Plain Press, September 2013
Plain Press Cleveland City Council Ward 14 Candidate Survey –Primary Election – September 10, 2013
Please introduce yourself to Plain Press readers and describe the skills, resources and experience that will help you to address some of the pressing concerns of the City of Cleveland as a City Council Representative from Ward 14. (Please limit answer to 200 words or less.)
I am a two term Cleveland City Councilman. I’ve served the Old Brooklyn and Brooklyn Centre neighborhoods and the last 4-years have represented Ward 14; the Stockyards, Clark Fulton, Brooklyn Centre and Tremont neighborhoods.
I have more than 25 years experience working in finance, business development, and community, social and economic development. I served as the Executive Director of the Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation, and nine years as an Associate Director, Business Trainer and Volunteer for the U.S. Peace Corps. I also worked for six years in the Trust Division of National City Bank, worked as a union factory worker at Cotton Club Bottling Company and have worked in retail. I have a Bachelors Degree in Finance, and I’m fluent in Spanish.
I led the effort to create and ensure the success of a new model for community development. Through our new local community development office we’ve built a very strong base of services and a community based leadership network. We’ve made great strides in dealing with the housing and foreclosure crisis, in organizing and increasing the number of active block clubs, managing our vacant property inventory and, re-energizing our commercial development through delivering strong technical assistance.
As a life-long resident of the City of Cleveland, I have been groomed for this position. I am a former Democratic Ward Leader, Executive Committee member and a Precinct Committee person. I am a husband and father of five children. I have resided in only two houses my whole life and am rearing my children in the same neighborhood I grew up in. I am a very grassroots, resident driven individual who believes that the more engaged the residents are, the stronger the neighborhood. I am running on resident involvement, safety, job growth / economic development and infrastructure repairs. As the Weed and Seed Project Coordinator, I have worked with all levels of City Hall to accomplish resident driven initiatives. Resident engagement and transparency are the keys to the revitalization of Ward 14. This diverse community deserves someone who will be a strong voice at City Hall for all residents. I am a firm believer that your Council representative should involve the constituents and be transparent with what is going on within the ward. I am running not against any one person, but FOR the residents of Ward 14.
Describe an important issue facing residents or stakeholders in Ward 14 and how you would address that issue as City Council Representative. (Please limit your response to 500 words or less.)
The condition of the housing in Ward 14 has seriously declined due to the combination of the foreclosure and financial crises. These forces combined to leave more than 600 homes vacant and abandoned as of 2010, approximately 6% of all housing structures.
Over the last three and a half years we’ve demolished over 260 structures and have developed a public/private partnership responsible for rehabilitating over 60 homes. This was accomplished through the hard work of the new local development office – the Stockyard, Clark Fulton and Brooklyn Centre Community Development Office, as well as the resident driven Community Advisory Council and Housing Committee.
If re-elected to Council, I would continue to support the work of the local development office. They’ve not only been able to manage the vacant housing inventory and win more resources for demos and rehabs, but also re-activated the engagement of our residents. We started in 2010 with fewer than 10 local block clubs and today have more than 30 such community-based groups. They serve as the eyes and ears of the Ward and help drive our priorities in making decisions about what structures are demolished and which ones we pursue for rehab.
In addition to demos and rehabs, we know we need to place greater emphasis on holding absentee landlords responsible for the conditions of their properties and the behavior of their tenants. We also need to continue to assist our senior homeowners in being able to afford capital repairs to their homes.
I’ll continue to improve and strengthen our Code Enforcement Program, assisting the Community Development Office and Housing Committee in their efforts to increase code enforcement on absentee property owners. I will also increase home ownership opportunities for long-term renters through home rehabilitation programs. Of the 60 properties rehabbed during the past three years, ten have been rehabbed by residents living within one block of the property.
MetroHealth’s planned $1 billion capital plan is an opportunity to bring a tremendous amount of investment to our community. My experience with development will be invaluable in leveraging MetroHealth’s investment to bring new businesses, jobs, and residents to our community. We are working with MetroHealth to improve housing in the neighborhood and build new housing. A recent survey of MetroHealth employees showed high interest to live nearby.
My approach to dealing with the housing crisis has been to leverage the on-the-street knowledge of local residents working through their own block clubs. I have and will continue to support the professional services of development staff that have used legal interns from Cleveland State University and the financial leverage of private investors to take properties out of foreclosure and to place them back into productive use. I’ll also continue to support our Housing Committee that has worked with and held the City’s Department of Building & Housing and County Landbank accountable in ensuring that our community received our share of demolition funding, over $2 million used for demolitions since 2010.
One of the most important issues facing residents or stakeholders within Wad 14 is blighted property. Abandoned, open, vacant and vandalized properties not only effect the property values of the surrounding houses but, it also causes a quality of life issue for those living next to those properties. The Community Development Office within Ward 14, with the hard work of their resident – driven Housing Committee, has done an exceptional job in tackling the housing blight of the ward. The current Housing Committee has done the grunt of the work to help improve the housing stock within Ward 14 however, there is so much more that can be accomplished with the assistance of the City Administration. I will work with the City Administration, Housing and Planning Departments as well as Cleveland Housing Court to utilize all available options to not only deal with the blight of the neighborhoods but, to also spur economic development within the ward. Together, we will work within the guidelines of the existing Clark Metro Business Revitalization District to assist all legal businesses in maintaining stability, but, to also jump start new businesses, job growth and Economic Development.
