Cleveland's Woodhill Homes breaks ground on first phase of redevelopment

Marcia Fudge attended the groundbreaking for the redeveloped Woodhill Homes.
HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge (center) attended the Woodhill Homes groundbreaking, along with Sen. Sherrod Brown (left). [Justin Glanville / Ideastream Public Media]
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The Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) and a group of partners broke ground Friday on the first building in the long-planned redevelopment of the Woodhill Homes public housing neighborhood.

The building, near the intersection of Woodhill and Buckeye roads about a mile from the current Woodhill Homes site, will contain 120 apartments on a former public school site across from an RTA rapid transit station.

It's the first new construction to occur after CMHA received a $35 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Development (HUD) in May to rebuild the 81-year-old Woodhill Homes neighborhood.

HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge, the former congresswoman representing the area, spoke at the groundbreaking.

"When I was on my way here, somebody said, 'You gave Cleveland $35 million. I said, 'No, Cleveland earned $35 million,'" Fudge said, to rapturous applause.

A site plan shows the layout of new buildings in the first phase of the Woodhill Homes redevelopment.

Click to enlarge: The first building in the Woodhill Homes redevelopment is shown in this site plan, marked "new building." [Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority]

The new building will be the first of six planned phases of development scheduled to be complete between now and 2027. Funding will come from the City of Cleveland, other federal sources and private financing in addition to the HUD grant.

Of the 120 apartments in the first building, 90 will be reserved for existing Woodhill Homes residents, while 30 will be open to low-income families who are new to the neighborhood, said Cortney Crockett of CMHA. The agency is working with its nonprofit development partner, The Community Builders, to interview current Woodhill residents and determine which will move to the new building.

Resident Alana Miller, who attended the groundbreaking, said she would not be moving to the new building, but instead would wait to move when reconstruction begins at the current Woodhill site.

"They're just beginning to talk to people about what their plans are and their options are," Miller said.

CMHA first applied for the HUD grant in 2019, and was named one of five finalists, before ultimately being denied funding. The second application, in 2020, was successful.

In all, the redevelopment will result in more than 600 new apartments and townhouses. Of those, the lion's share — 487 — will replace the currently existing public housing units at Woodhill Homes. About 100 additional units will be reserved for low-income families, and another 45 will be market-rate.

All but two of the existing buildings at Woodhill Homes will be demolished over the next five years. [Justin Glanville / Ideastream Public Media]

Only 147 of the new public housing units will be built on the current Woodhill Homes site. The remainder will go either on other sites in the surrounding Buckeye-Woodhill neighborhood or outside the neighborhood altogether.

That's for a few reasons, according to CMHA's grant proposal to HUD: First, decreasing the number of units on the current site will help deconcentrate poverty; second, it will make room for new parks and green space; and third, it will allow demolition of existing buildings to happen in phases, so that residents need to move only once.

A map shows all six phases of the Woodhill Homes redevelopment in Cleveland.

Click to enlarge: A map shows all six phases of the Woodhill Homes redevelopment in Cleveland. [Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority]

Deconcentrating poverty is one of HUD's criteria for awarding Choice Neighborhoods redevelopment grants. Studies have shown that segregating low-income households in densely built, strictly defined areas can negatively affect people's mental and physical health and their their access to jobs and high-quality education.

When asked on Ideastream Public Media's Sound of Ideas in June if 45 market-rate units out of 600 represented a true mix of incomes, CMHA CEO Jeffery K. Patterson said it was "a good start."

Patterson also said the redevelopment should be viewed in the context of a wider radius that includes relatively affluent nearby neighborhoods such as Larchmere and University Circle, which offer mostly market-rate housing.

Alongside the redevelopment, CMHA and its partners will offer social services to residents over the next five years, with a plan to hire seven full-time case managers to provide residents with counseling and connect them with neighborhood services including health care and job training.

Those services are intended to help Woodhill residents overcome problems stemming from generational poverty, systemic racism and redlining. (The average annual income of working households at Woodhill is about $6,000, less than half the federal poverty guideline, and the residents are 99% Black).

Under the terms of the HUD grant, CMHA has five years to break ground on all six phases of its building plan. CMHA said in the grant that it will complete all the new units by 2027.

The second phase, on Woodland Avenue near East 110th Street, will break ground in 2022, CMHA's Crockett said.

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