By Daniel J. McGraw
When controversy erupted in August over the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, race was at the very center of it all. And rightly so. Brown was an unarmed African-American, the officer who shot and killed him was white, and the racial tensions in an inner ring suburb like Ferguson were seen as critical to the discussion.
Ferguson was 99 percent white in 1970, and was 29 percent white in the 2010 census. Both those who believed Browns’ death justifiable and those who claimed police criminal behavior used those numbers to bolster their cases. Whites have argued that the higher black population was the cause of unruly behavior in Ferguson and that incidences like the Brown shooting were a result of that trend.
Many African-Americans looked at it quite differently, saying that the city’s police force had very few black members, and did not reflect the demographic changes in the city. In other words, the city was acting like things were as they were in the 1970s, when black citizens didn’t exist as part of the recognized community.
Of course, all these are simple explanations of a complicated case. But one of myriad factors at play in Ferguson is the role of the inner ring suburb in the American cultural narrative these days. What many whites won’t publicly say, but is in the forefront of many minds (especially older ones), is that suburbs like Ferguson came to prominence in the late 1940s and early 1950s as a result of white flight. The thought process follows that we (whites) came to places like Ferguson to get away from them (blacks), and now they’ve followed us. So we (whites) had to move further out.But what’s not being discussed is how this racial tension is happening in some inner ring suburbs and not others. And one of the factors that may be contributing in a strange way is the housing stock in some of those suburbs. And not just the age. The problem is that in some of these suburbs all the housing was built at once, and it is all getting old and unsaleable at the same time — and no new housing is being built to take its place.
[blocktext align=”right”]…these old houses are now wearing out all at once…[/blocktext]The suburbs that seem to be falling victim to quick decline (and the subsequent racial divides) are the ones that had most of their housing built between the end of World War II and 1959. About 60 percent of Ferguson’s housing was built in that time frame, meaning that these old houses are now wearing out all at once, hitting the point where they are not appealing to most new home buyers, regardless of race.
“It’s a real conundrum right now,” says Jason Segedy, director of the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study, a regional planning organization. “These houses are getting old and they were never really houses that had any character. Now they are small, and the heating and plumbing and roofs are getting to the age where they have to be updated. But no one wants to take on that cost when they have so many other choices.
“Here in the Cleveland area,” he continues, “you can look at Euclid and Garfield Heights and see the houses are not old enough to be completely decrepit and vacant yet, but most of them are not owner-occupied anymore — they are rentals that are getting crappier and crappier over time because they are aging and it is not economically viable to rehab them. But you can see where 20 years from now, unless these cities find a way to build new housing, half of their housing might be abandoned.
“It’s never happened like this before in this country,” he says.
Crystal Avenue runs between East 200th Street and East 222th Street in Euclid. The east-west street has about 150 single-family lots on it, is less than a half-mile south of Lake Erie and a mile north of Interstate 90. Fifteen minutes from downtown Cleveland. Good location, as they say in the real estate business.
Most of the houses on Crystal Ave. were all built around 1950, and they are indicative of that era’s simplistic style: 1,200-1,500 square-foot brick cubes, three bedrooms with one bath, each on a lot that is about 3,500-5000 square feet. Garage in the back and very small front and back yards. No side yards, so the neighbors are close. As you look at them from the street, most have four windows (one in each corner) and a front door. Most for sale are selling in the $25,000-35,000 range, but even getting that much is difficult.
Like Ferguson, Euclid was almost all white in 1970, and is now 43 percent white. From a cursory view, the residents of Crystal Ave. are mostly black and, based on anecdotal evidence, most of them rent. Some of the houses are boarded up, and some of the lawns not maintained very well. It doesn’t appear to be overly poor and decrepit, but neither does the neighborhood seem to have much redeeming it either. As Gertrude Stein once said, “There is no there there.” In this case, literally.
About 67 percent of the housing in Euclid was built between the end of WWII and 1959. Much of it looks like the brick cubes on Crystal Ave. And given the economy in Northeast Ohio, the market for such homes has basically vanished. Millennials looking for starter homes can find cheap houses in urban redevelopment areas like Ohio City or Gordon Square in Cleveland, or move further out to suburban Mentor or Solon and grab a better home for not too much more. There is no middle-class anymore, so cheap starter homes as a bridge to a better one have little value.
Cleveland State University urban studies professor emeritus Tom Bier has studied housing trends for decades, and finds the aging housing in the Cleveland suburbs of Euclid, Maple Heights, and Garfield Heights to be at a spot where the best strategy may be to tear it down and hope that new housing might arise. “The problem is not so much the age, because all cities have older housing and then replace it over time,” Bier says. “The problem here is that some of these cities have most of their housing aging all at once. And it wasn’t very good to begin with.”
