My Changing Neighborhood - Episode 5: The house with the tower
I never thought of my neighborhood as noisy until my 2-year-old son started pointing it out to me.
In fact, a couple of his favorite words lately are “noise” and “loud.” Sometimes, he’s talking about motorcycles or an airplane overhead. But most often? The noise he’s noticing is the rumble of backhoes, gouging into the earth to make way for new building foundations. The beep beep of drywall-laden forklifts. The grinding of jackhammers.
It is loud here, especially during the warmer months. It feels like this neighborhood is always under construction.
Basically, there’s money to be made here. Lots of it. And developers from near and far are flocking here, driving the price of land skyward.
A couple of blocks from me, an acre of vacant land was recently on the market for $2 million. To give some perspective, that price isn’t far off the average sales price for an acre of land in much larger, much more traditionally thriving cities such as Los Angeles – where the average land value is $2.6 million per acre – and it’s above the average cost per acre of land in Washington, D.C. ($1.2 million) and Seattle ($1.3 million).
On a smaller scale, lots of individual houses in the neighborhood are also being flipped. One house that really stands out not just to me but to a lot of people as a “flip extraordinaire” is right across the street from me. It's known among my neighbors as "The House With the Tower" because — well, it has a tower, a balcony added above the house's third floor.
Aaron Taylor is the guy who bought and renovated the house. I reached out to him because, frankly, I felt kind of suspicious of him. He lived in the house briefly after fixing it up. And then one day, he moved out. I thought, ‘Ah. So that was the plan all along. Build an extra fancy house, then sell it for an extra fancy price. Pocket profits, move away. Typical flipper.’
To see how accurate or inaccurate I was, I laid out all my assumptions to Aaron during a phone call.
"Interesting," he said. "[But] one thousand percent, it was my intent to live there. Not that I would be opposed to doing a quote, unquote, 'flip,' but with this home, it was my intent to live there."
What happened, he said, was that his wife was looking for a job in Cleveland and couldn't find one. Instead, she got one in California, and that's where they moved.
I went on to talk to Aaron about the ethics of real estate development, for homeowners and developers alike. (He's president of a real estate development company called Vision LLC.)
He said he doesn't feel that people are getting pushed out of my neighborhood on anywhere near the level of places such as Portland, Ore., his hometown.
"I'm sensitive to housing affordability because in Portland, unfortunately, many have been pushed out of neighborhoods because [most] of them, those homes are no longer affordable," he said. "But that's not the case here in Cleveland. That's not the case even in the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood."
For me, a couple of things came out of this conversation. One, however much Aaron is ultimately motivated by profit, my assumptions about him always intending to flip the "House With the Tower" were wrong.
Two, his viewpoint that what’s happening in cities like Portland, where people are getting forced out, is “not the case here in Cleveland” — that’s something I’ve heard from others, too. I've also heard from several of my neighbors that they welcome rising property values because the increased wealth has allowed them to pursue other dreams. That's the case with Siba Ballo Beavogui, for example, who in part financed his West African imports store, Kolou's Marketplace, with a a loan he took out on his house.
On this episode of "Inside the Bricks: My Changing Neighborhood": In Cleveland, one of the poorest big cities in the nation, are we kidding ourselves to worry about gentrification? Do we need more developers and flippers, not fewer?
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