I have a vision for both West 25th and Clark Ave., something that has lacked over the past 12 years. Metro Health is ready to put a significant amount of money into their campus and it is time that West 25th follow suit. Restaurants, small businesses and a nightlife are just some of the things that can be a part of making West 25th, between I90 and I71, a place where people will visit and stay. 10,000 people a day pass through Metro Hospital and it is a gold mine and should be the central hub for the Economic Development of our neighborhood. People come through the neighborhood and then go. We need a vision and a strong Economic Development plan to get these people to come and then stay. A vision that is inclusive to everyone who comes through that corridor. I will work not only with the City Administration but, will work tirelessly for private investment to be a part of the revitalization of both West 25th and Clark Ave.
Describe the three most important challenges facing the City of Cleveland. (Please limit answer to 100 words or less.)
1) Education; providing a quality and affordable education to ensure our city has a world-class work force. Schools should serve as the centers of our neighborhoods and be supported by all residents and business owners.
2) Jobs and economic development; supporting local small and medium size companies to retain, grow and attract businesses and the number of people they employ.
3) Physical and social development; Strengthen social relationships though block clubs and other community initiatives. Promote strong community values of respect for property and privacy and re-develop our physical assets of our community so there is greater pride and stewardship.
The three most important challenges facing the City of Cleveland are the lack of resident population growth, the Cleveland Municipal School District, and Safety. The latter two challenges have a direct impact on the first challenge. If the City of Cleveland does not quickly fix the school system and its reputation and then address the safety issues within the city, the population of the City of Cleveland will continue to decline.
Pick one of those three most important challenges that face the City of Cleveland and describe the legislation you would introduce to Cleveland City Council to help address that challenge. Explain why the legislation you propose would be the best option for addressing this issue. (Please limit your answer to 500 words or less.)
One of the most challenging issues the City faces is helping to strengthen the quality of life for residents. Before introducing any new legislation to deal with this issue I will work hard to push for stronger enforcement of our existing laws and lobby the administration for funding what I view are our priorities – Building and Housing and Health code enforcement and a stronger police presence.
I commit to investing more resources to target absentee landlords that are managing properties that have code violation or that rent to tenants that are causing chronic nuisance problems for their neighbors. I will also continue to work with Second District Police and other appropriate City departments, block clubs and the local development office to promote education and enforcement of quality of life ordinances such as our noise, litter, dumping, curfew and other important ordinances.
I know from my experience as a Councilmember that it takes a collaborative effort to tackle these difficult issues that are primarily based on people’s behaviors. I sponsored a strengthening of our noise ordinance that increased fines during the most problematic time of the year, Memorial Day through Labor Day. I also co-sponsored the initial and subsequent amendment to our nuisance property legislation that fines landlord for Police calls-for-service. If we verify three nuisance property issues from a home within a three-month period the landlord is fined and required to submit a plan to eliminate the nuisance.
I’ll continue to work with resident block clubs to explore new ways in which we can be successful in increasing the quality of life in our neighborhoods. In addition to our laws, that also includes continuing to promote yard expansions, community gardens and small pocket-parks that our residents can enjoy and more funding for safety initiatives.
Although we’ve made great advances in winning resources for demolitions and spurring private sector interest in rehabbing homes, there needs to be even stronger code enforcement and enforcement of our rental-registration and quality of life ordinances. Stronger enforcement of our existing laws and continuing to empower residents to demand the services that are owed to them are the two best strategies to improve our quality of life in the neighborhoods.
The legislation that I would introduce to Cleveland City Council to address the declining population growth would be an incentive package to home owners within the City of Cleveland. This legislation would allow residents who are home owner and owner occupied to receive an incentive package from the City of Cleveland. Although it would need to be tweaked, the incentive package could include a discount on a service provided by the city to the whole county. An example would be the water bill. This legislation would include a 5% discount on water and sewer fees to all homeowners who occupy a house within the City of Cleveland. Cleveland City Council and the City of Cleveland have to start ‘thinking outside the box’ in order to offer a financial incentive to entice people to want to move back into the city. The City of Cleveland has much to offer in the way of entertainment districts, natural resources, arts and culture, sports entertainment, etc. however, those are incentives that bring people into the city who may not necessarily stay in the city. I would want to introduce legislation that piggy backs on those incentives with a financial break for individuals and families to want to reside within the city limits. This legislation would only be feasible for the City of Cleveland if it is a service that is provided to other jurisdictions other than Cleveland. With today’s economy and the housing stock in Cleveland being more affordable than in surrounding suburbs, this legislation would be the best option for addressing the lack of population growth because it would provide a financial incentive for individuals to move into the city.
This legislation would also deal with businesses that would want to start within the City of Cleveland. I would introduce legislation that would allow new businesses to have a one-stop shop at City hall to alleviate any and all ‘red tape’ that goes along with starting a business. This legislation would enable any established or new business owner to be able to apply for and receive a grant from the City of Cleveland who employs City of Cleveland residents. The legislation would provide new or current businesses grants for funding customized training of existing employees who live within the city. Under this worker-training grant, the employer pays 50% of the training costs and the City pays 50%. This type of legislation would be another incentive for companies to move into the city and employ city residents thus, leading hopefully to more resident population growth. The more incentives there are to live within the City of Cleveland, the easier it is to sell the City of Cleveland as a whole.