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ideastream Focus on Housing: Transforming Dire to Desirable

Thursday, May 22, 2003 at 2:16 PM

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Thousands of people in Cuyahoga County are desperate to get into subsidized rental apartments, and remain on waiting lists. Despite the great need, many of the available units are run down, unkempt, even dangerous. While tenants are making great strides at improving subsidized housing, ideastream's Janet Babin reports that a commitment from a private owner can transform a site into a desirable place to live.

At about 2:30 on a recent weekday afternoon, a group of children is trickling into a Cleveland daycare and learning center. Librarian Kris Carroll is fielding math homework from a 7-year-old, while helping 10-year old Jelisa Johnson read her science homework.

Kris Carroll: Sound it out Jelisa…

But instead of being across town, this tutorial center is next door to where the children live, reducing travel time for them and their parents. It’s located in the Kinsman neighborhood, on a large privately owned subsidized housing complex called Rainbow Terrace. Only a matter of months ago, this 30-acre property was a dangerous slum. It was so dilapidated that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development forced the owners to give it up. Connecticut Developer Arthur Greenblatt, co manager of Vesta Corporation, purchased the complex in 2001. He’s been rebuilding, and according to HUD officials it’s 73% complete and ahead of schedule. Six new apartment buildings are up, and 14 apartment buildings have been renovated. Initially HUD offered only $4 million to renovate Rainbow Terrace, but Greenblatt says that wouldn’t have been nearly enough.

Arthur Greenblatt: It took us awhile to convince HUD that it would take more than $4 million, and that would only be a band-aid, the grant was 11.7 million.

Vesta also received a tax-exempt bond allocation from Cuyahoga County, and a $13 million mortgage from HUD. The agency requires all new owners of such buildings to install a neighborhood computer center, but Greenblatt did more than that: he added the community center that houses the daycare center and learning center and he’s providing a computer and high-speed internet access to each of Rainbow Terrace’s 484 units, so long as residents complete a computer training program. Greenblatt says the added perks are costing Vesta an additional $2million.

Arthur Greenblatt: One of our goals is to teach these kids that they’re smart before someone else tells them they’re stupid, and everybody really, that there are options out there, and we hope to give them the tools to achieve those options.

The Kinsman neighborhood property is in Cleveland Council President Frank Jackson’s ward. Jackson helped Greenblatt to secure the HUD funding, and is thrilled with the job Vesta Corporation is doing. But he questions why HUD allows subsidized properties like Rainbow Terrace, to fall into such disrepair.

Frank Jackson: The previous owner was allowed to get away with allowing the property to go down to substandard conditions, and then when owner finally left, HUD gave him a few million dollars as he left!

HUD officials refused to comment on the deal with Associated Estates Realty Corporation, saying the transaction took place under a previous administration. Similarly, the 800-unit Longwood Estates complex in the Central neighborhood was shut down for numerous violations in 1998. Ownership of Longwood passed to the Finch Group, and the buildings were transformed into Arbor Park Village. Finch Group chairman Wesley Finch says simply providing housing to lower income families, is not enough to change lives.

Wesley Finch: The people who are living here for the most part have other issues and other problems they have to deal with. And we need to give them an education so they have a skill to work.

Both Finch and Greenblatt are working with Cuyahoga Community College to set up education programs for tenants. Tri-C’s Tiffany Barnes says the first GED studies classes at Rainbow Terrace get underway later today.

Tiffany Barnes: These are individuals who know that education is a way to change their lives, to change their existence. Now that they’ve found it, and are now seeking it out.

Barnes says the program, begun last week, has created such a buzz that more than 100 Rainbow Terrace tenants are on waiting lists for the GED classes. Greenblatt’s considering taking over subsidized housing units in Columbus and Connecticut. In Cleveland, Janet Babin, 90.3.

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