Cleveland Proposes Spending Plan for $102M in ARPA Funds

Housing, economic recovery, early childhood education, and domestic violence relief were among the top initiatives proposed by the Bibb Administration to Cleveland City Council in a Caucus meeting on August 29.

The city now faces some big decisions about how best to deploy these funds.

Council President Blaine Griffin emphasized at the beginning of the meeting that Council and the Administration had worked jointly to generate the list of proposals, which account for about $102 Million, and about 33 percent of the city’s remaining ARPA funds. Griffin also highlighted that the city has been actively seeking input through a variety of sources, including a broad survey last year, ward meetings, and fielding numerous proposals from stakeholders.

The city now faces some big decisions about how best to deploy these funds, and these proposals represent a major decision point for the administration and City Council. While no legislation was introduced at the caucus meeting, Griffin indicated that the 13 proposed initiatives will be bundled by category into several pieces of legislation, to be introduced at the September 12 City Council Meeting, after which they will be considered in Finance Committee and voted on as soon as September 19.

About three-quarters of the proposed expenditures, representing over $76 Million, fall into at least one of the ten policy asks that our Greater Cleveland American Rescue Plan Coalition is advocating for, and we are grateful to the city for beginning to address these pressing needs. The administration acknowledged on several fronts that this docket of initiatives is just the beginning, and with $207 Million left to allocate, they will more fully address their priorities in future dockets.

Housing Initiatives

Nearly half of the proposed expenditures are intended to address structural housing problems in the city. The initiatives include three funds that the city will be seeding with ARPA dollars but looking to leverage with additional private and philanthropic dollars. The funds are:

(1) Housing Gap Financing Fund ($35 Million) designed to incentivize development of 1,500 new affordable housing units and 1,650 new market rate housing units

(2) Home Repair Fund ($10 Million) that would create a network of grants, deferred loans, and low-interest loans to reach an estimated 1,600+ households with needed capital for home repairs

(3) Developer Acquisition/Rehab Loan Pool ($5 Million) that will create a revolving loan pool for small, mostly minority contractors and Community Development Corporations (CDCs) to rehab 100+ properties per year.

This last investment is important because it will provide capital that developers and CDCs can use to get site control over properties, which will directly combat predatory investing and its negative effects on homeowners and neighborhoods. The administration noted that they will issue RFPs for many of these allocations in order to identify the right partners who can help deploy funds quickly and manage the programs effectively.

There is a proposed $1 million investment in the Right to Counsel initiative, which has successfully prevented evictions since its launch.

Director of Building and Housing, Sally Accorti Martin, indicated that these three funds won’t be the last of the investments they will make in housing, and that because of the deep and complex housing needs in the city, finding additional funding streams is essential to holistically solving these issues. In addition to the three funds, there is a proposed $1 million investment in the Right to Counsel initiative, implemented by Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, which has successfully prevented evictions since its launch.

Economic Recovery Initiatives

The administration proposed two initiatives to address economic recovery.

(1) Minority business credit enhancement fund ($5 Million) to increase the contractor workforce pipeline, particularly with minority business enterprises

This was proposed as being in tandem with other housing and development proposals because a strong construction workforce is essential to carry out the development that will be spurred by ARPA and other infrastructure spending. This investment includes both capital support and technical assistance for these small businesses, and the administration will issue an RFP to identify partners who can make this program work.

(2) Civic loan fund called “Opportunity CLE Fund” ($7.5 Million) that will support real estate and business development projects, particularly in underserved neighborhoods in Cleveland.

Chief Integrated Development Officer Jeff Epstein, who presented the proposal, noted that this fund could also be used to support low-interest loans to nonprofits with capital projects.

Early Care and Education Initiatives

The administration proposed a $2.7 Million investment in an early childhood workforce recovery bonus program and a $1.9 Million investment in early childhood recovery scholarship program, both out of recognition that a struggling childcare workforce and lack of access to childcare is a pain point across Cleveland’s labor force, as many working families without childcare access are not able to return to work. The pandemic has exacerbated this issue and the proposed initiatives would help to stabilize and rebuild the childcare workforce through signing and retention bonuses, similar to a program that the city of Columbus implemented last year.

Arts & Neighborhood Initiatives

The first proposal in the city’s Arts and Neighborhood Amenities priority is what City Planning Director Joyce Huang called an “appetizer” to a future portfolio of investments in initiatives that will promote neighborhood vibrancy.

They propose $3 Million to start a Transformative Arts Projects Fund, geared toward large scale arts projects that have transformative impact, particularly in neighborhoods that have seen little in the way of public arts investments. The proposal emphasized the need for arts projects to be completed by artists who are racially and ethnically diverse and reflective of the various communities in which they will be working.

City Council put forward a proposal to support survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse.

Domestic Violence Relief

City Council put forward a proposal to support survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse, both of which have been on the rise during the pandemic. The total $4.7 Million investment would support Journey Center for Safety and Healing ($1.75 Million), Cleveland Rape Crisis Center ($2.4 Million), and Canopy Child Advocacy Center ($500,000).

Council President Griffin noted that all of these organizations currently work with Cleveland law enforcement to support survivors, and that these dollars are meant to be a one-time investment to mitigate a crisis as these organizations have lost other federal funding through the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA).

COVID Relief

Director of Public Health Dr. David Margolius proposed a relatively small boost ($300,000) to the existing “Dollars for Doses” program coordinated by the Funders’ Collaborative on COVID Recovery. The goal of the initiative, which provides cash incentives for vaccination through trusted community organizations, is to incrementally move the needle on vaccination rates in the city to reach the mayor’s goal of a 60 percent vaccination rate across the city (according to Director Margolius, 56 percent of Clevelanders are currently vaccinated).

What to Watch for in Future ARPA Investments

Once the city makes it to the finish line with these proposals, which will face additional scrutiny in City Council’s Finance Committee, they will have $207 Million left to allocate. Only one of Mayor Bibb’s ten funding priorities has not yet seen any allocations: the Civic Participation Fund, which evolved from a campaign pledge to give residents direct input into how to spend funds through a participatory budgeting process. In the Center for Economic Recovery’s July update, they did note an approximate allocation to that fund of $5 Million.

The August update outlines the overarching objectives of each of their priorities, which gives some indications of where they may invest. For example, under Housing For All, there is an objective to support vulnerable populations with housing programs, assistance and services. One initiative that many advocates have highlighted and is also in the city’s 10-Year Housing Plan is a need for a shallow rent subsidy to help prevent homelessness.

Community Solutions has joined partners to advocate for a Care Response Model in Cleveland.

Community Solutions has joined partners to advocate for a Care Response Model in Cleveland, for which ARPA funds are one possible funding stream. Such a model would add to the city’s portfolio of crisis response options which include Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) trained police and the existing Co-Responder model, which involves police and a medical specialist responding to a behavioral health emergency. While the co-responder model was addressed in this round of ARPA investments, advocates are interested in supplementing those existing programs with a Care Response approach that centers a medical intervention without law enforcement, where appropriate.

Many Council Members highlighted the need for neighborhood main street and quality of life investments to complement the city’s housing investments.

Many Council Members highlighted the need for neighborhood main street and quality of life investments to complement the city’s housing investments so that we can ensure Cleveland’s neighborhoods continue to have the kinds of amenities that attract and retain residents. Such investments could include small business assistance in the form of storefront renovation, interior improvements, or other commercial space improvements. They could also include capital improvements to city assets such as recreation centers, parks, or streetscapes.

As the city continues to shape its investments with ARPA funds, we will continue our tracking and advocacy related to ARPA through the Greater Cleveland American Rescue Plan Coalition.