Lately the publicity surrounding the state of housing in Cleveland has been largely negative. Stories of quick-buck property transactions involving dilapidated city houses have raised hackles throughout the city. But housing authorities say recent property-flipping schemes are an aberration, and that the health of Cleveland's real estate climate hasn't suffered from them. Efforts to boost the quality and appearance of Cleveland's neighborhoods are very much alive, in the form of programs designed to help homeowners maintain and improve their homes. One such program, the Cleveland Fix-up Fund, is relatively young, but growing. 90.3's Bill Rice reports.
Bill Rice- This is the sound of progress for people like Elitha Littlejohn, who lives in Cleveland's Mt. Pleasant Neighborhood. The schoolteacher recently had her small back porch replaced with a full deck, relocated her central air conditioning unit, and installed lights and a gate in the back yard to deter crime. Littlejohn considers her house not only her home, but also a long-term investment.
Elitha Littlejohn- Basically what I'm trying to do with my home is help it keep its value going up.
BR- Littlejohn was able to buy her house three years ago with the help of a city loan to cover the down payment, in addition to a bank mortgage. She says have essentially two mortgages made it tough to finance any improvements.
EL- The city gives you $8,000 and they put a lien on your house, so because I had what they called a second mortgage or a lien, a lot of places kind of turned me away.
BR- Littlejohn later heard about the Cleveland Fix-up Fund, a home improvement loan program offered through neighborhood community development groups. It provides loans to homeowners at rates substantially below the market home-improvement rate. And it's geared to people like Littlejohn, who, because of her debt load, might otherwise be considered maxed out on credit. But besides the low rate, the Fix-up Fund program has other benefits that aren't available through regular commercial lenders. Joel Owens is a consultant to Neighborhood Progress, Inc., which manages the fund.
Joel Owens- They handle job specs, bidding out the job, construction monitoring, finding a contractor and watching that job throughout the process so you can be assured you'll get quality work.
BR- Susan Romano of the Slavic Village neighborhood was one of the early participants in the Fix-up Fund program. Like Elitha Littlejohn, she was a relatively new homeowner who struck out trying to get a conventional home improvement loan. Unlike Littlejohn, though, her home repair needs were a bit more urgent: local wildlife had taken up residence in her roof.
Susan Romano- I had pest control come out and trap. I trapped five squirrels upstairs in my house. I cut tree limbs down, I did whatever I could do. It got to the point where they were all over my roof then. It was a disaster, from one end of my house to the other it was nothing but a hole.
BR (to SR)- So you felt kind of trapped?
SR- Yes, I was trapped. I was afraid I was going to lose my house. I didn't have no money to fix it up. And then through Slavic village and city funding I got it.
BR- The Fix-up Fund started in June of 1999 as a pilot program, available in only five of Cleveland's neighborhoods. This summer the program was expanded to cover 11 additional neighborhoods, and fund officials hope it will eventually be available city-wide. In addition to benefiting individual homeowners, many foresee the day when the Fund will play a larger role in the overall health of Cleveland's housing climate. That's important to people like Ray Pianca, Cleveland's Housing Court Judge. Pianca says of the 17,000 housing cases that go through the court every year, 6,000 have to do with home repairs.
Ray Pianca- If you don't repair your home in Cleveland you can become a criminal defendant with a criminal record - if your gutters not fixed, your house isn't painted - you become a criminal defendant. We have 50 people in the courtroom today trying to find a way so that they don't become criminal defendants.
BR- Pianca says those cases often result in fines, and sometimes even jail time. Most of those subjected to serious penalties are investor owners, but some are owner/occupants. The Fix-up Fund is open to both owners and investors, and Pianca says it's a program the court hopes will be utilized more as neighborhoods push for more involvement from everyone in keeping up their communities.
RP- This is an alternative for the hoods in Cleveland - not only the counseling but the bidding and the repair inspection - very important aspects because when that doesn't work right we've seen people have to end up in court having to work on those problems in the court context, facing jail time or thousands of dollars in fines.
BR- The Fix-up Fund offers loans anywhere from $500 to $15,000. The current pilot period, funded through municipal and foundation grants, continues through mid-2001. Fund officials hope to make it a permanent city-wide program after that, to be paid for with city and county bond issues. Bill Rice, 90.3 WCPN, 90.3 FM.