August 22nd, 2017
Written by: Anonymous
As a note: some people involved in the advocacy work for these families must remain anonymous in order to best do that work.
On the west side of Cleveland, OH, at least 14 families are fighting victimization on two fronts. Having spent years in conflict with an unethical landlord they are now facing displacement at the hands of the nonprofit Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization (DSCDO) and local housing developer Daryl Anderson, owner of Mustard Seed Development.
In Cleveland and across the country, individuals and organizations are increasingly using the legal tool of “receiverships” to take control of “nuisance” properties. Often their stated intent is to return vacant or abandoned property to safe and productive use. Unfortunately, in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood, a broader definition of “nuisance” is enabling developers to use receiverships to displace working class tenants. These folks, often longtime residents with deep roots in the areas, are being pushed out with questionable “nuisance” complaints, and then priced out of nearby properties as rents in these “up and coming” areas continue to climb.
Many community members are trying negotiate a fair solution, though some have already had to leave. Those who have already left did so under the threat of a permanent court eviction on their records. They were given minimal relocation assistance and received no word about the return of their security deposits. But to fully understand this situation we have to go back to the earliest stages of this cycle of displacement, the moment a neighborhood stops being ‘people’ and starts being made into a ‘problem’.
Nearly four years ago, DSCDO filed a complaint with Cleveland Municipal Housing Court against the owner of the properties, Neil Clough. This “nuisance abatement” complaint was based on the allegations that the physical condition of some of the properties is unsafe.
On June 6, 2017, the Cleveland Municipal Housing Court awarded receivership of the properties to DSCDO. This gave the nonprofit broad legal rights including: the right to collect rent, to inspect the properties, to enact a plan to address the alleged nuisances, and even the right to demolishing the properties entirely. The next day, on June 7th, DSCDO requested that the Court transfer receivership to local housing developer Mustard Seed Development.
Tenants first learned about the transfer of their homes from owner, Neil Clough, to DSCDO on June 13th, 2017 when DSCDO sent a letter to tenants notifying them that rent was due July 1st and needed to be paid to DSCDO instead of their former landlord. The letter also stated that DSCDO would be performing interior inspections of the properties, and that if tenants did not respond to the letter within 5 days, this letter would serve as a “Notice of Termination” of their old lease with Neil. Many tenants regularly paid their rent to their old landlord on the 10th or 15th of the month, and making another payment that soon simply was not feasible.
In the following weeks, tenants report confusing, threatening, and contradictory conversations and phone calls from Marcia Nolan, Housing Director for DSCDO, and Jeff Ramsey DSCDO’s Executive Director.
On June 30th, one day before rent was due on July 1st, the majority of tenants received a letter titled “30-Day Termination Notice” from DSCDO. The notices included a “30 day notice to vacate the property” while offering tenants “up to” $1000 for rent and security deposit at their new apartment if tenants paid rent by July 5th and vacated the properties and returned keys by Sunday July 30th. DSCDO later verbally told tenants that they would not be given relocation assistance directly - impacting their ability to put holds on apartments or pay application fees - and that they would not be given assistance if they choose to rent from Neil Clough again.
Despite the negligence and (seemingly deliberate) obfuscation, residents worked together to meet the DSCDO’s unreasonably fast timeline. Neighbors volunteered countless hours to assist one family in vacating her property and meeting the requirements of this offer in order to be eligible for the $1000 relocation assistance, and the family narrowly avoided homelessness by staying with a friend in the following weeks until they were able to find a new home. Other families were not able to move in such a short time-frame.
While some tenants scrambled to meet an almost impossible timeframe, others reported being told by DSCDO staff they would not being evicted. DSCDO reassured these tenants that they were only evicting “drug dealers and bad people” and that as long as they “cooperated,” they would be able to stay in their homes during renovations. One of the tenants that was told they would not be evicted lives in a house that DSCDO had told the court they would demolish, suggesting that DSCDO.
Community members learned about the planned displacement of the tenants around July 18th, and began organizing with tenants and offering support. Around this time, community members asked DSCDO for a 90 day moratorium on evictions for all families in the properties, so that families have time to find resources and support, including assistance from DSCDO. Many of the families have children, or family members with disabilities in the household and require more time to find a suitable home.
This displacement disrupts the stability these parents have worked to created for their families. Displacement introduces additional stresses to a resilient but already overburdened community. Parents are distraught at the stress their children will suffer when having to change schools. In addition, many of these families have experienced the trauma of homelessness in the past, and are desperate not to become homeless again.
The request for a commitment to a 90 day moratorium on evictions has not been honored, and several families have already left under the threat of a court eviction that would stay on their records. They were forced to move without adequate relocation assistance and with no promise of getting their security deposits back.
Many tenants want to move and are simply requesting that they be given reasonable time and support to do so. In the interim they are demanding that all contracts, leases, and offers for relocation assistance be sent in writing from DSCDO or Mustard Seed Development. Other tenants do not want to leave their family, friends, and support networks, and are trying to negotiate to stay in their homes.
On July 27th, the Cleveland Housing Court approved the transfer of receivership from DSCDO to Mustard Seed Development, owned by Daryl Anderson. Tenants are now unsure if the threats of eviction they have received from Jeff Ramsey and DSCDO in mid-August are valid, or if Mr. Anderson will be filing evictions. Some are confused about to whom they are to pay their rent, or if they should pay rent at all based on recent threats of imminent eviction.
The situation is evolving quickly. DSCDO has made some progress in offering relocation assistance, but not yet provided these offers in writing to the majority of tenants. DSCDO has offered a few tenants housing on the east side of Cleveland, but these are not families have reported that they do not want to move that far away from everyone and everything they know.
The Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization claim on its website to value “community diversity”, “historic preservation”, “neighborhood heritage”. And that they want to be “accountable to residents” and “advocates for the alleviation of poverty and social justice”.
Tenants are hopeful that as a nonprofit, Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization will take more concrete steps make their actions towards existing neighborhood residents reflect these values. Residents understand the desire to make more profitable use of the land, but are angry that the people who stand to profit are so unwilling to assist the people who are being negatively affected. We hope the residents will receive the the support they need from DSCDO and that the Cleveland Municipal Housing Court will refuse to enable the further victimization of the very residents by the organization claiming to help.