Cleveland Heights aims to create infill housing on vacant lots


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Last month, Cleveland Heights launched a Neighborhood Redevelopment Program to construct infill housing on vacant lots left behind by the 2008 foreclosure crisis. The multi-lot development effort aims to transform neighborhoods in the city by adding new revenue and investments. 

Through the program, Cleveland Heights will work with a developing partner to build infill housing on vacant properties. Phase One focuses on 42 lots located along Nelaview Road, Greyton Road, Dresden Road, Hanover Drive and Desota Avenue, according to a press release from Cleveland Heights. 

Cleveland Heights’ Business Development Manager Brian Anderson said the construction of infill housing will benefit the city by increasing activity and bringing new residents to the neighborhoods. 

“From a resident’s perspective, you’re adding more activity, more vibrancy, as well as adding more revenue for the city,” he said. 

Deanna Fisher is executive director of FutureHeights, an organization that “seeks to inspire and facilitate collaboration and empowerment across our communities to ensure a vibrant and sustainable future for Cleveland Heights and University Heights,” according to its website. 

Fisher said Phase One of the city’s Neighborhood Redevelopment Program could help transform the affected neighborhoods because it centers around neighborhoods with a large number of vacant properties.

“I know the city has selected the ones [neighborhoods] that have the highest concentrations of vacant lots, so these are neighborhoods that are really poised for redevelopment and transformation,” Fisher said. 

Redeveloping vacant properties

Anderson said the city has acquired a number of vacant lots over the years, particularly as a result of foreclosures that occurred after the 2008 financial crisis. Some of these properties became part of a side lot program that enables homeowners to buy vacant lots and turn them into driveways or extend their yards, he said, but the city has maintained most of the properties. 

Anderson said Cleveland Heights saw now an ideal time to launch the program because of the city’s tax abatement program, called the GROW Program, which began in 2018. The program provides up to a 15-year, 100% tax abatement on new residential construction.

“We thought that [the GROW Program] was an important differentiation to do this now versus in the past,” Anderson said. “Certainly Cleveland and other communities have been able to leverage their tax abatement programs to help offset some of the additional costs that come with infill construction.”

Anderson also said the residential real estate market seems to be pretty strong in Cleveland Heights. Additionally, the close proximity of the lots may appeal to developers for efficiency purposes because it will allow them to build on multiple properties located in a one-block area. 

Cleveland Heights released a request for interested developing partners to submit proposals for Phase One of the program through Dec. 11. After selecting a developer, the city intends to enter an agreement with them to establish a timeline for the development, according to the RFQ/RFP. Anderson said the city hopes to make headway on Phase One in 2021. 

Cleveland Heights will consider “several site control options” including selling the lots or a long-term ground release. Anderson said Cleveland Heights will evaluate various factors, such as how the design fits with the surrounding neighborhood and how the city anticipates the real estate market will respond to it, in deciding on a developer. 

“We want to see designs and concepts that will complement and enhance the neighborhoods they’re going into,” Anderson said. 

Addressing needs in the market 

One way the city could improve its housing stock through the program, Fisher said, would be by constructing houses that meet the needs of older adults. 

“Many people love the community, would love to stay here, but our early 20th century housing stock is multilevel [and] has many stairs and other obstacles that would make it difficult for people to age in place,” she said. 

FutureHeights runs several programs devoted to community building and development in the city of Cleveland Heights, including a housing rehabilitation program. Fisher said that Cleveland Heights’ Neighborhood Redevelopment Program could complement FutureHeights’ housing rehabilitation work and strengthen neighborhoods in the area. 

“We have been doing some housing rehab work in these neighborhoods and in surrounding neighborhoods, and so I would envision that new housing would work hand in hand with the rehab that’s happening,” she said. 

Fisher said FutureHeights has heard from residents through its housing rehabilitation work that houses in the city don’t have enough features that make it easy for homeowners to age in place, such as master bedrooms and full bathrooms on the first floor. “In many cases, homes don’t have even a powder room on the first floor,” Fisher said.

Fisher said it would be beneficial for Cleveland Heights to construct houses in these vacant lots that contain these features. “That would be a hope that, through this housing program, in building new housing, we would be able to get some housing that can address that need,” she said. 

Anderson said the city of Cleveland Heights has approximately 170 to 180 vacant lots in its possession. The city aims to continue the Neighborhood Redevelopment Program with additional phases in the future, depending on the results of Phase One, he said.  

“We’ve certainly heard from our residents that where we have some of these concentrations are still pretty strong neighborhoods,” Anderson said. “But they definitely want to see the city be proactive as far as trying to get some of this type of new construction and really fully invigorate those neighborhoods.”

Paige Bennett is a journalist and recent Kent State University graduate. She previously served as general assignment editor for The Kent Stater and KentWired and managing editor for A Magazine. This article was produced through a reporting partnership with the Collaborative News Lab at Kent State University.

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