PROJECTStrong Cities, Strong Communities

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  • Cleveland, Ohio

    Strong Cities, Strong Communities City Profile 

    Janae Ladet and Joseph Schilling
    May 2018

    Local Dynamics and Program Overview

    Cleveland, Ohio’s revitalization efforts illustrate the complexities of urban regenerations. Although the city was dealing with the challenges of poverty, crime, crumbling infrastructure, and massive property abandonment, it had a willingness to test new cross-sector strategies. Once an economic and industrial hub for the Midwest, Cleveland lost nearly half its population from its peak because of racial inequality, job loss, deindustrialization, poor-quality schools, and vacant properties that drove residents to nearby suburbs and beyond. Cuyahoga County and many of the surrounding suburbs also have populations with little gain and decline. In 2010, Cleveland’s population was a little under 400,000,1 and its African American population share was more than 50 percent. White people made up 37 percent, and Latinos made up 10 percent per the 2010 Census. At the time of Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) implementation in 2010, Cleveland had a poverty rate of 36 percent,2 and the medium household income was approximately $26,583. The subprime and foreclosure crisis hit Cleveland hard, with a record number of mortgage and tax foreclosures that led to property abandonment, flipping, and large-scale demolition.

    Recent cross-sector initiatives and investments seem to signal that Cleveland is turning the corner. Assistance from the Living Cities Integration Initiative, University Circle Inc., Case Western Reserve University, and the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic, has spawned new redevelopment projects around the University Circle campus, which is now the terminus for the city’s new Bus Rapid Transit line that connects with downtown. Cleveland is now looking to replicate this success in one of the city’s most distressed areas as part of the Opportunity Corridor initiative that would leverage transportation investments with job and workforce development. Downtown and adjacent neighborhoods are undergoing a dramatic transformation as new high-tech businesses attract a younger and more educated workforce.

    Cleveland’s resurgence relies on many of its institutional assets, such as Cleveland State University, Kent State’s Cleveland Land Collaborative, Case Western Reserve University Hospital, The George Gund Foundation, and the Cleveland Foundation. Cleveland’s extensive network of community development organizations and intermediaries are the city’s unheralded anchors on its road to recovery by providing neighborhood revitalization capacities and resident engagement. The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland also plays an important convening and research role.

    As in other cohort cities, Community Solution Team (CST) leads met with Mayor Frank Jackson and his team to identify local priorities and goals where federal resources could bolster activities. Under the CST lead (Grace Kilbane from the US Department of Labor), jobs and economic and workforce development rose to the top of the SC2 list. Other priorities included neighborhood revitalization, transportation, municipal operations, and the reclamation of vacant properties. Cleveland’s CST included four full-time members from federal agencies including the Department of Labor, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

    Rounding out SC2’s capacity building, Cleveland had three SC2 fellows: one working on communications upgrades for the city’s economic development department’s website, another developing a database to facilitate more effective and strategic vacant property demolitions, and a third leading the transformation of the city’s land bank process for vacant property acquisition and disposition. The fellows also helped modify the city’s database and the website for the city’s land bank. The fellows’ work enhanced the city’s ability to track applications for redevelopment and reuse of land-banked properties through the disposition process.

    SC2 has been helpful in advancing our neighborhood development, land banking, workforce training, and small business innovation initiatives. It has been a fresh approach by the federal government to work in partnership with local government. While we set policies at the local level, SC2 has been instrumental in helping us to implement the policies by streamlining the red tape.

    —Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson3

    Projects and Activities

    The Cleveland CST and SC2 fellows engaged in various capacity-building and technical assistance activities to strengthen federal and local government relationships. In collaboration with the mayor’s identified priorities, the Cleveland SC2 engagements were designed to facilitate economic growth within constrained local governments, a key goal of SC2. These federal-local collaborations involved trainings, workshops, consultations, and concrete policy and development projects supported with guidance and assistance from the CSTs, federal agencies, and resources. Each activity helped build trust and establish stronger partnerships with and between the city and the federal government and provided the city additional short-term capacities. Below, we highlight a few projects and products from the SC2 initiative in Cleveland.