Bier likes to point out what the housing build up was in the decades before the suburban housing boom. Because of the Depression in the 1930s, and then WWII, little to no housing was built in Cuyahoga County in those years; just about 5 percent of all the housing in the county was built from 1930-39 according to Bier’s research (down from 14 percent of the county’s current housing that was built in the 1920s). Very little was built in the early 1940s either, as the country’s resources were being used for the war effort.By then end of WWII, the housing occupancy rate in Cleveland was 95 percent. Families had moved in together because of the Depression and the war, and when the war ended the floodgates opened. It wasn’t only white flight that caused so much suburban housing to be built, Bier says, it was that people were tired of living on top of each other. Little new product had come on the market since 1930 and, after years of privation, the population was restless.
So the building began. Euclid added 9,832 single-family homes between 1946 and 1959, or nearly two a day. The other suburbs had like numbers: Parma (16,602), Maple Heights (6,581), South Euclid (6,978), and Beachwood (3,203). In all, about 115,000 single-family homes were built in the Cleveland suburbs in those decades, and just 23,000 in the city of Cleveland proper.
It’s interesting to read the newspaper accounts of the time and see how quickly this building boom came and went. In a Euclid News Journal piece from January 26, 1950, the headline read “Suburbs Continue to Take Industry, Residents from City.” The story had the building numbers from 1949, when there was $130 million worth of new building construction In Cuyahoga County, and $100 million of that was in the suburbs. And there were already ads in the paper listing new homes in the outlying areas of Wickliffe and Mentor Township for those who thought Euclid was getting too crowded.
But on January 14, 1954, just four years later, the same newspaper headline read, “Boom Over; Euclid Building Drops.” And the message in the 1954 article – and remember that these small papers back then generally had approval of the city’s political leadership – was a warning of future problems from all the housing being built. “What our town needs is more industrial and commercial construction if we are to hold tax rates within reason,” the un-bylined story read. “Homes are very desirable, but they cause additional demands for service by the city and for additional schools. No home pays enough in taxes to cover the services required.
“At the rate homes are being added, the balance is slipping.”
And it is that imbalance of older and aesthetically unappealing housing, little commercial retail, and lack of jobs that has left these inner ring suburbs with much less taxable property value than in years past. Bier has found that Euclid’s total property values have declined by 39 percent from 1994 to 2013. Other similar suburbs have all declined in similar numbers: Parma (-24%), Maple Heights (-36%), South Euclid (-24 percent). Beachwood is up by 15 percent, due largely to the construction of retail along Interstate 271.
[blocktext align=”left”]…as housing gets older and deteriorates, its residents are usually poorer, and with a poorer population come more problems…[/blocktext]How all this figures into race and crime is both obvious and opaque. Bier says that as housing gets older and deteriorates, its residents are usually poorer, and with a poorer population come more problems for a city. Those occupying houses like those found on Crystal Ave. tend to be renters, and property owners tend to not take care of rental properties as well as if they were living in them themselves.
And you can see that cities like Ferguson and Euclid, where the poverty rates have shot up as the housing has aged. About 25 percent of Ferguson residents live under the poverty level, and about 19 percent in Euclid. And that’s not anything new. Poor residents of Cleveland have moved to Euclid in search of better schools and housing, as have poorer residents of Ferguson getting out of St. Louis. Because as bad as the housing is getting in the inner ring suburbs, it’s better than what’s available in the ghettoes the new suburbanites are escaping.
For Bier, suburbs like Euclid and Ferguson have only one option at this time. That is, getting extremely strict on code enforcement to keep the existing old housing from getting worse. “Those cities don’t have the money to buy properties through eminent domain and tear them down, and developers aren’t going to do that either because it costs so much and they have better options in other parts of the region,” he says.
“So if you try to raise the standards for even these older homes through code enforcement, you will at least get residents and property owners to pay attention more to the quality of their housing. What it will do is separate the constructive from destructive. That may give them some time to figure out how to get newer housing into their communities.”
One question that keeps coming up is how other inner ring suburbs, which also had big increases in single-family home construction in the 40s and 50s, have stayed more economically stable. Cities like Evanston, Illinois, and Gross Pointe, Michigan, or Lakewood and Shaker Heights, outside Cleveland, are also close to the central city but are not seeing the falloff like Euclid and Ferguson and Maple Heights. The key words are “balance” and “quality.”
Take Lakewood, Ohio, just west of Cleveland along Lake Erie. Lakewood was pretty much built out by 1929, with three decades of steady growth, instead of all of it coming in a short period of time. In Shaker Heights, 90 percent of the city’s housing was built out over 40 years (1920-1959), with almost identical numbers in neighboring Cleveland Heights. And much of the housing in these more wealthy suburbs was built before New York’s Levittown inspired a boom in factory homes that could be cranked out quickly to meet the demand not been addressed during the Depression and WWII.
In effect, these inner ring suburbs have had their housing stock age more incrementally and not all at once.
