Cleveland's Woodhill Homes Is Finalist For $35 Million Federal Grant

A rendering shows the planned first phase of the Woodhill plan.
A conceptual rendering shows the first phase of the Woodhill redevelopment plan, near the intersection of Woodland Avenue and Buckeye Road. [Bondy Studio / City Architecture]
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The plan to rebuild the Woodhill Homes public housing neighborhood on Cleveland's East Side is one of five finalists for $35 million in federal funding, project leaders announced Feb. 3.

The Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) and the City of Cleveland submitted a proposal for funding in November, after a year-long planning process.

The five-phase proposal for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) calls for rebuilding all of the 80-year-old structures at Woodhill Homes itself. It also calls for improving streets and existing buildings in the surrounding neighborhood and offering new social-service and education programs to help improve residents’ lives.

HUD selected the Woodhill proposal as a finalist from among 18 applications, said Indigo Bishop of CMHA. The other four finalists are in Fort Worth, Tex.; Los Angeles; Philadelphia; and Winston-Salem, N.C.

The federal government scored the proposals based on a variety of factors, including proximity to jobs and transportation, incorporation of market-rate units and local matching funds.

Part of Woodhill’s local financial match is a $15 million commitment from the City of Cleveland to build new streets, sidewalks and other infrastructure in the neighborhood.

"They [HUD] want to see that this isn't the only investment that's coming into the neighborhood," Bishop said. "And then they're also looking at the viability of the plan. Is it a solid plan? How thoroughly was the community engaged in the creation of it? And is it a plan that's set up to succeed?"

The agency has enough resources to fund up to four proposals, Bishop said, but it could fund fewer. The agency will make a site visit to Cleveland next week, and final funding decisions are expected before April.

Not Just Bricks and Mortar

The $35 million grant, if awarded, would come from HUD's Choice Neighborhoods program. The program seeks to deconcentrate poverty by adding market-rate units to public housing neighborhoods and provide residents with new opportunities for employment and education.

The first two phases of new housing would be built not at Woodhill Homes itself, but along Woodland Avenue between Buckeye Road and East 116th Street. No existing buildings at Woodhill would be demolished before the new housing opens and residents can move in, CMHA has said. In some past public housing redevelopments in Cleveland and elsewhere, residents have been required to move before new units were ready.

The plan calls for replacing all 487 existing public housing units at Woodhill, as well as adding new market-rate units. The number of market-rate units would increase in each phase as the neighborhood is rebuilt and becomes more visually attractive, said Jeff Beam of The Community Builders, a nonprofit housing developer that is assisting CMHA with the plan.

"Our strategy is to create momentum first, and in the process of doing that, you will start to build the trajectory," Beam said.

A rendering shows a proposed Woodhill Hillside Park in Cleveland.

A proposed hillside green space would commemorate Luna Park, an amusement park that operated on the site until the 1930s. [Bondy Studio / City Architecture]

The $35 million HUD grant would pay for only a portion of the planned improvements. CMHA and its partners are also seeking low-income housing tax credits and traditional construction loans to build the project.

CMHA’s Bishop said before any new buildings go up, residents would likely see new public art and parks — including a new green space commemorating Luna Park, an amusement park that operated on the Woodhill Homes site until the 1930s.

The grant would be the first Choice Neighborhoods implementation grant received in Cleveland. In 2014, Columbus received a Choice grant to help rebuild Poindexter Village on the city's near east side.

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.

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