    • Regulatory barriers for senior affordable housing. SC2 coordinated with the city and HUD to overcome regulatory barriers for a 40-unit affordable senior housing development. The development will serve a neighborhood that has few high-quality multifamily senior living options.
    • HUD’s regulation of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. SC2 facilitated HUD’s clarification of Neighborhood Stabilization Program rules regarding reuse of vacant land, which enabled the city to implement several innovative programs that brought vacant city properties back to life.
    • Waiver for duplicative trainings. In partnership with the US Department of Education, SC2 teams worked with the Cleveland Municipal School District and leadership at the Ohio Department of Education to obtain approval for a supplemental waiver request to avoid duplicative school leadership trainings as part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
    • Technical assistance for the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority to secure an Environmental Protection Agency grant. Thanks to SC2’s technical assistance, the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority obtained a $70,000 Environmental Protection Agecny grant that enabled it to work with the Cleveland Botanical Garden to find sustainable solutions to the long-term management of sediments dredged from the Navigable Channel of the Cuyahoga River. The Navigable Channel is one of the region’s main arteries of commerce.
    • Improvements to the Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve. Through $600,000 in Environmental Protection Agency Brownfields Revolving Loan funds, the port authority transferred more than 30,000 cubic yards of sediment from a holding facility to the nature preserve site for mitigation and grading improvements.
    • Technical assistance and support for a TIGER grant. The SC2 Department of Transportation team member worked with the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority in understanding each round of the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grant process, resulting in $12.5 million for the relocation and enhancement of the city’s Mayfield Road rapid transit station.
    • Strategic Workforce Alignment Group. SC2 teams worked with the city to convene a Strategic Workforce Alignment Group (SWAG) that developed goals to improve workforce training and education. This effort led to a new approach and strategy for the existing Workforce Investment Board. In 2011, a full-time Department of Labor team member relocated to Cleveland to be the Workforce Investment Board director. The SWAG subcommittee and working group included 20 representatives from public and nonprofit organizations. In spring 2013, SWAG published a report titled “Building a Competitive Workforce” that outlined strategies to address workforce challenges (Abt Associates 2014).
    • Youth and Workforce Working Group. Through the work of SC2, the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Workforce Investment Board created a working group focused on new methods to engage the community in aligning workforce resources to better connect employers to unemployed people, veterans, and youth entering the workforce. The Departments of Labor and Education and Economic Development Administration are engaged, as is Living Cities, where workforce was the focus for 2014.
    • Partnership between NASA, the city, the county, and the Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network, to create the Adopt-a-City program. This partnership led to the selection of nine small and medium-sized companies to receive 400 hours of subject-matter expertise from NASA and access to $450,000 in low-interest loans to expand their businesses and hire more employees. A second round of the Adopt-a-City program has launched, in which six small and medium-sized companies will receive 240 hours of subject-matter expertise from NASA and will have access to $270,000 in low-interest loans to cover costs connected to finding solutions to their challenges.
    • The Road to Reuse Residential Demolition Bid Specification Development Tool. SC2 teams worked with the Cuyahoga County Land Bank to develop a guidebook to help Cleveland and other communities within the Environmental Protection Agency region 5 identify environmental issues that might arise in connection with a residential demolition project, including those that relate to the demolition contracting process. A link to the tool can be found in the reports section below.

    Box 1

    Reports and Media


    1. American Community Survey and 2010 Census data.

    2. 2012–16 American Community Survey five-year estimates.

    3. HUD (US Department of Housing and Urban Development), “White House Council on Strong Cities, Strong Communities Accomplishments in Cleveland, OH” (Washington, DC: HUD, 2014).


    Abt Associates. 2014. “Evaluation of the Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) Teams Pilot, Federal Role in Revitalizing Distressed Cities: Interagency Collaboration and Local Partnerships.” Bethesda, MD: Abt Associates.

    Research Areas Neighborhoods, cities, and metros
    Policy Centers Research to Action Lab
    States Ohio
    Cities Cleveland-Elyria, OH