For many, a primary goal in life is to one day own a home. Guyana native Prida Mahase recently achieved that dream when she purchased a distressed property through Westown Community Development Corporation (WCDC) and the Cuyahoga Land Bank.
The condition of the abandoned property Mahase acquired was poor at best — and that’s being generous — but the process of renovating it has truly been a labor of love.
“When we first toured the house, it was disgusting,” said Mahase. “There were squatters living in the attic, which was littered with milk jugs filled with urine, and bags of feces. I knew it would be a lot of work and it would take a lot of time to fix it up.”
Other potential buyers who toured the house were turned off by the conditions.
“I saw the potential, and my dad was also very optimistic that the renovations could be done. There was a lot of termite damage; the plumbing and electrical were completely shot, but I [knew that I] would be able to save on the labor, since my dad and brother would be doing a lot of the work,” said Mahase.
Mahase originally connected with WCDC through the land bank, which acquires empty and abandoned homes that are not bought at county sheriff’s sales. The agency either tears them down or tries to find a buyer with the wherewithal to renovate them – something that’s not always easy.
“These are properties passed over at sheriff’s sales; they are far from move-in condition,” says Rose Zietello, executive director of WCDC. “Prida let me know she was looking for a house in the neighborhood because her kids were already enrolled in neighborhood schools. We like to give preference to owner/occupants. We don’t deal with investors who live in other states or other counties. When the house became available, I contacted her; I thought that she might like this one particular house – and she did.”
“I figured this would be a great opportunity,” adds Mahase. “My dad and brother are very talented carpenters. When I first saw the house, I was really impressed by the yard – it would be a great play area for my kids.”
Grounded in Cleveland
Mahase is a native of Guyana and mother of three who has been a Cleveland resident for approximately 11 years. Prior to that, she lived in New York; her parents immigrated to the United States from Guyana when she was 11 years old.
Although she currently has a steady, grounded career in banking, a great many years of her life have been focused skyward. As far back as she can remember, Mahase has been fascinated with airplanes and flying.
“My fascination with planes started with my brother. He’s always been obsessed with airplanes, and I got that from him,” says Mahase. “Guyana is a Third World country, so we only saw planes flying overhead maybe once a month. I’ve always had a dream of one day flying in a plane, as well as flying a plane. I studied flight in high school; I really wanted to be a pilot, but the flight school I wanted to attend was filled, and it was really expensive.”
Determined to maintain an affiliation with planes, she attended the Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology in New York, where she studied to be an airplane mechanic. “I graduated, but I never pursued my FAA certification. Soon after graduation, I found out I was pregnant.”
Mahase had all intentions to one day return to school and obtain her certification, but it hasn’t happened yet. However, she’s grateful to have found a good community to be part of in Cleveland.
“I started a family, and that’s when I moved to Cleveland. A relative of mine already lived here, and she informed me of the affordable cost of living here.”
Although the home she purchased was affordable, it required a complete remodel before she could move in. According to Mahase, they gutted the place. “We repaired all the windows throughout the home; they were old and full of condensation. There was no insulation in the house, so all the sheetrock was removed and replaced, and insulation was installed. We repaired all the electrical; there were wires hanging everywhere, and the plumbing was blocked, so we had to fix that, too.”
During the winter months, her father and brother dressed in layers for warmth, to stay on pace with Mahase’s desired move-in date. “They worked every day, seven days a week to get the house ready for me.”
After four or five months of work, enough of the interior repairs had been completed, allowing Mahase to move in. Of all the repairs, they were most concerned about the termites. “We had to repair what we could due to termite damage. We were a bit nervous because we had to replace a few studs in the walls, and that was a challenge, but we were able to get it done.”
A stabilizing influence
Zitiello feels it is Westown’s diversity that makes the WCDC stand apart.
“If you drive along Lorain Avenue through our service area, we have one of the largest commercial corridors in the city of Cleveland of any CDC,” she says. “You will not see empty storefronts; we have three retail banks. That shows the economic strength of that community. Along that corridor, you will find restaurants and businesses representing Middle Eastern, Mexican, Central American and African American communities.”
Now in its 26th year, the WCDC focuses on “residential and commercial stabilization.” The organization serves all of Ward 11 – from West 90th to West 130th streets, north to Clifton along West Blvd., and south to Linndale. There are over 25,000 residents in WCDC’s service area and 11,000 units of housing, and the demographics are 25 percent Latino, 25 percent Black and 50 percent white.
In addition to residential programs and services, the WCDC also has a commercial division, offering a Storefront Renovation Program, and technical assistance for new business owners as well as established businesses looking to expand. Besides the land bank, WCDC also partners with Neighborhood Housing Services, the city’s Healthy Homes Initiative and the Cleveland Restoration Society. The group also helps coordinate a court community service program where people volunteer in lieu of misdemeanor fines through the court system, picking up litter along commercial corridors and cleaning up vacant lots.
Two of the area’s newest businesses add to the diversity of the area. Jamaican Signature (3312 W. 105th St.) opened in 2019, while Latin Corner Restaurant (12123 Lorain Ave.) opened in May. Zitiello says Mahase fits right in to Westown because of her immigrant heritage.
“Prida is one of six families of Guyanese heritage that moved to the Westown neighborhood within the last decade,” Zitiello continued. “She came here from New York, and there are two or three other families from that area who now reside in our service area.”
Last June, Mahase was one of several residents recognized as a Community Hero at the annual WCDC Awards, held in the historic Variety Theater. She received an award for Residential Transformation.
“She turned that house into a showpiece; it is really something,” says Zitiello. “We were so happy with the transformation. She seems to be very happy there, and she has a community here.”
Mahase says the makeover isn’t complete yet, but she’s very happy with the progress.
“I’m blessed to have such an amazing family.”
Born and raised in East Cleveland, Nate Paige has contributed more than 25 years to local journalism. He got his professional start at the Cleveland Call & Post and would later get his foot in the door at Cleveland.com as a copy editor. While there, he held a number of positions including entertainment reporter, community editor, hyperlocal producer, and social media coordinator. He currently handles social media for the city of Shaker Heights.
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