But there are other factors at play. The housing in suburbs like Euclid and Ferguson became obsolete almost as soon as it was built. First-time home buyers wanted more space almost immediately; the average size of a home in the United States has increased from about 1,000 square feet in 1950 to 2,500 square feet in 2010. And while gentrifiers continue to say that urban cores are growing at exponential rates, people are still mostly moving further and further out.Also, starting in about 1960, social factors began to come into play. Household sizes were going down, as people were having less children thanks to the availability of birth control. There were more divorces and people were marrying later in life, meaning more singles in the housing market. Dual income households became more the norm, as women went into the workforce. What this all means is that the suburban model – with dad working in the factory and mom staying at home with three kids – stopped being the dominant housing buyer in the market.
According to U.S. census figures, 98.7 percent of the population growth in this country from 2000 to 2010 took place beyond a two-mile radius of any downtown area. About 70 percent of that growth took place 15+ miles out. And in the 51 national major metro areas (those with a population of more than one million), the increased population in the 5-15 mile range was 4.4 million, while the increase was 11.5 million in the areas 15+ miles from the central core.
The reason these numbers are important is that the political decisions made in state capitals often follow where people are moving. Hence, governors are more likely to steer money to sprawl cities for interchanges and road widening than to move funds into inner ring suburbs for rehabilitation or economic development. And the reason for that is the changing demographics of these suburbs: once Democratic union strongholds, they have morphed into part older white Republicans and part minority Democrats. In effect, they have little political pull.
“The decay of these suburbs is happening all over the country, and there hasn’t been a feeling of the importance of doing things in these suburbs to prevent the decay that is taking place,” says William Hudnut III, a former mayor of Indianapolis and currently a professor at the School of Continuing Studies at Georgetown University. “The government is favoring greenfield development out in the far suburbs and the recent downtown development. These inner ring suburbs are in the fiscal crosshairs.”
Hudnut examined Euclid in his 2003 book, Halfway to Everywhere (Urban Land Institute Press), and wrote that Euclid and other suburbs’ “gasoline taxes help pay for the sprawling road building elsewhere.” He told Belt Magazine that the gas taxes are still not being kept within communities like Euclid, so “they are helping to pay for their own demise.”
“The housing crisis in inner ring suburbs is so severe,” Hudnut says, “that in cities like Euclid it would probably be better to just tear down a lot of the houses and leave the lots as grass right now.”
Bernadette Hanlon is a professor of city and regional planning at the Knowlton School of Architecture at The Ohio State University. In her book about inner ring suburbs, Once the American Dream (Temple University Press), Hanlon writes that “relying on the private market to revamp and to revitalize older inner ring communities is insufficient, particularly in areas that are economically depressed and where redevelopment is risky.”
But the problem in the Cleveland and Detroit suburbs, she says, “is that in cities like San Francisco or Chicago you can have smaller-sized housing that is old but it has value to be rehabbed because their economies are growing. In some cities they take this old housing and add a floor or push out into the back yard, but I think in the case of Euclid and Ferguson and other Midwest inner ring suburbs there doesn’t seem to be the market to do that.”
[blocktext align=”right”]“The fact that all the housing is aging at the same time is a big problem.”[/blocktext]“The fact that all the housing is aging at the same time is a big problem,” Hanlon says. “The only way to rectify that problem is to have regional thinking that makes investment into these inner ring suburbs instead of in sprawl areas. But the economics of doing that is very difficult.”
What Euclid has going for it is its location, less than a half hour from downtown Cleveland along Interstate 90, and with about four miles of Lake Erie shoreline. But unless there is public investment in replacing the old housing with new, planners say, the downward spiral will continue.
“The state’s policy up through the present is equating outward growth with economic development,” says Akron’s Segedy. “It is almost completely off the radar with the Ohio state legislature, and I find that troubling, because this state has the largest number of shrinking cities and these suburbs are in a crisis situation. Investment policies at the state level aren’t doing anything to counteract that.”
“A big part of that problem is the politics of it all,” he says. “The inner ring suburbs were traditionally Democratic in the past, and still have that reputation with some statewide politicians, but they are far more moderate now. But they have been left behind in the larger political narrative.”
Within that political narrative is the question of whether demographic change caused the housing problems, or whether the housing caused demographic changes. There is no clear answer; it becomes a chicken and egg question. But the clear and undisputed fact is that about two-thirds of the houses in some of these inner ring suburbs were built 65 years ago, and they are too small and too crappy and too expensive to rehab. There is no market for them now, and unlikely to be a market for them in the foreseeable future.
Like cars, houses go through multiple owners, wear out, and eventually end up on the scrap heap. When that will ultimately happen in Ferguson, Euclid, and elsewhere is up for debate, but any way you look at it, the options on the endgame are not good.
Dan McGraw is Senior Writer at Belt.
