Sheila Wright got interested in developing homes in Cleveland’s Hough neighborhood when she herself needed a home and couldn’t find one at the right price. When she learned how few minority developers were building new homes in Cleveland, she resolved then and there not only to build her own home but also to help build a community.
Now Wright’s company, a Black- and female-led firm called Frontline Development, is asking the City of Cleveland to contribute $4 million from its American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars to help catalyze a mixed-use, affordable housing project at Linwood and East 66th Street.
“This is a transformational project,” Wright said of the proposed project, noting that it leverages the city’s $5 million investment in League Park and the city’s interest in the new Hough Library and Cleveland Foundation headquarters. “It supports investment and equity on the east side.”
Part of the larger Allen Estates project, the apartments Frontline is proposing are one of several affordable housing developments seeking ARPA dollars. Earlier this year, Cleveland was awarded $511 million in ARPA funding, the eighth largest award of any US city. Cleveland City Council is debating legislation about how to allocate the funds.
Other projects bidding for funding include the Warner Swasey building, a storied factory that has sat vacant for more than 30 years, and Woodhill Choice neighborhood housing, which was recently selected for a $35 million grant from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The Allen Estates project was named after Carolyn Watts Allen and Robert Allen, who built homes in Hough in the 1990s and fought for the neighborhood. Wright and her business partner, Angela Bennett, say they are community advocates who want to continue in that same tradition.
“We’re emerging developers, we’re minorities, we’re women,” said Wright. “We’re talking about a [real estate] space we don’t normally occupy.”
Bennett said the mixed-use project is a good fit for ARPA dollars because it will offer affordable housing along a broad spectrum of price points along with community amenities such as office space, retail, and a possible community room.
Wright said the new building will include 64 housing units and 58 parking spaces, 6,000 square feet of retail, and three-quarters of an acre of green space. The total projected cost of the building is $14.6 million, according to Wright.
The affordable housing could be attractive to essential workers at the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, and other nearby workplaces, Wright argued. The long-term vision of the Allen Estates includes building 237 units on 4.7 acres of land, creating a sizable new community in Hough, an area being eyed for a large number of projects.
The Warner Swasey mixed-use affordable housing project is also up for $2 million in ARPA funds. The developers, Pennrose and Midtown Cleveland Inc., say the money would be used to shore up gaps in the budget. Their ultimate goal is to create a mixed-use, mixed-income building that revitalizes the surrounding area.
The Warner Swasey company, which manufactured machine tools, operated at 5701 Carnegie Ave. for nearly a century. The 160,000 square foot building has sat mostly vacant since the mid-1980s, but because of its solid construction, it’s still a prime candidate for adaptive reuse.
According to Rick Barga, vice president of economic development at Midtown Cleveland, the project would feature 140 units with a mix of studios and one-, two-, and three-bedroom units. The residential units would offer senior and affordable housing aimed at people earning 30%, 50%, and 60% of AMI (area median income).
Barga said the project is needed because of the dearth of high-quality, affordable housing in Cleveland and the rising cost of rent city-wide, which is edging residents out of Midtown and other neighborhoods. According to the project description, the project also would include some commercial and community space.
“From Midtown’s perspective, the ability to provide more affordable housing across that range, it’s an opportunity to scale and use that historic structure in ways that nobody could previously,” said Barga, citing numerous proposed projects that never came to fruition. “What we need in this neighborhood is high-quality housing units and the ability to provide them at an affordable rate.”
Barga said the project team is asking for ARPA dollars because of the high cost of adaptive, historic reuse of such a large building. The project has been awarded low-income housing tax credits but is still in search of other forms of funding to fill budget gaps in the redevelopment.
“Every little piece is critical,” he said. “If we don’t have all the pieces, then we can’t make the project work.”
Lee Chilcote is editor of The Land.