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Woodhill Homes Rebuild Gets Lift From Tax Credits

An architectural rendering shows planned new development of 77 apartments and townhouses along Woodland Avenue. [Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority]
An architectural rendering shows planned new development along Woodland Avenue.

The Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) has received a competitive tax credit allocation that will allow it to break ground next year on 77 units of new housing. The construction would be part of the plan to rebuild the 80-year-old Woodhill Homes public housing neighborhood on Cleveland's East Side.

The news comes two months after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) declined to award CMHA a $35 million Choice Neighborhoods grant.

The $1 million state-administered competitive tax credit allocation means CMHA has the financing needed to break ground on the units in the second quarter of 2021, said Michael Shea, CMHA's director of modernization and development.

The site is on Woodland Avenue between East 110th Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard. The 77 units will be spread across an apartment building and townhouses.

An artist's rendering shows the future vision for the intersection of Woodland Avenue and East 110th Street. [City Architecture]

Shea said CMHA will also apply this year for a second, non-competitive tax credit allocation. That allocation would allow CMHA to build an additional 110 new units on the site of  a former Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) building at the intersection of Buckeye Road and Woodland Avenue. Groundbreaking on that site would also likely be in the second quarter of 2021, Shea said.

Planning For Relocation

Current Woodhill residents would be given first priority in moving to any newly built units, Shea said.

CMHA has not yet determined how it would select which of Woodhill's 916 residents get the new units if demand exceeds supply. Typically in public housing redevelopment projects, residents can also have the option to take housing choice vouchers to move to private apartments, or move to another public housing neighborhood.

Shea said he hoped the progress will help CMHA secure a Choice award next year. HUD uses matching funds and support as criteria in determining who will receive Choice grants.

"Now we're going to have two phases that are essentially moving forward, so when the next round of Choice comes, we're going to be able to demonstrate that we're doing this," Shea said.

The next application due date for Choice funds will likely be in October or November, he said, with funding decisions announced in spring 2021.

Woodhill residents' council president Jeanette Marbley hopes to see tangible progress soon, even without the federal grant from HUD. [Justin Glanville / ideastream]

Residents Eager for Change

If both tax-credit projects are built, the 187 new units would represent about 40 percent of Woodhill's current 487 units — all of which date from 1939. CMHA ultimately wants to replace all of those units, many of which lack basic amenities such as showers and washing machines due to declining federal funds for capital improvements.

Jeanette Marbley, a Woodhill resident and president of the Woodhill Local Advisory Council, said she was relieved to hear some parts of the redevelopment plan were still moving forward. After news that the HUD grant didn't come through, some residents began to lose hope that any redevelopment would ever happen, Marbley said.

"I've been hearing for 10 years that they're going to tear down Woodhill, they're going to sell it, they're going to do things," she said. "We put things out there, and sometimes we put things out there too soon."

But she’s optimistic that the tax credits mean real change is coming this time around.

Mixed-Income Remains a Challenge

One ongoing challenge for Woodhill redevelopment project is incorporating market-rate units among the subsidized ones. HUD has said mixed-income neighborhoods stand a much better chance of winning Choice grants than those that are entirely or mostly subsidized, since the agency believes subsidized-only neighborhoods keep low-income people isolated and cut off from economic opportunity.

The tax credits would not pay for any market-rate units in the first two phases, Shea said. But CMHA is attempting to raise funds for 20 market-rate units to be built in addition to the coming 187 subsidized ones in the phases expected to break ground next year.

"The whole point of Choice [is] to transform the neighborhood, and to transform the neighborhood you need to create that income mix," Shea said. "So we're committed to that."

The ultimate goal is for the fully rebuilt Woodhill neighborhood to include 20 percent market-rate units.

An architectural rendering shows a possible new apartment building at Buckeye Road and Woodland Avenue. [Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority]

But Jeffrey Wade, CMHA's chief of staff, warned that CMHA can't single-handedly create a neighborhood that is appealing to residents of all income levels.

Years of disinvestment in the surrounding neighborhood, fueled by institutional racism and  the stigma surrounding public housing, mean that a lot of work needs to be done to improve the area's infrastructure and image.

"The housing authority in and of itself cannot either create, sustain or transform a neighborhood," Wade said. "That takes [many] different interests" — including local foundations and the City of Cleveland.

The city previously committed $15 million to fund construction of new streets at Woodhill and to help pay for rehabilitation of houses and buildings in the surrounding neighborhood.

Justin Glanville is the deputy editor of engaged journalism at Ideastream Public Media.