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Very interesting and a good argument about homogeneity. But there are two things this article could emphasize more:
1)Class. It is not an “inner ring suburb” problem but a blue collar inner ring suburb problem. Middle-upper class suburbs in the inner ring are doing very well, and the higher the initial class of those neighborhoods, the better they are doing (with the exception of portions of E. Cleveland).
2)Racism. Places like Euclid were not attractive for the beauty of their housing stock but because they offered new housing plus racial homogeneity. So, now that they don’t have that going for them they are a much harder sell.
Another problem with the Inner Ring Suburbs’ Homogeneity is that it causes these places to have no discernible character. These aren’t neighborhoods. They are just sprawls of the same old houses with the occasional strip mall (also deteriorating) thrown in. There are few if any local shops, local restaurants, trendy bars, etc. to draw anyone in. As the article posits, There’s no there there.
I often look at the homes in my city and wonder if it wouldn’t be better to tear down every third one.
I initially found this to be an informative, thought provoking article. Unfortunately, one phrase, to wit: ” There is no middle class anymore”, belies its true nature as a political screed; in sum, an editorial comment making suspect any factual revelations that it may contain. How unfortunate!
Props for the G. Stein quote.
A pretty interesting article. Interesting choice to interview Bill Hudnut. He played a big role in focusing on Indianapolis’ downtown with the creation of the Capital Improvement Board and its initiatives in building the RCA Dome, Circle Centre Mall, Bankers Life Fieldhouse and several other downtown focused projects. In a sense, Mayor Hudnut himself abandoned those that lived in inner-ring suburbs and through the CIB moved them out of the downtown area and into those inner-ring suburbs where they now find their demise.
Where the “downtown” stuff was built on Hudnut’s watch in Indy had mostly been redeveloped from residential to commercial and industrial land in the late 1800s. The developments around IUPUI/IU Hospital and around Methodist Hospital did displace a few people, but not nearly as many as Geographer Ty implies. The one big relocation was Lockefield Gardens, a 40s “urban renewal” project that was shut down and largely demolished in the 80s.
Something like the same decline process of housing as described in the article happened in dense multi-family buildings downtown and near-downtown: landlords did not necessarily reinvest in obsolete product, and newer apartments near the outer belt were more desirable. This led many old multi-family buildings near downtown to fall into disrepair and decay. Some have been rescued, but many met the wrecking ball.
Today, those apartments from the 60s, 70s and 80s are part of the “first ring” decay.
I think “too small, too crappy, and too expensive to rehabilitate” was probably said about the housing in quite a few urban neighborhoods that have since experienced a renaissance, with rehabilitation happening apace. Many of these inner suburbs of the 50s maintain more of a grid-like street pattern than their later counterparts. And the buildings in their commercial strips are often not set as far back from the street as they are on commercial streets of the 60s, 70s, and, 80s. With some tweaking of street and sidewalk design, along with appropriately scaled urban infill, and maybe the addition of more transit options, there seems to be opportunities for creating vibrant, walkable neighborhoods that just don’t exist in newer communities. Maybe the market and resources aren’t there yet to make this happen, but is there any indication, besides wishful thinking, that bulldozing homes will make these communities more marketable? Spending significant resources on tearing down neighborhoods in the hopes that developers will come and build beautiful new neighborhoods in their place seems a huge gamble. And if that gamble fails, then we now have suburbs with large tracts of vacant land just sitting there. It seems more prudent to invest limited resources in helping the current residents maintain their homes and in encouraging / assisting the existing community to become homeowners. Why must the current populace be displaced to make room for grand redevelopment schemes that may not even work? Haven’t we gone through all this before with the urban renewal projects of the 60s, which didn’t really work. Do we really think that “suburban renewal” will work any better?
I agree with your point of view.
The original article states:
“It’s a real conundrum right now,” says Jason Segedy, director of the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study, a regional planning organization. “These houses are getting old and they were never really houses that had any character. Now they are small, and the heating and plumbing and roofs are getting to the age where they have to be updated. But no one wants to take on that cost when they have so many other choices.
This is patently wrong…homes that were built in the 50’s and 60’s have gone through numerous points when heating, plumbing and the roof would have been replaced/upgraded by now. Stating that it’s the nature of the structures themselves which is preventing these areas from improving is ridiculous….areas like Tremont and Ohio City contain houses which are MUCH older than these, and nobody’s finding those homes too old to upgrade.
Urban renewal comes when there’s something in an area which brings in a population which will value and maintain their properties. Urban decay comes when an area lacks this something, and a population moves in which does not have these priorities. It’s nothing more complicated than that, and anything more is just academic masturbation.
