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In season two of Ideastream Public Media's "Inside the Bricks" podcast, host Justin Glanville talks to his neighbors about whether their Cleveland neighborhood can stay diverse or if it’s on a one-way journey toward becoming completely gentrified.

My Changing Neighborhood - Episode 3: The Veterans Club and the secret passageway

Frank D'Onofrio stands in front of photographs of Italian-American soldiers inside the Neighborhood Veterans Club.
Justin Glanville
Ideastream Public Media
Frank D'Onofrio, manager of the Neighborhood Veterans Club, stands in front of photographs of Italian-American soldiers.

It’s wintertime, a couple of days after a big, old-fashioned Cleveland snowstorm. The kind that dumps a foot or more of snow on the entire city. It’s pretty and sparkly, but also a big old pain in the neck.

Fortunately, Matt Zone, the former councilman for my neighborhood, is here to help out. We’re meeting outside a small stucco-sided building with the flags of Italy and the United States out front.

Once Matt clears a path for me on the sidewalk and tosses his shovel back into his car, we step inside the Neighborhood Veterans Club.

All over the walls are framed black-and-white photographs of Italian-American soldiers. On one side is a worn wooden bar that looks like it dates from the 1940s. The air smells like last night’s cigarette smoke.

Frank D'Onofrio, the club's manager, tells me the club has 89 members — all male.

Matt says he brought me here today because he wants people to understand where this neighborhood came from and the decades of equally hard work it took to get it where it is now.

"When people say, 'Well, the neighborhood's rapidly gentrified' — wait a minute," Zone says, his voice rising. "I lived through 30-plus years of just blight and nothing but poverty in our community. And we worked very hard with great intentionality to make sure that we lifted up all people and maintained a mixed-income community. I'm very proud of that work."

The neighborhood's current councilperson, Jenny Spencer, offers a different take during an equally wintry neighborhood walk.

"I get some really poignant calls," she tells me. "I got this really interesting call from this lovely, lovely woman who is in the neighborhood and she keeps seeing investors kind of snatch up property. And she said, you know, ‘My family's been here a long time. We’ve been renting and we’d love to buy a house. Can you help me do that?’"

Spencer thinks keeping the neighborhood mixed-income is possible, but will require a lot of hard work.

She tells me about tools she's been considering, such as 'community benefits agreements,' where developers agree to provide affordable housing or green space alongside luxury housing. She also talks about freezing property taxes, and the city's controversial tax abatement program, to help longtime residents stay in place.

On this episode, what do my neighborhood’s leaders say about whether gentrification is a concern here? And do they think the mix of incomes and people that exists here now can be preserved?

Sign up for our behind-the-scenes newsletter to get more stories from the neighborhood, and tell us what you think in our audience survey.

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