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In One Glenville Neighborhood, Residents See Looming Gentrification

View from Barbara Norton-Wilcher's driveway, with church building on right. [Matt Richmond / ideastream]

This story is part three of three on affordable housing in Cleveland. The others can be found here and here.

Years after the Great Recession, there are now neighborhoods in Cleveland seeing rising housing prices and blossoming neighborhoods. And, like in any big city, the spread of that prosperity threatens to change nearby working class neighborhoods.

“This is the Glenville community. Let’s repeat, this is the Glenville community," says Dr. Andrew Clark, pastor of Trinity Outreach Ministries at the corner of Ashbury Avenue and East 120 th Street. Clark says creeping development is giving him the impression that this neighborhood’s identity is threatened.

“I don’t think people are coming in with a community mindset. We’re coming in because the property is cheap. There’s an opportunity for us to take out a whole area and we can develop our own city, our own community within a community," says Clark.

Clark calls it a part of Glenville, some have dubbed it Circle North. Others see it as part of Greater University Circle. On one side of Wade Park Ave, at the neighborhood’s southern border, are Case Western Reserve University ball fields and buildings. On the other side, homeowners like Barbara Wilcher-Norton. She’s in one of the huge, 100-year-old houses that line this street.

“We want our neighborhoods. My sons could go from 115th down to 108th and I never worried about them because it was a community," says Wilcher-Norton.

Wilcher-Norton worries about houses turning into student rentals or high priced condos. Because this is a historic district, developers need permission from the Landmarks Commission to tear down a house. So far, each time a project has gone in front of the commission, it’s been blocked. Now, right across the street from her house, visible from her front windows, a developer wants to put in eight townhomes on the site of an abandoned church. Norton’s worried about the zoning change needed to build multi-family housing here.

“And that's what we as a community fought for a long time. That's what keeps the other institutions from being able to buy these homes and do what they want with them," says Wilcher-Norton.

The estimated price for each of these townhouses – $350-400,000. Her seven bedroom home is listed on Zillow for about two hundred thousand. Just a couple blocks to the north, houses are listed at $40-60,000.  

WXZ Development, which is managing the proposed townhouse project, said in a phone interview the zoning change can be designed so it only applies to this project. And at a recent community meeting, a representative from the Cleveland Planning Commission said the city and landmarks commission and the developer met privately to discuss a zoning variance that could work – something called a Planned Use Development.

That meeting is making Norton more nervous about this project than the others.

“It is a struggle for the soul of that neighborhood and that is the struggle that we are dealing with right now," says John Anoliefo, executive director of Famicos Foundation, the Community Development Corporation in Glenville. Anoliefo says the biggest challenge will be holding back developers wanting to build houses that’ll command University Circle-level rents.

"When you look at what is going on in University Circle you will see that they have built on every land that is available that can be built upon. They don't have it anymore," says Anoliefo.

So Famicos is applying for ownership of 24 properties currently held by the city’s Land Bank, with plans to build affordable housing. Chris Ronayne, of University Circle, Incorporated, doesn’t deny that institutions and developers in his part of the city are eyeing expansion and that worries nearby residents.

“With decades of disinvestment, there is understandable community angst on the question of who benefits and who pays," says Ronayne.

But, says Ronayne, there’s enough space in Cleveland to have mixed income neighborhoods, where development can happen without displacing current residents. For residents of Circle North, the question will be whether it still feels like their neighborhood.

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.