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Woodhill Residents Ask Questions, Give Feedback On Redevelopment Plan

Panelists Jeffery K. Patterson of CMHA, Torrie Goodman of Woodhill Homes and Jeanette Marbley of Woodhill Homes. [Laura Fillbach / ideastream]
Jeffery Patterson, Torrie Goodman and Jeanette Marbley pose for a photo at the Community Tour.

The sixth stop on the 2019 Sound of Ideas Community Tour happened November 13 at the Woodhill Homes Community Center. More than 120 people attended, including Woodhill residents and people from the surrounding neighborhoods, to talk about the future both of Woodhill and of public housing in general.

Here are some highlights from the event:

First, a refresher: What's happening at Woodhill Homes?

Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority(CMHA) has applied for a $35 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to completely rebuild the neighborhood, replace all 487 public housing units that are already there and add some market rate units too. The market rate units are being added because HUD says having only low-income units in a neighborhood isolates people socially and economically. The City of Cleveland has also chipped in $15 million money to redesign all the streets, and the last part is to offer programs like job training and an on-site preschool and a business incubator to help people become upwardly mobile.

What were some of the things that residents said were top of mind for them if this neighborhood gets rebuilt?

There was a big range in what residents talked about, and not everybody agreed about what should be a priority. Some people said they felt like there should be more safety measures: security cameras on site or separate police assigned just to Woodhill, for example. Other residents feel like the neighborhood’s already pretty safe.

"It's changed from when I was a kid, for sure," said Torrie Goodman, a resident who was also a panelist. "There's not as much violence as it used to be. A lot of people say [Woodhill Homes] is a bad spot. I used to say it, too. I'm not going lie. But living here, seeing the difference where the violence come from, is totally different from back then. And it's more silent now than it ever has been, for real."

Goodman said he thinks what’s the most important thing is getting people to come together more, building what he calls community unity.

Another resident wanted to know what the short term plans to address some of the maintenance problems she has in her unit, including roaches and a bathtub that doesn’t work.

In response, Jeffrey K. Patterson, CEO of CMHA, said he wants people to know that just because CMHA might entirely rebuild Woodhill, that doesn’t they’re going to ignore it in the meantime.

"There's always a a feeling that, 'OK, well, since they're getting ready to fix this, they're not going to do anything else,'" Patterson said. "And that's not the approach that we want to take, because I don't have a guarantee that tomorrow I'm getting this check. So you are going to be here. And as long as you're here is our responsibility to try to make you being here as comfortable as possible."


About 130 people turned out for the community discussion. [Laura Fillbach / ideastream]

Woodhill today is predominantly African-American. CMHA wants the neighborhood to become more mixed income. Does it also want the neighborhood to become mixed race?

Not necessarily, though that could happen.

"It's not about bringing in white people into a neighborhood to improve it," said Taryn Gress from the National Initiative on Mixed Income Communities at Case Western Reserve University is one of the people designing the plan. "[It's about] original residents here thriving and [feeling] that they belong while also integrating another set of residents so that there is an opportunity for all of the people who are living here in the future to feel like they belong and that they're going to thrive here and can benefit from each other."

Did CMHA confirm that if it doesn’t get the $35 million from HUD, it will still do the project?

Yes, both Jeff Patterson from CMHA and Cleveland City Councilman Blaine Griffin, who spoke at the event, said a rebuild would happen regardless of federal funding – though it would be a lot easier if CMHA did receive the HUD grant.

Audience participants included Cleveland City Councilman Blaine Griffin, who represents Woodhill (left), neighborhood resident Linda Hunter and Woodhill resident Torrie Goodman. [Laura Fillbach / ideastream]

In the meantime, at least one smaller-scale project is already moving forward: CMHA is opening a laundry room on site this year due to resident requests. A separate, independent initiative is seeking to open a resident owned and operated cooperative laundromat in the neighborhood.

CMHA should know by March if the HUD funding comes through.

A rebroadcast of the full community tour can be heard Monday at 9 a.m. on the Sound of Ideas on 90.3 WCPN.

This edition of the community tour and recap are 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.