Living Outside the Circle

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Images of flames and looting filled Northeast Ohio TV screens 40 years ago.

SOUND: news accounts of Hough/Glenville riots UP & UNDER

Cleveland State housing analyst Tom Bier says such scenes helped accelerate the social divide between the institutions of University Circle --- Case Western Reserve, Severance Hall, the museums, the hospitals --- and the people who lived nearby.

BIER: Going back to the '60s is when neighborhoods adjacent to University Circle really were declining as middle class people were moving out. But then there was this really tragic moment in the '60s --- the riots in Hough, and there was this attack on that piece of art in front of the Art Museum.

The still mysterious attempt to blow up The Thinker statue in 1970 only added to a chilling feel of danger in Cleveland’s cultural district.
Gradually, the institutions inside the Circle drew an increasingly suburban crowd and had little connection to those living just outside the Circle. Though many of those institutions have begun outreach programs in recent years, Denise Van Leer of the nearby Fairfax neighborhood development organization says a sense of division still remains.

VANLEER: and it's one of our goals to erase that divide.

To that end, a coalition of University Circle institutions, along with area foundations and community development groups, have banded together to entice employees of the Circle's hospitals, schools and museums to buy or rehabilitate nearby homes. Any fulltime worker of a qualified non-profit institution in University Circle will be eligible for what's called a $5,000 forgivable loan for a house within seven surrounding neighborhoods. If the employee stays in the home for five years, they don't have to pay the money back. Denise Van Leer says even more money is being offered by some of the larger employers.

VANLEER: Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, Case, Cleveland Museum of Art, Judson are all putting up money for their employees to receive down payment assistance. Their full time employees can receive up to $10,000 to buy a home in the Greater University Circle area.

Cleveland State's Tom Bier says they're dangling an attractive carrot.

BIER: That’s a heck of an incentive: $15,000 to buy a home? Fantastic.

Similar programs have proven successful across the country, especially in urban neighborhoods adjoining prominent universities, such as Yale and Howard. The Greater Circle Living initiative is based on one such program in West Philadelphia.

GROSSBACH: I don't think there's been anybody out here who would deny that the University of Pennsylvania's impact on West Philadelphia has been huge.

Barry Grossbach has been a community activist in West Philadelphia for over 30 years. He says, like Cleveland, a division had grown between the University and the people who lived nearby. Then, in 1996, the murder of a graduate student just around the corner of Grossbach's home sparked national headlines and questions from concerned parents. That led to a multi-million-dollar neighborhood improvement program spearheaded by the University.

GROSSBACH: It was not altruistic on their part. Given what was going on out here, the University could either build a barricade, and surround its campus with armed guards, or it could do something about the surrounding neighborhoods and integrate itself into the community in a broader way in order to make itself a safer neighborhood.

Tom Bier says the Cleveland housing initiative is more modest than its Philadelphia forebear. The Greater University Circle footprint has patches of housing stock scattered over a larger area, versus the denser housing pattern that adjoins the University of Pennsylvania. Still, Fairfax's Denise Van Leer thinks the Cleveland plan is a good start.

VANLEER: I just hope we'll be able to keep up with the demand. That's a good problem to have, though.

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