I want to serve you, my neighbors and friends, as a member of our city council. I am passionate about improving our present and our future. We need a bold vision, a unifying goal to rally around. I’m proposing a simple challenge that should animate our focus as a community: grow our population by 10,000 people in the next decade returning to the level where we were when I was a child. Through incentives, strategic investments, and marketing we can get there. We can shape a government that serves its citizens with more carrots than sticks, relentlessly removing barriers that prevent our community from being the very best place to invest in a business, buy your first home, raise a family, or just live a healthy, prosperous life at any age. This growth will happen by both welcoming new residents and retaining existing residents and here are some policy ideas for both:
The Great Recession hit some of our neighborhoods very hard. Over the years, we have done a steady job of removing crumbling housing. That vacancy is scattered throughout our city, but largely concentrated in the North Coventry, Noble, and Taylor neighborhoods. Current city leadership has done a good job to date of packaging those parcels to potential developers. We need to keep the pressure on to insure housing stock that meets the diverse needs of our community while maintaining the architectural integrity of our neighborhoods. City council should facilitate dialogue between residents, realtors, community leaders, city government and developers to ensure high quality housing stock that draws new residents into our vibrant neighborhoods.
Large parcel redevelopment
We have several key parcels throughout the city where redevelopment is in the works (Top of the Hill and Meadowbrook-Lee) and we need to push those through to completion. We also have other underdeveloped properties that would benefit from equally bold plans like the surface parking lot at Coventry and the former Center Mayfield property. But of course, the most glaring need is Severance. We must compel the landowner with the right mix of carrots and sticks to create a dynamic residential and commercial district that revitalizes the area.
Additionally, as the Cleveland Heights-University Heights school district continues to determine which properties are best long term, we need a co-developed strategy to benefit the schools and our neighborhoods. I would like to see any vacated property become a mixed-use asset, right-sized to its neighborhood with parks, housing, and commercial development as appropriate.
The federal government resettles refugees from various regions of the world who have endured a years-long vetting process before being admitted to the United States. In partnership with non-profit resettlement agencies, they place families in host communities which have the right mix of resources to help these new Americans settle in and restart their lives. We have welcomed many from countries like Nepal over the years and we can do even more. Research has shown that refugee communities, once settled, invest immense human and financial capital in their new homes, opening businesses and contributing to the diverse fabric of the city. We can be even more welcoming by establishing our own funds to build off the federal program’s benefits. Investments in housing (rental and down payment assistance), job training, and language skills will yield new residents and new opportunities for those already here. “All Are Welcome” should be more than a slogan, it should be a lived reality.
Downed trees, backed up storm drains, bulk trash pickup, business licenses, and permits all require time spent connecting with our city staff. Council should work hard to establish systems of accountability and investment to ensure that when residents connect with City Hall they are not met with any bureaucratic barriers, long wait times, or unreturned calls/emails. Our permitting process should be inexpensive and easy to understand. We can maintain quality housing and building conditions without convoluted rules that add unnecessary expense and delays.
We have high taxes. We should work hard to ensure that we offer high-quality, easy-to-use services for the investments you make in our city.
Housing Repair Fund
Many of you face major housing repairs. Yet your incomes are above levels that qualify you for financial support for major home repairs, but below levels where you can pay outright. You did the right thing investing in our community and we want you to stay. So, we ought to create a program for households between 80% – 150% AMI that provide access to low interest loans to pay for large repairs like new roofs, electrical systems, efficiency upgrades, etc. Our housing stock is the core of our infrastructure and the people who live here are the core of our community. Let’s invest in both.
Complete and Green Streets
Per a 2013 National Association of Realtors survey, 60% of potential homebuyers are looking for homes in walkable neighborhoods with easy access to multiple amenities. This describes Cleveland Heights. We should double down on our walkability, by focusing on enhancing bicycle, pedestrian, and transit access in all neighborhoods. This is our value proposition and we should enhance and market it.
We should particularly focus on our connectivity to University Circle. It is one of the region’s largest employment hubs and you should be able to get there for work, recreation, or entertainment with multiple options which are safe, easy-to-use, and timely.
Additionally, we should make investments in the business districts of both Noble and Taylor Roads. Much like the work accomplished several years ago on Lee Road from Cain Park to the Lee Road Library, we should improve the aesthetics, walkability, and functionality of those business districts. Both areas are adjacent to thriving neighborhoods and the city’s investment will spur additional development.
Supporting public safety
We are very fortunate to have an incredibly professional team in our Fire, EMS, and Police Departments. Response times are short, community engagement is high, and our worst crimes get solved. Improvements are always needed and policing has become more difficult and complex in recent years because of the high profile crimes of a small number of those in uniform. We should be vigilant. We should also look hard at our investments in public safety to ensure that we are providing those who serve with the right toolkit to keep us safe. Not every interaction should end in arrest and not everyone arrested should end up incarcerated. We can do better, particularly for our young people.
I would like to see the city invest in strong programs to offer meaningful redirection opportunities for both juvenile offenders and suspended students. I want to see a high-quality program run through our recreation department that leverages our arts, business, and law enforcement communities to ignite our youth with creativity and a passion for life. We should make every effort to keep our young people out of the juvenile justice system and keep them close to home.
In 1960 we had 62,000 residents in our city. Today, there are ~43,000 living in the same infrastructure that is now aging. If our population continues to decline, our city will become more and more expensive to maintain. By focusing on growing our population we equip our community to face this challenge with more resources spread out over more households. Continued population decline creates a negative feedback loop forcing raised taxes that make the city less and less attractive as a place to live. Population growth makes our city more sustainable and less expensive to residents. I would like to see a gradual reduction in our income tax back down to 2% from the current 2.25% to help make our community more affordable.