Q&A: With Grant In Hand, What's Next For Cleveland's Woodhill Homes?

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News that Woodhill Homes will receive $35 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has local housing officials, and many residents, rejoicing.

The Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) will put the money toward a complete rebuild of the public housing neighborhood, which opened in 1940. But how will the rebuild work? What will happen to current residents? What is the timeline?

On June 3, ideastream hosted a conversation on the Sound of Ideas to answer those questions and more (click on the player above to hear the Woodhill segment). Participants included Jeffery K. Patterson of the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority; Jeff Beam of The Community Builders, a consultant to the rebuilding project; and Marilyn Burns, a Woodhill Homes resident and ambassador to the planning process.

Note: This conversation has been edited for conciseness and clarity.

This grant is designed to “deconcentrate poverty.” What's the benefit of mixed income housing?

Jeff Beam, The Community Builders: It does so many things at the same time. But at the center, it’s reflecting how neighborhoods have always been. Neighborhoods that are healthy and thriving do have mixes of incomes and they have opportunities that are for all of those people, all of those incomes. Because when you just have impoverished housing, you lose things like grocery stores and drugstores that don’t necessarily want to be there because they don’t see a profit center. But there’s also the validation that this neighborhood is entitled to the same healthy, thriving activity as everybody else.

What exactly will be built when all is said and done?

Beam: The first phases are on the cusp of getting started. So we should be able to break ground this year on the first development, what we call Woodhill Station, by the RTA stop on Buckeye Road. And we intentionally have three off-site phases. So Woodhill Homes will remain intact and we’ll have time to work with residents and plan now [for their relocation].

A rendering shows the first phase of the Woodhill Homes rebuild.

A rendering shows the first phase of the Woodhill Homes rebuild. It will be off-site at Woodland Avenue and Buckeye Road. [CMHA]

The new market-rate housing is just a handful — 44 units out of the hundreds that are going to be built. Is that enough to truly create a mixed-income neighborhood?

Jeffery Patterson, CMHA: I think it’s a good start. And you look at the community as a whole in that area and there are a number of market rate [houses]. But this will give an opportunity for hopefully a lot of people who may have been looking for homeownership opportunities to be able to have those in areas where there’s new housing that’s going to be around.

What’s going to happen to the current residents while everything is being demolished and rebuilt?

Patterson: We’re going to have folks that are going to be staying until we have some new opportunities. Working with The Community Builders, we’re going to have case managers that are going to be reaching out to each resident and putting together a plan for them, looking at different types of housing opportunities, whether they desire to stay or go, be a part of the new development or whether they want to look at other opportunities through the Housing Choice Voucher Program, or they want to go to other CMHA estates.

So you’ll build some new places and then people who are already at Woodhill Homes can take those?

Patterson: Yes, if that’s what they want to do.

What’s the importance of having a case manager with the relocation?

Beam: With 487 housing units, there’s a lot of different aspirations and needs. With case management, we can get down to the household-by-household level. We can figure out with each resident, what is your plan, what's your version of success coming through this plan? And then [case managers] help navigate, what are the supports you need? What is the new housing you need? And how do we help you be successful?

Click at bottom right to expand: This interactive map shows redevelopment sites for Woodhill Homes. [Gayle Putrich / ideastream]

The Community Builders have done a relocation plan before, specifically in Cincinnati. How did it work there and what did you learn that you can use here?

Beam: We learned an awful lot in the eight years we’ve been in the Avondale neighborhood of Cincinnati. One was this idea about building first off-site, working to activate development and signal positive, transformative change without disrupting the lives of the people on-site. So it becomes very real for residents with time to absorb what that realness means and to plan for that change. It also makes all the logistics around demolition and relocation work more smoothly.

That’s why you referenced Woodhill Station as opposed to Woodhill Homes?

Beam: Yes, Woodhill Station is deliberately off site, so in the neighborhood but not disrupting the actual housing site right now. The other [takeaway] is to listen to the residents all the way through. Change at this scale can be scary. It can be disruptive. And when shiny new buildings that represent the best of the market come through, some residents are going to be tempted to think this is not for them. So it’s important that every aspect of this – the public art, the new housing, the jobs that are being created, the new retail – that people see themselves in their community.

A rendering shows the second phase of Woodhill Homes' redevelopment.

Another early, off-site phase of Woodhill Homes' redevelopment will be on Woodland Avenue near 110th Street, as shown in this rendering. [CMHA]

How do residents feel about the changes?

Marilyn Burns, resident ambassador: People are very afraid of gentrification. “They’re moving us out. Where am I going to go? I've been here for X amount of years and now I have to leave. What's going to happen?” But people are visual. So once they start seeing things happening and once they heard that this was going to happen here, my phone has not stopped ringing. Every time I leave out the door, people stop me and have questions. This is a great thing, to have case managers [because] each household is very different.

Will high-quality pre-school be a part of the plan?

Beam: Absolutely. There’s an awful lot of children in the 2- to 5-year-old cohort who live at Woodhill now. Our first priority is getting them ready to be thriving kindergartners and thriving learners as they grow. So working with partners and the Cleveland Metropolitan School District to connect with those young children is very much part of this plan. And creating the physical infrastructure on-site for that to happen so that people can do it conveniently is definitely embedded in the plan.

How does this compare to the redevelopment of Valley View in Tremont? Did you learn something there that you can apply here?

Patterson: I think there were a lot of things that worked with Valley View. Time has shown that a lot of the community effort that was put into that worked. The quality of housing I think worked as well. Things that we can learn are to continue to understand that you can’t just take one model and think that that’s going to work at every estate. And so I think working with residents and being able to have a pulse of the community [is] effective.

Tremont Pointe is a mixed-income public housing redevelopment in Cleveland.

Tremont Pointe is an existing mixed-income public housing redevelopment in Cleveland. [Justin Glanville / ideastream]

Will current residents all be welcomed back to Woodhill or will there be caveats?

Patterson: Our initial goal will be to welcome all of those individuals that are there. The Community Builders will have their process that they have to go through, but no resident will be displaced, no resident will be without quality housing, I can assure you that.

Beam: We, as a co-owner with CMHA, will seek to keep the same high standards for making sure that residents can thrive in their new housing. It’s important to us that there’s continuity for the residents. And so, if they are a thriving member of the Woodhill community now, they will absolutely have that right to return.

What are you telling residents now about what’s coming?

Burns: Don’t lose hope. This is just more than just brick and mortar and buildings. This is a rebuilding of the spirit of a community that has been broken for such a long time. I often refer to it as the mind, body and the spirit all existing together to build a new spirit in the neighborhood. The diversity of mixed income is such a great concept because you have different people with different backgrounds, different ideas, different opinions. And we can grow from that. We can grow a new mindset. We can have a healthier body with that mindset and it will change our spirit of how we look at each other and how we look at our community.

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