Buy Back the Block: uplifting Black neighborhoods

“Why don’t they care about their neighborhood?” A question quietly whispered while driving down a street with run down houses and boarded up stores. While that question looks at the current issues facing many neighborhoods in our state and nation, it doesn’t get to the root of the issue of how we got here.

Who invests in Cleveland?

I’m a native Clevelander. I grew up on the Eastside and lived for a few years on the Westside. Although I lived in rental housing most of my life, I knew many people who owned their homes. They were nurses, teachers, postal workers, or laborers working in the steel mill or on the docks. Their houses were works of beauty where the yard was done every Saturday and flowers were planted every season. The dream to own a home was realized, with the intent to pass it down to others, creating generational wealth and stability.

Now some of those homes are no longer in the family, falling victim to the 90s predatory loans, the disinterest of loved ones who inherited them, or the inability to care for and maintain a house in a neighborhood that has seen better days. This has opened the door for outside investors to swoop in and purchase housing for cheap, pushing out potential home buyers and rising rents on those who already struggle to make ends meet.

Seventy percent of Americans can’t afford to buy a home in their state.

The average cost of owning a home puts home ownership out of reach for Black buyers

Seventy percent of Americans can’t afford to buy a home in their state, according to a report from the housing media site House Method. Additionally, the report also found that in Ohio, for a household to afford the average cost of a home, they would need to have a monthly income of $5,471 or, if we take that amount and multiply it by 12 months, $65,652. That’s $30,000 more than the median income for Cleveland.

Although many Americans are currently struggling to purchase a home, when we break down the numbers by race, we see a huge discrepancy in homeownership between Black Americans and white Americans. While homeownership has increased for Black families over the years, the gap between Black and white homeownership has gotten worse. In 2022, while 75% of white families owned their homes, only 45% of Black households owned theirs, according to U.S. Census data provided by a U.S. Department of Treasury report on racial disparities. In a Pew Charitable Trust report also looking at disparities in homeownership, the author found that the gap between Black and white homeownership was wider in 2022 than it was in 1960 when house discrimination was legal.

The gap between Black and white homeownership was wider in 2022 than it was in 1960 when house discrimination was legal.

Yes, you read that right: denying someone a mortgage or rental opportunities was legal not too long ago. Redlining, the practice of denying mortgage buyers whose homes were too close to Black neighborhoods, and other discriminatory practices contributed to the segregation that we see currently in many areas of our cities, state, and country.

Buy the block back can help

For many Hip Hop and Rap enthusiasts, the phrase “buy the block back,” isn’t new. The phrase is referencing the concept of those who have made it in life to return to their old neighborhoods and help revitalize it is something that is a part of that culture, but how doesn’t it translate into action?

Support locals owning commercial property

Only 3 percent of commercial property owners are Black, and 8 percent are white. There are many barriers to owning commercial property—appraised value of the property and land, cost of repair and upkeep, and zoning laws. The culmination of all these issues results in a loss of economic activity, potential business, and possible wealth creation and stability for many neighborhoods. A 2022 report by The Brookings Institution found that “in majority-Black ZIP codes, devaluation results in aggregate wealth losses of $235 billion for residential real estate and $171 billion for retail real estate.”

Reduce land grabs in predominately BIPOC areas

The devaluation of land and house values in Black and brown neighborhoods make it prime pickings for outside developers and large conglomerates to swoop in, snatch it up, demolish and replace people and businesses that have been there for generations. We’ve seen it recently with some of the developments in Ohio, like Cleveland’s Opportunity Corridor, which connects I-490 to E. 55th. Creating programs that provide and support local business owners looking to create opportunities in neighborhoods, like Central or Lee-Harvard, through ownership and partnership can make a significant impact on current and future residents.

Another Brookings Institution report provides five steps that leaders can take to help boost commercial ownership.

    1. Create dedicated city funds for commercial real estate acquisition.
    2. Invest in community-based organizations to provide technical assistance for commercial real estate ownership.
    3. Start a commercial community land trust pilot program.
    4. Apply land banking to the commercial property context.
    5. Utilize economic development tax credits to help small businesses buy property.

This transformation won’t happen overnight

Buying back the block isn’t something that can be done overnight. Revitalizing neighborhoods that have been systematically ravaged by policies, disinvestment and lack of support won’t happen overnight. Being realistic and transparent about the issues that confront any plan being implemented to bring a neighborhood back is the first step to a hopefully successful endeavor.