I currently live in a west side Cleveland neighborhood which is right on the crux of this pivot point. It’s inexpensive (homes sell for between $40K – $90K) and that’s encouraging families to relocate there from neighborhoods which are farther down on the socio-economic ladder. So as a result, in the last 3 years I’ve gained neighbors who, as soon as they unpack their moving truck, they go out and buy three pit bulls, because that’s what their culture dictates. They leave them out to bark all day and night. They don’t mow their lawns. They leave broken-down cars rotting away in their driveways. Their yards look like someone overturned a dumpster. Now, I’d LOVE to stay in this neighborhood..it’s where I grew up, it’s convenient to everything I enjoy, and it’s cheap. But as more neighbors like this move in, my quality of life decreases right along with my property value. I can’t go over to their houses, knock on their doors and have a reasonable discussion about their dogs barking at 3am, because they don’t see anything wrong with that…so that makes ME the asshole. It’s a lose/lose situation for me.
As a result of this, I’ve just purchased a home in Westlake. I didn’t want to….I’ve been a city dweller my entire life. I don’t LIKE living in a suburb…I WANT to live in the city. But I also don’t want to spend my days at war with my neighbors.
Notice that at no point did I ever mention anything about race. Because it’s not ABOUT race. It’s about pride in your property and your neighborhood. You either have it or you don’t. People who don’t have it will always drive people who do have it away, to seek housing in other areas, and what they leave behind will become the urban decay that Garfield Heights and Euclid are currently experiencing.
Absolutely. I just moved out of South Euclid for the very reason you mentioned. People moving in from economically depressed areas and turning a nice neighborhood into a new economically depressed area with their behavior and lack of respect for themselves and those of us sharing the neighborhood. And I too am a city boy. I moved to Shaker, closer to downtown (by train) yet with very little of the issue South Euclid has.
Kudos to anyone able to move from a bad neighborhood to a good one. But once you do that, you have an obligation to yourself and your community to maintain a standard.
I agree 100% with David. I an now a senior living in the upper W 140’s south of Puritas, and in the 11 years I became a homeowner here, I seen it go from mostly homeowners who took pride in their homes to slumlords gobbling these houses up a dime a dozen. Unruly unattended kids, neighbors with many dogs jumping at my fence where I can’t enjoy my own back yard, and they get mad when you tell them about it, car horns and drug dealing from their driveway 3 feet from your windows at 3 am, fighting, the list goes on and on. Black and White, this crap know no color, all trash. I am in the process of ruining mt good credit by walking away from this house as it’s only worth half what I still owe. I’ll gladly lose my credit vs, my life or my sanity staying here. Was once a nice area, a lot of cops, who all moved out cuz they no longer have to reside in Cleveland.
Very interesting article. I read it from the perspective of the Northeast; I live in an old, pre-war suburb on a rapid transit train line just outside of Philadelphia. And that’s something I noticed a distinct lack of a mention of in this article: public transit. Something that helps to retain a lot of the value of the Northeast’s inner ring suburbs is their transit links into a central downtown core, because that’s where a large number of great jobs are. In my view, the steady march of jobs outside of that core in the late 20th century is one of the major reasons for urban decline today, and until that’s addressed in your area, close-in suburbs don’t stand to gain much appeal.
Funny, I’m sitting outside of Boston in the same type of situation you describe. Pre-war suburb on the T, and about to get more T. I had the same reaction to this as you did.
And although the missing middle class–the students who now have crazy levels of college debt–might be persuaded to pick up something cheap if they could even get a house loan, they can’t afford a car loan and gas on top of that either. So why bother? Rent something more fun with features someplace hip, where you can get on transport or quickly get a ZipCar.
I think that a difference between the Northeast and a lot of Great Lakes cities (especially Cleveland) is traffic congestion. Congestion in Boston, N.Y., Philly, and D.C. drive people to public transportation and thus people value living close to it. Of course there’s traffic in Cleveland but it pales in comparison. For a city its size Cleveland actually has a pretty robust public transportation network and a number of the suburbs Dan mentions are well-served by either rail or flyer buses into Downtown. The bus and the train are definitely cheaper than driving but there’s also time lost walking or driving to the station, waiting for the train, and walking to the final destination. If someone has the income to do so, it might actually take less time to drive alone to an exurb than to take the bus home to Euclid or the Rapid to Brook Park. As a result, the perception exists that those living near transit are low-income and transit-dependent and not middle class households choosing transit for its convenience or as a lifestyle. If I could go back in time, I’d have built all of the interstates through Cleveland with one less lane to increase rush hour congestion and thus promote transit ridership.
While as a Clevelander, I can’t support your wish that we had more congested freeways, your point is certainly valid. I lived in Pittsburgh for 15 years and was astounded by how many people I saw wearing suits and carrying briefcases, standing at the bus stops. Because in Cleveland the majority of the people who do ride public transportation are those from low-income households. It took me a while to realize that Pittsburgh’s traffic is so insane, plus the scarcity and cost of downtown parking so ridiculous, it forced the middle-class commuters to ride the bus.
