Woodhill Homes Wins $35 Million HUD Grant for Massive Overhaul
Woodhill Homes in Cleveland was selected Wednesday for a $35 million rebuilding grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The highly competitive grant will help pay for a near-total overhaul of the public housing neighborhood on Cleveland's East Side, about a mile south of University Circle. Woodhill opened in 1940 and has not received a comprehensive renovation since, meaning that some of its 916 residents have baths with no showers and outdated insulation and heating.
The award comes after a planning process that began in 2018. This is the second application submitted. The first, developed in partnership with the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) and the City of Cleveland, was denied in 2020.
"This is just a huge community victory," said Cleveland City Councilman Blaine Griffin, who represents the area. "I'm just so happy to watch, for the first time in a long time, people actually get what they deserve. There's no more deserving neighborhood than this."
Griffin said the funding will be enough to replace all 487 of the current units at Woodhill Homes, and that all current residents will be given the option to stay. CMHA also plans to build about 150 units of market-rate housing on top of the subsidized units.
The Choice Neighborhoods implementation grant is the first of its kind to be awarded in Cleveland. The Choice Neighborhoods program is intended to deconcentrate poverty by creating mixed-income neighborhoods while preserving existing public housing. High concentrations of poverty in a single neighborhood have been widely shown to limit residents' access to everything from jobs to healthy food in those neighborhoods.
"I'm happy for it [because] it means the change is not just hearsay," said resident Torrie Goodman. "New atmosphere, new housing, new scenery."
The project will be built in a total of six phases. Residents will work with case managers to develop individual relocation plans, according to CMHA. The goal is that families will only need to move once, either to new buildings being built off-site prior to demolition beginning, or to new buildings on-site.
"I've never seen a collaborative leadership model like we exhibited for this project."Blaine Griffin, Cleveland City Council
No privately owned housing will be replaced as part of the plan, CMHA said. New housing will be on city-owned land, including the former Bumper Crop Farm at East 110th St. and Woodland Avenue, and on the current Woodhill Homes site.
The first two phases of the plan had already been partly funded through low-income tax credit financing. They are expected to break ground this summer.
Other financing for the project includes $15 million that the City of Cleveland committed in 2019.
That non-HUD financing was critical in securing the grant this year compared with last, Griffin said, but he said the biggest factor in Woodhill's success this time was the other organizations that will offer social services alongside the rebuild.
"Our partnerships were overwhelming," Griffin said. "In public service, the nonprofit sector and political sector, I've never seen a collaborative leadership model like we exhibited for this project."
For example, Case Western Reserve University will provide counselors to provide mental health support, and the Cleveland Metropolitan School District is exploring an on-site pre-school.
Jeff Patterson, CEO of CMHA, also emphasized the power of partnerships in the application's success.
"There’s so many partners, so many people that have been a part of this process, a part of what’s going on," Patterson said. "The residents are the most important, they’ve been a voice, they’ve asked for change."
Reading gardens, spaces for outdoor dining and community gardens are also part of the plan. The existing community center will remain in place, offering job training and after-school programs, and another existing building will be repurposed to be a co-working space for aspiring entrepreneurs.
The other cities to receive Choice Neighborhood grants in 2021 are Camden, N.J.; Detroit; Fort Meyers, Fla.; and Lewiston, Maine.
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