Cuyahoga County, Ohio
Cuyahoga County is often referred to as the epicenter of the foreclosure crisis in Ohio, if not in the nation. Neighborhoods on Cleveland’s east side began to see the effects of subprime lending as early as 1998, as a growing number of residents defaulted on fraudulent loans, and several investors bought houses only to flip them at inflated prices. Foreclosures in Cuyahoga County’s inner-ring suburbs, such as Bedford and South Euclid, began to rival Cleveland’s in 2002 and 2004 and more recently, as Adjustable Rate Mortgages reset to higher unaffordable interest rates and as the recession caused unemployment or underemployment of many homeowners.
Cuyahoga County’s Department of Development chose to use a competitive grant process to award a portion of its NSP funds to five communities, including Bedford and South Euclid, which were awarded $500,000. Bedford is using its county grant to supplement its current HOME program by using funds to rehab REO property and build new homes. The city is funneling NSP resources into its “Presidential Area,” an older section of town with relatively high foreclosure rates. Homes in the area are poorly weatherized and costly to maintain. Phil Seyboldt, the city’s Building Commissioner, hopes that the positive spillover from their work on three to four houses at one time will lead nearby homeowners to invest in their properties, and “give a new lease on life for many of the older homes in Bedford.” South Euclid’s strategy for using NSP monies involves acquisition and rehab of foreclosed properties, and the promotion of green building standards and universal housing design. South Euclid’s NSP target area is the “West 5,” an area anchored by Cedar Center, a major commercial development. Sally Martin, Housing Manager for South Euclid, hopes that “NSP sparks a synergy between the commercial activity and new housing development.”
The county’s suburbs have had somewhat different experiences of the foreclosure crisis. In Bedford, a starter home community of primarily working-class and lower- to middle-income families, foreclosures and abandoned homes are dispersed throughout the community, and many families have been able to prevent foreclosure through counseling and mediation programs. Many of the homes that are in or have been in foreclosure are still occupied and have been maintained by their residents. South Euclid, a demographically similar and nearly adjacent suburb, has seen more foreclosure filings, and an increasing number of “walk aways,” cases in which financial institutions fail to pursue foreclosure actions, leaving title issues unresolved.
Bedford, South Euclid, and other inner-ring suburbs of Cleveland struggle to acquire REO property—from banks, Fannie Mae, and HUD—because private investors are able to buy “choice” properties before the cities become aware that they are available for purchase. The stagnant housing market and the weak economy have presented South Euclid with an additional code enforcement dilemma: Because of lower property values, residents are less able to refinance their mortgage loans using home equity lines of credit to make needed repairs.
The county has taken a strategic approach to managing NSP requirements. For example, its support of a public housing project met the NSP requirement to use 25 percent of funds for housing in low- and moderate-income areas for the entire county. Most neighborhoods in Bedford and South Euclid are considered low- and moderate-income areas. To stabilize their communities, officials saw a need not for more affordable housing, but for rehabbing current housing stock and development of market rate housing, to attract new residents. County grants are enabling them to do this.
Additionally, Bedford and South Euclid officials have developed innovative partnerships, both inside City Hall and with community businesses and nonprofit groups. It’s all hands on deck in Bedford City Hall, where every key staff person is involved in NSP in some way, be it in the application, the implementation, the recording process, or some combination of the three. Bedford is using NSP funds to bolster enforcement of existing ordinances and practices, such as point of sale inspection, the prohibition of boarding windows of vacant homes to prevent blight, and the involvement of the police department to monitor conditions of homes in foreclosure. To reclaim foreclosed properties, the city is placing assessments for property maintenance against properties. Because these assessments legally must be fulfilled before lien claims in foreclosure cases, the city is using them as a tool to take title to poorly maintained investor-owned properties. By taking title, the city can better control and manage redevelopment efforts. Says Phil Seyboldt, “If you want to play football in my stadium, you have to play with my ball.”
South Euclid has developed a partnership with a local realtor who expedites short sales and helps to track REO property transactions in NSP target areas. To market the housing in its targeted areas, South Euclid is touting the benefits of the “green” technology it is using for building an rehabbing energy efficient houses. Their aim: to attract middle-income home buyers.
Cuyahoga County Department of Development
Cuyahoga County Department of Development
Photos courtesy of Jane Critchlow