Another interesting function of public transportation to which I’ve recently been introduced: My company built a new facility in Brecksville three years ago. The employees are exclusively white collar. It’s at the very end of a long newly constructed road. Security is an issue for this facility, but we’ve had no issues…until until recently. About a year ago a medical equipment manufacturer, which employs a large number of lower-wage assembly workers, built their own facility right next to our property. And apparently they had quite a bit of pull with RTA because bus stops sprang up all along our quiet road, and the 77 bus route was modified to include it. Since this has happened we’ve started experiencing security issues, and have been forced to modify and augment our existing security measures to deal with the situation.
I was told that RTA once wanted to extend their service into the eastside suburb of Pepper Pike and the PP city council went to war to prevent it. I can now see their point. Public transportation brings good AND bad things to an area.
“…property owners tend to not take care of rental properties as well as if they were living in them themselves.”
And renters tend not to take care of rental properties as well as if it were their own. So, there you go then.
Decline of upper middle class suburbs is not as common, but it can happen, Southfield, MI is not in the worst of states but it has declined compared to its early days.
I’m lucky enough to live in a transitional Jacksonville neighborhood just north of the business district. Its housing stock consist of large homes build for affluent families in the early 1900’s. Basically any direction you go tappers into the situation this article is describing. The relative strength of the Springfield neighborhoods revitalization is contrasted by static neighboring communities. Springfield is just gaining traction, these neighborhoods were given no tread to begin with. Most were built as working-class black communities and have obviously been neglected in infrastructure spending. Brentwood, just north of Springfield, probably correlates with Euclid the most. Small infrastructure improvements could very well have a big impact in this area. Sadly, it’s the voices in the growing outer beltway communities that get most politicians attention.
One of the things that should be noted is while gentrification is happening, it is largely a coastal city phenomon, and those coastal cities, NYC, DC, SF, and LA, tend to dominate the national dialog. The great inversion is largely one which is based on geographic sorting that is focused on these handful of cities. In most places both the urban core and the immediate suburbs are declining. One cannot compare then improving DC, with wealthy Bethesda and Arlington on the doorstep, with Cleveland or St. Louis. The rust belt is very different by it’s very nature.
I will be honest, I live in DC myself, but I am from the Rust Belt. I eventually bought here, close to transit. In retrospect it seems like the best decision I could have possibly made. I just get depressed when going into the rust belt these days. The problems in that area of the country are not easy to fix, and with many college graduates like myself moving towards the coast, I am not sure if they can be solved. Economic growth and opportunity is not there, and that matters.
Ironically, MsMs, I lived in the DC metroplex for 15 years and left to come back to the Rust Belt. I just couldn’t see living in an area where the buy-in for owning your own single family dwelling requires a six-figure income. As far as economic growth and opportunity in places like DC and NYC, compared to the Rust Belt, there are other factors in these comparisons. Sure, there are tons of jobs in the bigger coastal cities, but many of them are service-oriented, due to the huge number of high-salary people living there who want their lawns cut and their meals served. And there’s a correspondingly huge number of low-income people fighting over those jobs. As far as technical jobs (my field, for instance), the vast majority of them are defense- or government-based…and they’re great, while you HAVE them. Let the economy so much as hiccup and thousands of people lose their contracts as the local industries react reflexively/ Not to mention the life so many people in the larger cities lead as white collar contractors, where their contracts are reviewed (and possibly not renewed) every year. Who needs THAT stress?
In the Rust Belt things are tough, no doubt about it…but people with the right job skills are still rocking. The skilled trades are booming all over the country, and here is no exception. The difference is that a guy can make $80K here and live a very respectable life. He can buy a nice 4-bedroom, 2-car single family home in a decent neighborhood with good schools. He doesn’t have to put up with an hour+ commute full of crazed Beltway drivers. And the real state crash of 2007 didn’t crush us like it did places like DC or NYC. Sure, our homes lost some value, but they were never inflated that much in the first place. I know a guy who lives in Bethesda who, back in the late 90’s, had his whole retirement planned around selling his home (which was valued at 1.2 million at the height of the bubble). After the bubble it was worth HALF that and his plans went out the window.
The key to surviving in the Rust Belt is having the right job skills. If you’re a mid-level manager who worked himself out of a technical job and now lives and dies by PowerPoint decks, you should probably be nervous…because you’re just not that vital to ANY company. Before the financial crisis, people were willing to let you slide, but with every company looking for places to cut, you’re vulnerable. At least in the Rust Belt, you could miss 6 months of paychecks while you’re looking for another job and still survive (maybe). In DC…christ, I can’t even imagine. If you were living in a single family home anywhere within 45 minutes of your workplace, you’d already be looking down the barrel of a two-grand-a-month mortgage to begin with. You’d better have married well, because another solid income would be the only thing which would allow you to survive.
What this article complete ignores is that not ALL inner ring suburbs are suffering. Outside of NYC, the same ugly housing stock built after WW2 in inner ring suburbs is still very valuable and desired. So why not in the Rust Belt?
Supply and demand.
