic events, and famous people in order to capitalize on the neighborhood’s history and architecture.
Conduct seminars and tours of neighborhood assets.
Conduct seminars and tours of neighborhood assets to educate area realtors, local journalists, and business persons about the positive aspects of living in Old Brooklyn and Brooklyn Centre. Sponsoring seminars and hosting tours of the neighborhoods’ residential and commercial areas, new housing developments, and recreational areas will enable realtors to better market the neighborhoods to their clients, journalists to write more informed and inspiring articles about the area, and business persons to promote the neighborhoods to their employees and customers as great places to live.
Install neighborhood identification signs, banners, and gateways as ways to identify, promote and market the neighborhoods.
As part of the Transportation for Livable Communities Initiative (TLCI) for Pearl Road, install/maintain neighborhood signs, feature banners that welcome visitors to the neighborhood or promote seasonal or cultural events, and fabricate gateway designs that emphasize the local experience.
Goal 3:Ensure an adequate supply of housing stock with a range of housing choices.
One of the greatest assets that the Old Brooklyn and Brooklyn Centre neighborhoods have to offer is the extensive variety of housing styles, types, and sizes available for homeowners and renters alike. This richness can be expanded through the provision of additional housing products that meet the demands of niche markets and by ensuring that housing options meet the needs of persons of all ages, incomes, and abilities. By providing additional housing choices, the neighborhoods will be in a better position to retain current residents as their needs change over time and to attract new residents to the area, regardless of their stage of life.
Promote adaptive reuse of vacant or underutilized non-residential buildings.
Adaptive reuse is defined as adapting an existing economically obsolete building for a new, more productive purpose. While structures undergoing adaptive reuse are often non-residential buildings – a warehouse converted to loft apartments, a church transformed into a single-family home – this is not always the case. Residential buildings have been converted into very useable spaces as well, becoming offices, museums, or social clubs. Regardless of the transformation, developers usually strive to retain much of the historic personality, architectural characteristics, and original materials as possible.
One of the many advantages of adaptive reuse, particularly in the case of a conversion to residential units, is that it allows for the expansion of new housing options, while retaining the community fabric and architectural character of the neighborhood. Due to the nature of the process, the exterior of these buildings generally remain relatively unchanged, while the interiors may be altered dramatically. Communities across the country, notably New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston and downtown Cleveland have seen the development of new, upscale housing in buildings such as old schools, industrial warehouses, and fire stations. These projects, which may qualify for federal and/or state historic rehabilitation tax credits, frequently become the catalyst for further neighborhood revitalization.
The Cleveland Restoration Society has a Sacred Landmarks Assistance Program that provides technical assistance and support that focuses on property maintenance for architecturally significant religious properties. The CRS is currently working with the Cleveland Catholic Diocese and various neighborhood development corporations to explore the potential for adaptive reuse of a number of religious landmarks.
The Old Brooklyn and Brooklyn Centre neighborhoods have a number of vacant or under-utilized non-residential buildings that could be considered for adaptive reuse projects. The process can be initiated by inventorying the location of these buildings, researching ownership and condition, and where possible, marketing the properties to developers or other individuals interested in adaptive reuse.
Promote the development of new housing units to satisfy untapped demand.
Focus new construction efforts on residential products that appeal to a variety of household types and are a mix of styles, sizes, and price points as a way to retain current residents who are looking to upgrade and attract new residents who are perhaps looking for their first home.
Projects to explore include:
New, higher density, market rate residential developments such as:
- Upscale townhouses near the rim of the valley, properly located on stable soils;
- Trendy lofts in the Old Brooklyn and Brooklyn Centre downtowns.
Senior housing; and affordable rental space near the downtown districts.
Regardless of the type of housing units to be constructed, ensure that the new homes complement the density and design characteristics of the existing homes on the street and in the surrounding neighborhood by requiring similar setbacks, massing, height, orientation, materials, and window and door patterns.
Continue to promote programs that help make housing more affordable (see Goal 1)
The City of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County agencies, area financial institutions, and local non-profits offer a myriad of housing programs that not only improve the appearance of the area’s housing stock, they also help make it much more affordable for its inhabitants.
Continue to promote existing programs
Continue to promote existing programs to residents through the OBCDC website, the Old Brooklyn News, the Ward council member’s newsletters, and by making printed program material available in the brochure racks at the OBCDC office, the libraries, and senior centers.
Promote green and energy efficient building techniques.
The Greater Cleveland Green Building Coalition (GBC) has been at the forefront of the “green revolution” for about a decade. Initiated in partnership with the Oberlin College Environmental Studies Program, the organization’s mission is “…to increase awareness and encourage the use of environmentally sound design and development practices within Cleveland and northeastern Ohio.” GBC provides information about residential green building and resources to assist in green building (or renovation) projects, hosts seminars and workshops from time to time, hosts tours of local green building projects, and provides technical assistance for homeowners and contractors .
Strengthen a partnership with this organization by disseminating information, providing a link to GBC on the OBCDC website, and by jointly sponsoring seminars for residents on green building topics and conducting demonstration projects whenever new development occurs.
Ensure sufficient housing options for persons with special housing needs, such as the elderly or disabled.
The number of persons age 65 and over has continued to increase, in part due to medical advances and greater longevity, but, more importantly, because of the “rapid growth of the population age 65 and over [that] will begin in 2011, when the first of the baby-boom generation reaches age 65.” Because of this, it is becoming increasingly important to determine strategies to assist the elderly and/or persons with disabilities to age in their homes for as long as they wish. For persons who require a more supervised setting, it is also important to create living environments that are warm, friendly, stimulating, and safe.
Promote programs and services that assist elderly residents so they can age in their existing home.
According to the Journal of Housing for the Elderly, “aging in place” means not having to move from one's present residence in order to secure necessary support services in response to changing needs. Ensuring that seniors can access existing programs in nearby locations is essential because some 70% of seniors spend the rest of their life in the place where they celebrated their 65th birthday. Partner with the City of Cleveland’s Department of Senior Services, area hospitals, and senior centers to disseminate information on available health programs, transportation alternatives, social services, meals-on-wheels, recreational and educational programs, and housing repair and cost-reduction programs to help make it possible for seniors to continue to age at home.
Establish a senior-friendly housing rehabilitation program
Establish a senior-friendly housing rehabilitation program in areas that are within a five-minute walking distance of senior services such as community facilities like the MetroHealth Senior Health and Wellness Center. As part of the program, promote the concept of universal design, both for new construction and when rehabilitating an existing structure. Ronald L. Mace, architect and educator, coined the term “universal design” to refer to the idea that housing design, layout and features should work for people of all ages, all sizes, and all abilities so that houses are adaptable to a family's changing needs over generations. Work with the City of Cleveland, Ward Council members and interested non-profits to establish incentives for rehabilitating homes using universal design concepts:
- Encourage renovation of existing single-story single-family homes and multi-story two-family homes within the target area.
- Require rehab projects to include universal design elements.
- Establish a landlord/tenant program to encourage two-family units to be owner-occupied, where the first floor units could be marketed as independent senior units.
- Provide a service to help match tenants to landlords. - Partner with the senior program providers to assist with marketing to seniors.
Locate close to public transportation, near shopping and recreational activities.
Encourage any new senior-oriented residential development to locate close to public transportation, near shopping and recreational activities, and in proximity to services and facilities for seniors.