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Parks, Housing And 'A Smooth Transition' As Woodhill Seeks HUD Funding

The current site of Woodhill Homes would be redeveloped with new townhouses and green space. Phases 1 and 2 are in the surrounding neighborhood. [City Architecture]
A site plan shows the proposal for Woodhill Homes.

Mixed-income housing, new streets and sidewalks, parks, a preschool and on-site social services are all part of the initial phases of the plan to completely rebuild the Woodhill Homes public housing neighborhood, starting in late 2020 or early 2021.

Details of the first five phases of the plan were outlined in a joint application for a $35 million federal grant, submitted this week by the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) and the City of Cleveland.

"We're not just talking about putting a Band-Aid on it," said Jeffery K. Patterson, CEO of CMHA. "We actually are talking about going in and really working hard over a number of years to redevelop that community."

The grant application submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) would replace the 80-year-old residential buildings now at Woodhill with mixed-income townhouses and apartment buildings — not just on the existing Woodhill site, but on nearby city-owned land as well.

Woodhill's current 916 residents would not be forced to leave Woodhill or the immediately surrounding neighborhood during construction, said Patterson. That's because the project would unfold in phases, with new buildings being completed on nearby vacant land before any existing ones are torn down, he said. Rental housing vouchers – also known as Section 8 vouchers – also would be offered for those who'd prefer to move to private housing.

"This is a significant change in people's lives, so we want to make the transition as smooth as possible," Patterson said.

The planned first phase is to build a new apartment building with more than 100 units on the site of a vacant school near the intersection of Woodhill and Buckeye roads, about five blocks from the current Woodhill site. When that’s done, CMHA will give residents of a few existing Woodhill buildings the choice to either move to the new building or accept rental vouchers, said Indigo Bishop, CMHA’s coordinator for the plan. Once the selected old buildings are vacated, they’ll be torn down.

The former Buckeye Woodland School in Cleveland, now vacant, would be the site of the first phase of Woodhill's redevelopment under CMHA's proposal. [Justin Glanville / ideastream]


CMHA will repeat the process until the five phases are complete and all 487 public housing units currently at Woodhill are replaced 1-for-1, she said.

The goal is that each resident would have to move only once. In past redevelopments, residents who wanted to stay in the same public housing neighborhood have had to move twice: first to a temporary location while construction was underway, and then back once it was finished.

Market Rate Units to Be Added

Another 59 market-rate units also would be added, meant for those who want to take advantage of Woodhill's proximity to the University Circle and Larchmere neighborhoods, both about a mile away.

The application submitted to HUD represents a portion of the overall, long-term plan for the neighborhood that CMHA submitted to HUD in August. That plan calls for a total of about 1,000 new units of housing, including 500 units of market-rate housing.

The hope is that additional market-rate units will become more feasible as the plan is realized, said Michelle Bandy-Zalatoris of City Architecture, which authored the plan for CMHA after a year of public meetings.

“We’ve talked about the need for the first few phases of housing to happen where they’re most visible — like along Woodland Avenue — because that will help to build a market for additional types of housing,” Bandy-Zalatoris said.

Providing market-rate housing alongside new public housing is a funding requirement. HUD has said that isolating low-income people in certain areas also cuts them off from social networking and employment opportunities.

CMHA and the city expect to find out by March 2020 if their application is successful.

HUD only awards five grants of this kind per year. For CMHA to be successful, it must beat out an estimated 16 to 18 other housing authorities seeking similar funding.

Local Match Required

CMHA also must show that it can match the $35 million from HUD with three times as much in local funding commitments, either at Woodhill or in the immediately surrounding neighborhood. That required $105 million local match would come from a variety of sources, Bishop said, including an already-secured $15 million commitment from the City of Cleveland to build new streets, sidewalks and other infrastructure at Woodhill.

Other recent improvements to the neighborhood — including the Woodhill Rapid Transit Station, green infrastructure, public art and the Opportunity Corridor road project — also retroactively count toward the match. Low-income housing tax credits, bank loans and local philanthropic funds may also be used to help finance the new housing, she said.

Aside from housing and infrastructure, 15 percent of the $35 million would go toward social services such as job training and trauma counseling, provided either on site at Woodhill or in the nearby neighborhood. CMHA also hopes to build an on-site preschool for the neighborhood’s large population of children.

If this year’s application is unsuccessful, CMHA has vowed to apply again next year or seek funding from other sources so that at least some parts of the plan can still move forward.

This story is part of ideastream's  two-year reporting project about the past, present and future of Cleveland’s Woodhill Homes public housing development .

Justin Glanville is the deputy editor of engaged journalism at Ideastream Public Media.