There is no demand for that housing due to the loss of jobs in the area. That lowers the value, which allows a new class of owners to move in with a different set of values and the beginning of the end is at hand. Combine that with poor local leadership, high taxes for services which can no longer be afforded and the picture only gets worse.
Also, in Cleveland no inner ring suburb is being spared. Shaker Heights is nowhere near what it used to be and one need only look at the amount of foreclosures and the sale prices of some of the homes in the city. One can easily purcahse a home for less than $75k and this is bringing in the same type of owner (slum lord) which is destroying other cities. Combine with local leadership which has driven taxes to the highest in the state at 4% of market value, and you have a major problem. Credit to the city for being much stricter than other cities for code violations but when there is no money or will to fix a property there is not much the city can do. Cleveland Heights is in an even worse predicament than Shaker Heights with crime skyrocketing too.
Sine the Rust Belt will never be like the coasts, they must re-invent themselves to compete. Credit to the governor of Ohio who is trying to cut taxes on small business owners to attract more people to the state. But this will be all for nothing if the local cities continue to increase taxes to fund what is no longer afforadable.
Lastly, since Cleveland has no real traffic to speak of, the outer ring suburbs look even better as one can easily drive to a job in the city. Not many would choose public transportation over a private car when the cost for higher earners in using a car is negligible compared to the benefit of saved time and convenience.
Not optimistic for the future of Rust Belt inner ring suburbs.
Replying to your last paragraph, it’ll be interesting to see what happens as time goes on, with the current trend that the twenty-somethings don’t want to own cars at all. I agree with you, having just moved to Westlake, which only added 5 minutes to my commute…but then again, I want to own a car. The downtown area’s going through a huge rejuvenation effort to accomodate the influx of the Y generation, who want to be able to walk to their entertainment spots and their jobs. Of course, once they start popping out kids and have to consider sending them to Cleveland’s public schools, the suburbs may become more attractive to them again.
I would like to add my two cents to the conversation. A little background first. I am a residential real estate appraiser living in Brecksville, OH and have been appraising single and multi-family housing in Northeast Ohio since 1994. I began my real estate appraisal career in Phoenix, AZ in 1984. Suffice it to say, real estate is my life. And my fascination. I have appraised somewhere between ten and fifteen thousand houses to date in Northeast Ohio and have had the opportunity to talk to many owner’s and tenants over the years. One of the main issues I have with articles like these, and there have been many written over the last thirty-plus years, is they focus on the housing stock instead of what makes the housing what it is. I would like to do this by explaining what I think makes the “old” Euclid look like the “new” Euclid (feel free to insert any city from anywhere in the states in its place). Often concluded from these articles is a generalization that all of the city is in decline. This is incorrect for Euclid. Picture the city as rectangle with a highway running horizontally through it. The highway has cut the city’s bottom third off from the rest leaving the northerly two-thirds of the city with the houses that are described in this article. In the southerly one third of the city are found a mixture of older industry, retail and service use properties surrounding small pockets of mostly older and rundown 1900’s to 1920’s housing. This housing is exclusively minority owned and it contains the majority of the renters and crime found in the city. This description held true until the early to mid 1990’s when government policy mixed with the banking industry to create the subprime lending industry. The subprime lending industry then opened up the northerly two thirds of the neighborhood to the population of the southerly third. This became possible because a house that would sell for $60,000 to $90,000 in the northerly portion became affordable to the person in the southerly third who, prior to this, could only afford their $10,000 to $40,000 house. Essentially, the poorer area hopped the freeway and began buying up the newer and better maintained housing. Fast forward to the present time, the post subprime collapse, and you now have twenty percent of the housing stock in the northerly half of the city going through foreclosure. In the case of the City of Euclid, they are a point of sale community that requires a home to be inspected and meet all current housing standards in order to resell. As a result, as the foreclosure housing is repurchased, it will be repaired and updated once again and owned by a person who can afford a $60,000 to $90,000 house. Further, the point of sale inspection and building standards keep slumlords from buying the houses up and renting to low income tenants. This is the case because the market rental rates needed for the purchase and rehabilitation are too high to be afforded by the lower income tenant. In my opinion, the great experiment of subprime lending will officially be over when all of the foreclosures are sold off and Euclid will go back to what it was. A mostly solid and mostly segregated blue-collar city that is dealing with the long-term affects of job decline caused by factory work productivity increases and off-shoring of jobs.
“Within that political narrative is the question of whether demographic change caused the housing problems, or whether the housing caused demographic changes. There is no clear answer; it becomes a chicken and egg question. ”
I was having a conversation in another forum about this article – it’s a topic I’ve done a lot of research on and, while not intimately familiar with Cleveland’s demographic history, I am familiar with Philadelphia’s. I’ll just repost what I wrote there –
In Philadelphia the white population peaked at some point in the late 1920s. This was also the tail end of a period of extensive European immigration so that white population was being buoyed for decades by immigration. So if you’re just talking about native born whites then their population in Philly peaked about 15 years earlier. This is decades before there was much of an African-American presence in Philly at all. It turns the idea of white flight on its head.
