By: Bishop Chui, NEOCH
Dear County Executive,
I am writing to you at a time when our county is at a crossroads; in one direction is a worsening housing crisis, brought on by historic investment by private equity in residential real estate and huge increases in the cost of housing.
In the other direction, a shift in the consciousness of our community where we come to the realization and the acknowledgment that housing is not only a basic human need it is a fundamental human right.
In the greatest country in the world, no one should be forced to sleep on the street, and no one should be forced into overcrowded, unsafe, undignified shelters unfit for human habitation.
No one should be forced into overcrowded, unsafe, undignified shelters unfit for human habitation.
Due to the vicissitudes caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the increasing cost of housing, and the low availability of housing that the average resident can afford, people are acutely aware that we all can lose our livelihoods, our homes, and our health in rapid succession- due to no fault of our own.
As a society, we have come to the realization that homelessness is a systems failure and not a failure of personal responsibility.
If the high cost of housing is at the root of homelessness, then the secondary cause is the lack of political will to effectuate the transformation of our community from one rife with housing insecurity and houselessness to one of housing security in abundance.
Covid-19 has been the catalyst that has forced us to treat homelessness as the critical disaster it is. In the face of the unmitigated spread of a deadly disease throughout the unhoused community, we saw unprecedented funding from our public and private partners. Our cities and our courts upheld eviction and utility cut-off moratoriums that allowed vulnerable residents to stay in their homes. Not only did we see overcrowded congregate shelters give residents separate individual accommodations, we saw some localities purchase hotels so that shelter residents would never have to return to conditions that were known to be unsafe even prior to the pandemic. Now is not the time to go back to business as usual.
I urge you to take another look at our county housing program.
I urge you to take another look at our county housing program, a program whose primary focus until now has been raising real estate comparables instead of reducing housing insecurity. In 2019, the county cobbled together funding in the area of $30 million (including fees from delinquent property taxes and casino revenues) to fund the program without including the needs of vulnerable renters or the growing number of residents in the county’s homeless shelters.
In 2009, the Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corporation, the County landbank, was established in the wake of massive foreclosures with the aim of acquiring blighted properties and returning these properties to productive use, another example of our county leaders coming together to solve a crisis.
What could be a more productive use of our county resources than a transformational countywide housing program that aims to house everyone?
Today we are facing another crisis that has compounded through segregation, redlining, recessions, foreclosures, and a global pandemic. We have seen what our leaders can do when they have the political will, homelessness can virtually end overnight. What could be a more productive use of our county resources than a transformational countywide housing program that aims to house everyone? While we all appreciate the value of fostering a healthy real estate market and eliminating blight, no housing plan is complete without healthy investments in housing for people of low to modest incomes.