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Councilman: Woodhill Must Be Redeveloped, With Or Without HUD Funding

[Justin Glanville / ideastream]

The plan to rebuild the Woodhill Homes public housing neighborhood must happen whether or not the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) makes a grant to the project next year — and financing is in place to ensure it does, said Cleveland City Councilman Blaine Griffin.

"We're going to do this regardless if the HUD grant comes through," said Griffin, who represents Ward 6, where Woodhill Homes is located. "We have to let people know that this is not a contingency plan, that this is something that the city is committed to and something that the private sector is committed to."

That’s particularly true of the plan's first two phases, he said, because both will be in highly visible locations, sending a message of reinvestment in the surrounding Buckeye neighborhood. The new construction also will be built near to but outside the current Woodhill Homes footprint. That means residents who want to stay in the neighborhood will need to move only once, rather than once when demolition begins and again after the neighborhood is rebuilt.

The first, $33 million phase will be located on Buckeye Road near where Shaker Boulevard starts, about half a mile from the current Woodhill Homes site.

The site is currently home to the vacant Buckeye Woodland School, which the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) closed in 2015. The school will be razed and replaced with two, multi-story apartment buildings totaling 120 units, according to a grant application the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) and the City of Cleveland submitted to HUD in November 2019.

The site is also kitty-corner to the Woodhill Rapid Transit Station.

"Strategically, this is a good place to start because of its proximity to the Rapid station, so it's a transportation-oriented development," Griffin said. Many current Woodhill residents do not own cars and rely on public transportation.

A preliminary rendering shows a proposal for the two apartment buildings to be constructed on the site of the vacant school. [Bondy Studio via City Architecture]

The initial site is also located in a high-traffic area at the eastern edge of the Buckeye neighborhood, meaning it will convey a message that new money and investment is coming to the neighborhood, he said.

"This community has experienced a lot of redlining," Griffin said. "It has experienced a lot of disinvestment, a lot of abandonment. But there is a demand for housing over here. There are thousands of jobs being created at the Cleveland Clinic, as well as the University Circle and University Hospitals area. So we want to put housing adjacent to where those opportunities are."


Second Phase on Woodland Avenue

The second phase will be located in another high-traffic area, on Woodland Avenue near East 110th Street. Plans include 77 units spread between an apartment building and townhouses.

Financing for the first two phases is either mostly in place or in the process of being secured, according to Griffin and CMHA. Clearing the former school site will be the responsibility of CMSD, which is expected to apply for a demolition permit in January, said Tania Manesse, the city's director of community development.

CMHA also expects to receive word in February or March on whether it's received a competitive Choice Neighborhoods grant from HUD that could total up to $35 million. The federal funding, if received, would go toward an overall rebuilding plan for Woodhill Homes that includes a total of five phases of housing redevelopment, plus new infrastructure in the surrounding neighborhood, including streets and parks, and community services for residents, such as new early childhood education and job training programs.

"The plan is to achieve transformation," said Jeff Beam of The Community Builders, a nonprofit housing developer that is assisting CMHA with the plan. "With the grant it'll happen faster; without the grant it'll still happen, but slower."

The current buildings at Woodhill Homes would not be demolished until several phases of new housing are completed off-site. [Justin Glanville / ideastream]

But Beam emphasized that the grant would not accelerate the first two phases of the redevelopment, with a groundbreaking for Phase I expected in 2021.


Resident Feedback Sought

Woodhill Homes resident Torrie Goodman said he supports the proposed new housing locations, but that consideration will need to be taken to make sure they're quiet.

"They'll be right in the mix of a lot of traffic, right on the street, so it'll depend on how good the building is soundproofed," Goodman said.

Beam and CMHA said they'll continue to solicit feedback from residents as plans move ahead.

The ultimate transformation plan calls for building a total of 546 new units at both the current Woodhill Homes site and in the surrounding neighborhood, with the goal of about 22 percent being market-rate. Demand for market-rate housing in the area is expected to grow as the plan moves ahead, Beam said, with each phase including a higher percentage of market-rate units.

HUD has called for market-rate units to be mixed into any newly built public housing units as a way of deconcentrating poverty, which the agency says can reinforce patterns of economic and racial segregation.

The U.S. Census tract in which Woodhill Homes is located has a median income of $12,831 and the residents of Woodhill Homes have a median income of $5,739, according to CMHA's grant application.

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.