The effects of housing instability can be – and often are – devastating to families in Cleveland. I view this issue as a core challenge to our community – a challenge that needs to be both understood and regarded as a key priority for city government.
Following the example of cities like St. Louis, Missouri, I will create the Cleveland Affordable Housing Commission (CAHC) – to take a broader and more comprehensive approach to enhancing our City’s work in this area.
After graduating from college and returning to Cleveland, I began work as a Jesuit Volunteer Corps member – assigned to do social work at the West Side Catholic Center. After that, I spent many years at Recovery Resources, a Cleveland mental health agency.
I quickly learned that my clients with mental health needs had challenges and problems similar to many people – but in other ways, their needs were much greater and more serious. In addition to the support and encouragement they needed to help them maintain regular therapeutic care and medication compliance, they also needed support to overcome other challenges – like finding or maintaining stable housing.
My work with Recovery Resources was my first exposure to the massive problem of housing instability in Cleveland, a challenge shared in many communities in the United States. The problem stems from poverty, the lack of affordable housing, and an inadequate federally subsidized housing system. This also spurred my interest to develop the Right to Counsel program, for tenants facing eviction in Cleveland Housing Court.
Nature of the Problem
Residential instability has been defined by The Urban Institute as “when the frequency of residential mobility in a household or individual is high or occurs in short intervals.” While moving from one residence to another can be positive, forced moves can trigger instability – which can lead to housing insecurity, which can lead to homelessness or other harmful outcomes for a vulnerable family.
As noted above, the effects of housing instability can be – and often are – devastating to families in Cleveland. This is a core challenge we must treat as a priority.
Causes of Housing Instability
In the article referenced above, The Urban Institute convened 40 practitioners, advocates, public officials, researchers, and funders to discuss insights and policy solutions to address residential instability. They identified several major causes of instability, including individual and household characteristics, housing conditions, neighborhood and housing market dynamics, and lack of assistance and safety net support.
Consequences of Housing Instability
Housing instability is possibly the most impactful of all challenges faced by low-income families. The Urban Institute report identifies several primary areas of concern, including education, health, financial security and employment, and social and neighborhood stability.
Solutions to Residential and Housing Instability
Addressing housing instability in Cleveland requires the will to understand the problem and take concerted action to address it – while assuring that goals are set, and outcomes are measured as part of the process.
A wide variety of solutions to the problem have been identified, as follows:
- Improve the collection of meaningful data on the problem;
- Augment housing services and tenant supports;
- Address issues in the legal system related to evictions and housing quality;
- Create a connection between housing and family support services – including educational systems, health, and other social services; and
- Advocate for improvement in federal funding and support for low-income housing
These are all important, and any meaningful plan will include these elements. But to truly make an impact, the City needs to focus its attention on increasing the availability and supply of affordable housing in all its neighborhoods.
The creation of housing trust funds has been successful in some communities, as well as using bond issuances to support housing development. Support for “accessory dwelling units” (ADUs) has been suggested and implemented in some locations. As Lead Safe Cleveland has demonstrated, any successful effort will include landlords in the process — many of whom own a small number of properties and can benefit from training and support. A focus on housing supply is key, and Cleveland needs a method and vehicle for making this happen.
Creation of the Cleveland Affordable Housing Commission
While Cleveland has supported residential development and the building and retention of affordable housing in the city, there is a need to take a broader and more comprehensive step to enhance the work in this area.
Following the example of cities like St. Louis, MO, I will create the Cleveland Affordable Housing Commission (CAHC). In 2001, St. Louis voters supported the creation of an Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and its Affordable Housing Commission (AHC) was implemented to oversee the fund. Every year, the AHC:
…awards grants to non-profit and faith-based organizations and loans to housing developers working with community and housing organizations to fuel community-driven housing solutions. It is through this framework that the Trust Fund capitalizes on its financial strength, social commitment, brain trust, organizational muscle, and volunteer energy of our partner agencies. (St. Louis Affordable Housing Commission Report to the Community, 2020)
In 2020, the St. Louis AHC awarded almost $6 million to fund 48 programs in support of a variety of affordable housing programs and projects, and over $25 million in low-interest loans to 6 housing developments. The return has been almost $19 for every trust fund dollar invested. Since its founding, the AHC has awarded $32.9 million into developing 3,821 homes – and these developments have invested a total of $650 million in the City of St. Louis to address the issue of housing instability.
Cleveland has the knowledge, expertise, and community stakeholders to implement an Affordable Housing Commission. As Council President, my involvement in and support for the Right to Counsel and Lead Safe Cleveland has only increased my interest in taking a bolder step to support housing stability. As Mayor, I promise to bring the political will and actions necessary to do so to the equation.