Area Neighborhoods Look For a Balance Between Demolition and Rehab

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Mansfield Frazier's Hough neighborhood in Cleveland has dozens of abandoned houses, and the drumbeat for demolition is loud and clear. That bothers him.

MANSFIELD FRAZIER: All I'm hearing about is "Tear down. Tear down." I'm not hearing anything about "Rebuild".

Cleveland alone plows these properties down at the rate of about 1000 a year.

MANSFIELD FRAZIER: I understand that you want to get rid of blight; blight pulls down other properties. I got no problem with that. But, I don't want to wind-up like Detroit with vast acres of vacant lots.

A visit to Detroit --- or even to a nearer post-industrial town like Youngstown --- is an eye-opener. There are entire city blocks covered by tall weeds, that surround the few dilapidated houses that remain.

Five years ago, Councilman Tony Brancatelli's ward on Cleveland's southeast side was given the dubious distinction of being "ground zero" for the nation's foreclosure crisis. Walking down a neighborhood street, Brancatelli says the impact of the housing meltdown was personal for him.

TONY BRANCATELLI: I knew many of the people that were in these houses, I grew-up with them.

Some of those neighbors lost their homes to the banks. Others moved out, due to fear of the community's changing demographics. As the abandoned properties multiplied, the choice seemed to be to either demolition, to keep them from becoming drug houses, or an expensive rehab to bring 100-year-old homes up to modern specs. But a potentially new option has arrived in the form of a public-private partnership called Slavic Village Recovery, which is launching a pilot project targeting 200 homes in a 50 block area. Some will be modestly rehabbed and put on the market for an affordable cost, while others will be demolished.

TONY BRANCATELLI: This plan is really looking at recovering houses, stabilizing the market, and continuing to push for demolition when it has to be pushed for.

But, is there a market for rejuvenated houses in city neighborhoods that have lost so many people?

TONY BRANCATELLI: That's the million-dollar question.

A partial answer to that question may be found in Cleveland's St. Clair-Superior neighborhood in a small, gray house that was built on E. 47th street in 1889. It was boarded up and due to be torn down until developer Chuck Scaravelli came up with an experimental alternative.

CHUCK SCARAVELLI: This home had 14 rooms when we started. And the idea is to remove walls and make larger spaces, open spaces.

By taking out some walls and a good part of the ceiling, Scaravelli transformed the tightly packed cluster of tiny rooms into an open loft space for about the same price that a demolition would have cost. He even recycled some of the old-growth wood he took from the walls and ceiling to fashion a new staircase and an island for the kitchen.

CHUCK SCARAVELLI: Where this home may have cost 50 thousand bucks to rehab, I can do it for 10 thousand bucks or less.

Andrea Bruno who coordinates housing in the St. Clair-Superior neighborhood says a mention of the Scaravelli project in a community newsletter has piqued the interest of area home buyers.

ANDREA BRUNO: We did one small, little piece in our local Spotlight newspaper, and I had a list of 15 people within the next two weeks wanting more information on it.

Arleen Crider is renting the E.47th street home from Scaravelli for $500 a month. It's kind of a homecoming, because she grew-up in a rougher neighborhood, not far from here. After graduating from medical school, she was on the edge of settling elsewhere.

ARLEEN CRIDER: I was actually considering moving out of town --- just leave Cleveland.

But, then she heard about this redevelopment project, and changed her mind.

ARLEEN CRIDER: First of all, the price of living in Cleveland, you really can't ask for anything better than that. Everywhere else, it is very expensive. And to know that I have roots here, and to be able to raise my family here, and to be with my family here --- it's a good thing.

It's going to take more than a couple of pilot projects to clean-up the acres of abandoned properties across Northeast Ohio, but, for the moment, on a few streets that have some long histories, a bit of community fabric is being preserved.

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