Then in the 1960s, even as the white population of Philly was in decline (and had been for at least 30 years), the number of white households was on the rise. In other words, white people weren’t running away from black people, they just stopped living 10 to a house and stopped raising their kids in the city. Anyone with older kids stayed put and it’s clearly visible in the census and it’s why the white population of Philly didn’t fall far or fast until the 1990s – when those older generations were either dying off quickly or were at least getting too old to live alone. But in the 1960s there simply wasn’t enough room in the city to house the baby boom, the rapid growth in the number of new households, and the Great Migration.
When you go to a place like Somerdale [a suburb 11 miles southeast of Philly] or Euclid (I’ve been to Cleveland a few times) there’s a clearly visible racial component to what’s happening but I think people see the end result and make a cause and effect conclusion about what happened that’s not only a really binary way of looking at a complex problem but also not supported by data. When you look at places like that you see declining household size, stagnant incomes, stagnant property values, an aging white population, and a decline in the number of white, school-aged kids well before you start to see any significant racial changes in those places. In other words, the houses are small and boring, the schools suck because the town is broke, and the kids who grew up there never had any interest in raising their own families there.
It’s seldom a black influx that causes a white exodus. It’s the gradual white exodus and economic stagnation in these places that makes room for an influx of lower to middle income black households . . . with the middle to upper income black households are generally moving to the same places that similar income white households are.
I guess my whole point here is that the problems that come out of it have their roots in much larger economic problems (low wages, a declining middle class, etc), flaws in local and federal housing policies, and flaws in the education system/education funding formulas. So if you’re looking for real solutions, solutions supported by decades of data, it doesn’t really do any good to paint false narratives about why these places came to be or about why they’re declining.
We agree that the inner-ring suburbs that are declining are, in fact, the ones that have experienced a large gain in black population. But while you see that as an effect of the decline, others might more accurately see that as the cause.
The housing stock is an interesting explanation, but why are Maple Heights, Garfield Heights, Euclid, etc. doing so much worse than still relatively stable communities that have very similar housing stock like Fairview or Berea?
Even among the communities with more distinctive architecture, why are Lakewood, Rocky River, etc. thriving, while Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights are hanging on for dear life?
The older generation of middle-class and working-class whites in the Cleveland area have watched their stable neighborhoods destroyed once before in their lifetimes. Most are very wary of letting it happen again.
I live in Bedford, right next to Maple Height/Garfield Heights in Cleveland (Bedford is in effect the outermost inner ring suburb of Cleveland). A couple of observations: Bedford enforces very strict housing codes, especially for rentals. Yes, many of our tiny suburban homes underwent foreclosure in the housing crisis, and yes, some of those homes were bought up by absentee landlords. However, those landlords are forced to keep the homes in reasonable shape. In addition, many of the foreclosed homes were bought by flippers, who rehabbed them and sold them to private owners–really, this happens here. Finally, the most debilitated and decrepit homes I see are NOT rental homes–they are homes owned by the elderly senior citizens who bought them in the 1950s. These homes are falling apart because these working-class elders don’t have the funds or physical health to take care of the homes. No one has mentioned that this elderly population is at most risk for driving down the property values, due to no fault of their own–simply old age and the decline of the working class has made them unable to care for their homes. Personally, I like Bedford much more now that it is racially diverse. I don’t see overall decline–what I do see is a decline/rebirth cyle happening, with the type of population taking part in the rebirth as the changing element. I’ve seen numerous FHA homes rehabbed by new citizens of the city, turning them from eyesores to pleasant little domiciles. I don’t think that inner ring suburbs are doomed to failure due to their housing stock–I agree with a few who stated that it takes strict housing codes and enforcement of those codes to keep those suburbs viable. There are still working class people who want a nice home and will purchase and care for a $30,000 house over living in an apartment. No, Bedford will never look like Hudson–but there is a need for housing that working class people can actually afford to purchase. And they are priced out of places like Hudson, and even places like Solon and Twinsburg.
I have lived in Euclid since 1945. Have traveled much of the country Euclid stands out as one of the best locations in the nation to live. Things we have to do. We are maintaining in Euclid we are doing what has to be done we are attempting to bring all of the people together to keep EUCLID a great city that it is those watches that are mentioned in the original article I just that blotches that are being taken care of and watched.I would personally like to meet the author of the original article and take him around to the great spots in EUCLID.
I moved from Euclid in 2003 after living there for 9 years. I wanted a bigger, newer house with a larger lot that I could not find in Euclid. My property taxes, income taxes, sales tax, and car/house insurance are all cheaper now that I live in Mentor. Also, the neighborhood is much safer. I grew up in Cleveland Heights and Lyndhurst and would not want to live in either of these communities today.