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Thursday, June 1, 2017

Nothing Stops a Bullet Like ... Zack Reed?

Councilman Unveils New Home Rehab Program to Employ Ex-Offenders

Posted By on Thu, Jun 1, 2017 at 3:28 PM

click to enlarge Reed has both sides of this billboard on Grand Ave., between E. 55th and Kinsman. (6/1/2017) - SAM ALLARD / SCENE
  • Sam Allard / Scene
  • Reed has both sides of this billboard on Grand Ave., between E. 55th and Kinsman. (6/1/2017)
Thursday morning, Cleveland city councilman and mayoral candidate Zack Reed unveiled a new collaborative effort between himself and three community development corporations on Cleveland's southeast side that will put formerly incarcerated people to work rehabbing vacant and blighted homes.

The 'Building Futures' program will receive $100,000 in seed funding from Zack Reed's Ward 2 casino funds, and will utilize the existing training capacities of the Union-Miles Development Corporation, the Mt. Pleasant NOW Development Corporation and Slavic Village Development. A non-profit organization, Passages, will help train participants in soft skills, (things like showing up to work on time, dressing appropriately, managing finances, etc).

"Rebuilding homes, rebuilding neighborhoods, rebuilding lives," is the program's (perhaps unofficial) tagline, as uttered by Reed. The councilman continues to prove himself a formidable mayoral challenger, one with a coherent message and with actionable strategies to combat major city problems.

The program, in its current iteration, will provide training to ex-offenders in Ward 2. But Reed said that if he's elected Mayor, he hopes to expand the program citywide. In fact, it's an integral part of his campaign. Reed has long decried gun violence in the city, particularly in the Mt. Pleasant and Union-Miles neighborhoods that he represents. For years, he has been carrying around a map of the city with red and blue dots representing annual gun deaths and shootings. He brought the map to the announcement on Reno Avenue, just off of E. 93rd Street, and said that Cleveland was on pace for more than 150 gun deaths in 2017.

click to enlarge Reed: "Nothing stops a bullet like a job." 6/1/2017 - SAM ALLARD / SCENE
  • Sam Allard / Scene
  • Reed: "Nothing stops a bullet like a job." 6/1/2017
Reed's latest mantra, repeated often, has been "nothing stops a bullet like a job." The Building Futures program, he said, will help to reduce violence by giving jobs to the jobless in Ward 2.

"You're not going to be out selling drugs and gang-banging at two o'clock in the morning," Reed said, "if you've got to go to work at nine."

The Building Futures program is also an attempt to diversify the city's approach to blight reduction. Reed has said that while demolition can be an effective tool, the city of Cleveland tends to view it as the only tool.

Tom Stone, Executive Director of Mt. Pleasant NOW, said that of the 1,500 vacant and blighted homes in Ward 2, an estimated 500 of them can be rehabbed and restored to productive use. Instead of a vacant lot that the city (or the CDC, in Mt. Pleasant's case, using funds from Reed) then has to maintain, a home is restored and resold. The low market values in the area mean the homes remain affordable, typically in the $40,000 - $50,000 range. They are then occupied by families who "buy milk at the corner store," "buy gas" and "send their children to school."

"These become productive assets," said Stone. "[Cleveland] has gotten too comfortable with the cost of demolition."

Stone and Reed both said that while the relatively low cost of demolition (about $10,000 per home) is attractive, it doesn't look at community health in the long-term.

"We're using a sledgehammer," said Reed, "instead of a real hammer...If we only look at the bottom line, at how much it costs to rehab the house, then we're losing the bigger picture."

Stone said that the effort would seek to rehab homes with moderate needs, not those in need of a "full gut rehab." He estimated the cost per property at about $30,000. Union-Miles already owns several homes that can be rehabbed as part of the program, including the home on Reno Avenue where the press conference took place. Further properties can be purchased from the County Lank Bank at low costs ($5,000 or less, per estimates from the CDCs).

The corps of ex-offenders — largely from Grafton Correctional Institution — who will participate in the Building Futures program can opt for an eight, 12 or 24-week training module after they undergo soft skills training through Passages. The shortest is the Union Miles Agriculture & Green Landscaping Incubator (UMAG). The 12-week program is Mt. Pleasant's Nehemiah 2:1-5 Project, which was described as "handyperson training." It teaches participants basic skills in door installation, flooring, drywall, cabinetry, and rudimentary electrical and plumbing work. The full six-month program, coordinated through Union-Miles, will cover similar bases, and is conceived as an apprenticeship program. The goal is to teach participants skills so that they can then work for local contractors, or even start their own businesses. Participants will be paid $10 / hour during the "hard skills" components of their training.

The rehab work will begin by the end of July, said Union Miles Executive Director RoShawn Sample. Each rehab will take approximately four months. Slavic Village Development's executive director, Chris Alvarado, will serve as the program's fiscal agent.

Reed, who has always been savvy with the media and is often ridiculed as a grandstander — or, more recently, by Mayor Frank Jackson himself, as a "pimp" — is running an impressive campaign. He has taken his central issue, violence, and erected related policy around it. It was through his advocacy that City Council awarded an additional $500,000 for summer youth employment this year, and he was enraged at last Monday's council caucus when he learned that Jackson was intending to take credit for it. The Building Futures program is a further illustration of Reed's double-whammy policy framework: create jobs to reduce violence.

And his personal story fits comfortably inside this narrative.

"We've gotten to a point where people think that government doesn't care about them," Reed said. "We want [the Building Futures] program to say: 'We do care about you.' ... Everybody deserves a second chance. You look at me. I've gotten more than a second chance. We want to keep telling people, 'you're not throwaways. You made a mistake. We all make mistakes.' For too long, we've said to people who've made mistakes and have gone to prison, 'you're on that side of the road and we're on this side.' We want to say: 'We're all on one road now. We're on the road to rebuilding our wards, rebuilding our communities, rebuilding our families.'"

Reed might initially have been a big-mouth sideshow in the 2017 Mayoral race, but no longer. In the campaign season's early-going he's blowing the competition out of the water.


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