Cleveland Nonprofit Draws Artists with a Focus on Stability

While the idea of artist housing can evoke images of live-work apartments for emerging artists with no dependents, the reality of artist housing in Cleveland’s Collinwood neighborhood defies that stereotype. The rail yards in Collinwood were once a major employer and a hub for shipping between Chicago and New York. Proximity to the train attracted manufacturers, and proximity to jobs attracted workers to live in the neighborhood. At the northern end of the neighborhood sat Euclid Beach Park, an iconic lakeside amusement park that closed in 1969. As the city’s economy began to struggle and the global economy changed, the neighborhood’s built environment—housing, the commercial corridor, and manufacturing facilities—needed to be repositioned.

Northeast Shores Development Corporation, a nonprofit community development corporation in the area, mapped the neighborhood’s assets and realized that, in addition to recreational opportunities on Lake Erie, Collinwood was home to many artists. But the artists who lived in Collinwood were often working parents in their 50s seeking stability rather than a live-work loft. Many had relocated to the area after no longer being able to afford to live in one of Cleveland’s suburbs. “Because a large number of them had already been displaced from—priced out of—another Cleveland neighborhood, it was critical that if we attracted additional artists that we make sure they could own their own space,” says Brian Friedman, executive director of Northeast Shores.

An Emphasis on Stability and Assets

Northeast Shores does not limit access to their housing to artists. As the affordable cost of living in Collinwood attracted artists organically, the presence of a growing arts community—including an anchor music venue—and an emphasis on low-cost homeownership continues to attract artists.

Like many Cleveland neighborhoods, foreclosed single-family homes dot the area. In Collinwood, many foreclosed properties have had their metals stripped but are otherwise in decent condition. Northeast Shores sells these properties for $8,500 with a requirement that the buyer rehab the property within six months. For a light-touch rehab, the added expenses are typically $30,000 to $40,000. For vacant properties in worse condition, it is common to spend more acquiring and rehabbing a property than its market value. In these cases, Northeast Shores takes on the rehab and sells the property at a loss—subsidizing the difference with public and private funds.

“We are not using artists in this neighborhood as a bridge to gentrification or to higher-income individuals. Artists that come here can own their space—whether it is commercial, residential, or mixed-use,” says Friedman. “Their landlord is never going to give them a massive rent increase that they can’t handle.”

To address the need for asset building among renters in the community, Northeast Shores recently adopted the Cornerstone Corporation for Shared Equity’s rental equity model. An evaluation of the approach, which was first implemented in Cincinnati, found benefits to both participants and the broader community. In exchange for on-time rental payments, participation in resident association meetings, and handling some aspects of property upkeep, renters can receive up to $4,200 at the end of five years. Considering home prices in the area and the gradual paying of a mortgage, renters in the program amass more equity over five years than a new owner in the area would.

Taking Pride in the Community

Northeast Shores has a vision for Collinwood and regularly assesses neighborhood attitudes to see if the organization is achieving its vision. About 87 percent of residents agree that the neighborhood is affordable, so the organization is not prioritizing programs that expand affordability. However, just 42 percent agree that the neighborhood is a good place to raise kids—up from 25 percent six years ago. To move the dial, Northeast Shores opened a charter school and started efforts at preschool and high school engagement. “We are seeing a shift in people’s perceptions but still have room to go,” says Friedman.

Community change is often difficult, but Collinwood makes it look easy. Community pride is up around 20 percentage points over the past six years. Asset mapping has been a key to the community’s success, as has regular tracking of progress against a vision.

Is the Collinwood community changing for the better? Seventy-one percent say yes.