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Buhrer neighborhood faces foreclosure crisis

by James O’Malley and Victoria Davis

(Plain Press, June 2011) A sixth of the homes in the area between Scranton Road and W. 17th St. have been foreclosed since 2007, but new projects signal hope for the Buhrer area, in particular a link over the freeway to Steelyard Commons.

Standing outside of a home now vacant makes you wonder: who used to live there and why they left.  Many of these former residences have been neglected, paving the way for streets littered with trash and graffiti.

With small lot sizes and little breathing room, the home values are easily affordable for homeowners or renters with modest incomes.

Houses were foreclosed upon over time and the neighborhood’s problems went unnoticed amongst the larger discussion of the housing market crash.

Ward 14 Councilman Brian Cummins recently inherited this neighborhood when wards were redistricted and he has made concrete steps to improve the area.

“With lower income homeowners purchasing properties in that area, they might have been susceptible to high interest rates, unsavory loans and the financial crisis,” said Cummins.

In the past year, Cummins has been working to analyze parcel information in this area in an effort to better understand his constituents’ needs and concerns.

Another group hit hard by the financial crisis was ‘flippers.’ Many entrepreneurial handymen have made big money off of foreclosed homes over the past few years by buying them for pennies on the dollar, fixing them up and selling them for a profit.

“For a lot of investors, when the crisis hit, they were stuck with properties that they weren’t able to sell. On top of that, the financial crisis hit, where almost everyone had their credit pulled in,” Cummins says.

“You can almost imagine the door slamming,” he added.

Currently, there are a variety of counseling and mediation options available for those facing a foreclosure. Unfortunately, many people are unwilling to accept help.

“It’s a real shameful thing to be involved in. People feel debilitated that they were allowed to be hoodwinked into these situations,” said Cummins. “Too often the deals were too good to be true.”

Even as far back as the early 2000s before the housing crisis hit, Cleveland was offering loan counseling, placing the city on the map early on as an area taking action to prevent foreclosures. Unfortunately, for many it was too little too late.

Despite recent difficulties for this neighborhood, there is opportunity for growth. It is predicted that within 2-6 years the property value will increase by 18%. One project that will help ensure this is the neighborhood trail connector that will cross highway 71 to connect Buhrer Avenue and the community to Steelyard Commons via the Ohio Tow Path. Studies show that these connectors often spur on economic development.

The local school, Buhrer Elementary, built in 2009, is the first bi-lingual public elementary school in the state. Because of the increased foot traffic by children and their parents, councilman Cummins is making safety a priority.

There are plans for homes to be re-built and streets reconnected to Clark Avenue as most of the streets in the area are dead-ends. Multi-unit complexes are considered better to rebuild than single-family homes since it allows for not only more residents but also less risk.

“At least 10 home in the Metro North neighborhood have been rehabbed in the past two years, with 5-10 additional homes currently being rehabbed,” said Sandy Smith, chair of the Metro North Block Club. “There are several more being targeted for rehab through NSP2 funds (Neighborhood Stabilization Program), which can be used for green space development, demo, rehab and property acquisition.”

The neighborhood stabilization program was established to help communities whose viability continues to be affected by the economic effects of abandoned and foreclosed properties. Funding for these grants was authorized by the title XII of Division A of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

“The area around Buhrer School has been chosen to be part of Tremont’s Target Area Plan (TAP),” says Kristen Trolio, community organizer and Model Blocks manager for the Tremont West Development Corp. The City will use these plans to base distribution of the funds.  The area around Buhrer School was chosen because of the investment in the new school paralleled with the housing conditions around the school, she said.

Though the future remains uncertain for this neighborhood, it stands at the crossroads of revitalization through the help of dedicated professionals and volunteers hoping to rebuild this small section of Cleveland.

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