By: Kevin Barry

EAST CLEVELAND, Ohio — In a city peppered with buildings that are barely standing, a snowy weekday allows residents to huddle in a dining room brainstorming about how to make East Cleveland better.

The Neighborhood 2 Block Association cares for six blocks and was set up by the Northeast Ohio Alliance for Hope (NOAH).

Neighborhood 2 meeting
Neighborhood 2 leaders meet in Hank Smith’s home to plan out a larger meeting with other representatives from their region of the city.

“They are legitimately able to prioritize issues that were actually addressed and it’s the most efficient way to administer city resources,” said NOAH Executive Director Trevelle Harp.

In neighborhood 2, Hank Smith says the impact is already clear.

“We’ve got so much accomplished in the last year and a half,” said Smith. “We’ve gotten more done than I’ve seen get done in 20, 30 years…for years, we didn’t know where our tax money was going because things were not getting done.”

This map breakdown where neighborhood groups have already formed or could be formed. Black dots show areas that could be organized but haven’t been yet.

Neighborhood 2 has gotten the city to trim or remove trees that threatened homes and people. Their group, and groups in other neighborhoods, figure out what needs to be prioritized by walking the streets they cover and filling out charts for each block. The charts highlight where there’s garbage to clear out, trees to remove, homes to demolish, or stoplights and stop signs to replace.

Charts used by neighborhood groups allow them to record where there are various kinds of issues or neighborhood nuisances to present to the the City of East Cleveland.

In neighborhood 4, Jennie Gardner has helped get homes demolished.

Nuisance notices stapled to buildings show which structures might be taken down in the near future, based on how nearby neighborhood groups prioritize their removal.

“It feels good because someone’s got to step up and do something,” said Gardner. “Sitting back and complaining is not going to help at all.”

It works because the residents know East Cleveland barely has the resources to get by. So the residents tell the city what to handle first, and Mayor Brandon King is happy to follow their lead.

Mayor King
Mayor King looks through a presentation showing the work that neighborhood groups have done so far, helping East Cleveland identify where to use city resources.

“It is, in my opinion, a better spend of the resources to have the residents tell me or tell us how to spend their money,” said King.

Mayor King says the effort started in Forest Hill, where Frank Ricchi says residents there got together because they felt ignored over the past two decades.

Blocked Street
Garbage spills from vacant lots on to what could otherwise be a residential street. Many of the buildings nearby appear to be vacant.

“All of us as a group spoke with a stronger voice,” said Ricchi.

Ricchi says they’ve already gotten 60-70 trees removed and roughly 200 trimmed to make sure they don’t fall on houses, cars, or people.

Trevelle Harp looks at a map of neighborhood groups organized through Northeast Ohio Alliance for Hope (NOAH).

“All of this hadn’t been done in the last 20 years,” said Ricchi.

Since then, NOAH has helped start roughly 10 similar groups all around the city. Of the $10 million East Cleveland has to run the city, Mayor King says more than a $1 million has gone to projects that neighborhood groups brought forward in the past two years.

open building
Unsecured buildings or vacant properties get recorded by neighborhood groups, helping to find the structures that need to be knocked down first.

For a city constantly fighting to make ends meet, it sets a different tone for it’s residents.

“We don’t come to these neighborhood meetings to complain about what’s going on,” said Smith. “We come with solutions.”

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