Mayor Frank Jackson Talks to the Grapevine

An Interview by Kevin E. Cleary

   In the thirteen years that The Homeless Grapevine has been published by the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, we have never interviewed a Cleveland mayor.  In fact, Mayor White’s administration actively tried to shut the paper down. 

   In May, Mayor Frank Jackson sat down with Grapevine staff to discuss Cleveland’s economic future, his ideas for helping homeless people transition into stable housing and employment, and his plan to put Cleveland “back on the map” nationally and internationally. 

Grapevine: It seems like your administration intends to place a greater focus on developing neighborhoods rather than just focusing on downtown the way previous administrations have done.  How do you plan to balance these gentrification efforts to ensure that Cleveland-area neighborhoods don’t end up squeezing out those with lower incomes?

Mayor Jackson: Well, I actually view Downtown as a neighborhood too.  So, there’s going to be some major developments still happening Downtown, but as you know with East Bank projects and then Mr. Stark’s project, and Avenue project, all these are housing developments.  It’s upper end stuff, but it’s still housing.

   What I can tell you is, my track record when I was Councilman of Ward 5, is that we did significant development in Ward 5 with no gentrification.  We also, when there was an attempt by HUD to gentrify the people out of public housing and subsidized housing, we stopped that.  We rebuilt Longwood without gentrifying.  Now, those people who got evicted, they got evicted, but there was the new housing development over there, which was $111 million in housing development at Longwood.  It’s for the same people, and the same income bracket and all that stuff.  And then [it’s the] same with public housing, where there was an attempt to destroy public housing, we ensured that we protected public housing.  So, it’s the same approach that I’m gonna take as Mayor.  There’s a way to do development, and to incorporate the people who currently live in those neighborhoods with that development in a way that it doesn’t gentrify.

Grapevine: Are there any plans for Longwood-style rehabilitation efforts in other neighborhoods, since it was so successful?

Jackson: I don’t know.  I imagine that there could be.  The advantage of that project was that it was already a Longwood, so it was just a tearing down and rebuilding.  To put that kind of development, and it also exists on about 35 acres, so you know, you’d need a large tract of land.  But, I would imagine there are smaller types of projects like that, where you have low-income, low and moderate-income housing development like that, yeah, I’d imagine that’d happen. 

   The trend however, is to substitute low and moderate-income for upscale housing, more expensive housing.  That’s the trend.  You see it happening  more with Lakeview over on W. 25th, in the Tremont area,  where they have actually, at Valleyview, have torn down the public housing.  It’s now going to make some mixed-use, so you’ll have some public, some subsidized housing, some low and moderate.  But you’ll [also] have some more expensive housing.  So, the trend is to move more towards economic integration. 

Grapevine: There’s been a lot of talk about regionalism in the past few years.  In what way does your administration plan to work together and build regional partnerships?

Jackson: Well, I’m not a supporter of regional government, but I am a supporter of regional economy.  I believe that for us to compete on a national, international basis, we can no longer do that as the City of Cleveland, or as the suburban communities.  We have to operate as a region.  And that could go as large as, depending on who you talk to, it could go as large as 8, 9 counties.

Grapevine: Operating almost like the Twin Cities?

Jackson: Yeah.  Operating as a regional economy so that we don’t compete internally in the region by offering higher tax abatements or larger grants, or lower-interest loans; that we compete as a region against everybody else.  And try to keep what we have here.  And then to have incentives to get other people to move to the region, with their companies, and also people move to live.  So that’s a reasonable approach in economics.

    We also, for government, since I am not a fan of regional government, we have to find a way to reduce our costs.  So that means there should be some regional cooperation in, how do we buy things?  Should we buy things as a region, and in bulk to reduce our costs, and share that cost-saving?  Then, we need to take a regional approach to revenue sharing.  Meaning that, if a company does decide to move from Cleveland to another community within the region, then we should be willing to share in the income tax. 

   Similar to what we did with the Cavaliers.  They’re moving their practice facility out in Independence.  So rather than us fighting with Independence over, going to court over, ‘Where do they pay the income tax?’ We’re gonna split it; fifty-fifty.  That way we can allow companies to move within the region, based on their economic interest, but not at the expense of a municipality by losing all the income tax.  So, three things:  A regional economy, not competing internally, but allowing companies to move around without competition, but then, in turn, competing with the rest of the world.  Sharing revenue [so,] if a company moves from one place to another, that the city it moves from doesn’t lose.

Grapevine: Would that be done through the Regional Income Tax Authority?

Jackson: No, it would be done through agreements between the various municipalities.  And then, whoever’s the collection agency, whether it’s RITA or the Central Collection Agency, that they would know how to disperse the revenue.  And the same thing with costs.  To share the costs by buying as a region as opposed to buying individually.

Grapevine: Could you see that model, I know you just said you were against it for government, but could you see it working with say, education, for instance?

Jackson: You’re exactly right.  The same approach.  I happen to believe that we should do a regional funding of public education, and regional costs, procurement, that kind of stuff. 

Grapevine: It would certainly even out some of the disparities.

Jackson: It would, but that would mean we’d have to work together on a common mission, and shift dollars around based on where it’s needed.  And, as you know, that would create great anxiety among a lot of communities, particularly those wealthier communities who would believe they’re subsidizing a poorer district.  It would be problematic to try to form a regional school district because of the vast diversity and differences, not only in the population, but in the different levels of education.  And how do you figure out where you assign students or if you keep the districts the same but we work on cost-savings through sharing.  For example, if we’re buying gasoline for vehicles, why not buy ‘em as a regional school?  [With] all the districts combined, [we could] probably save money?  If we buy it individually, it costs more.  The same if you’re buying textbooks, or if you’re buying computers, or if you’re buying health insurance; same thing.  And in terms of the revenue sharing, again, that’s not as problematic as a regional district.  But still, people would have some anxiety over that, but I do believe having a common funding of public education within the region would go a long way as long as we have a common mission.

Grapevine: You’ve spoken before about making Cleveland a 24 hour city.  What types of businesses would you like to see open in Cleveland to make that happen, and how do you see that impacting employment in the Cleveland area?

Jackson: That’s the point I was making about, there’ll still be significant investments Downtown, particularly in the residential area.  Once we create a critical mass, and say, for instance, we’re able to increase the population, the people who live Downtown to 20,000, 25,000 people, then that creates a demand for goods and services.  So that would create a demand for... groceries, clothing, [etc.].  Whatever people do, when you have 25,000 people living somewhere who need goods and services.  And that will translate into entertainment, and restaurants, those kinds of things.  So, when you do that, the demand really drives what kind of businesses would be [opening.]

Grapevine: So, market forces would sort of make it happen?

Jackson: Right, if you have a younger crowd, a younger group of people living downtown, then there’s a certain kind of demand.  If you have an older crowd, there’s another kind of demand.  They intersect and overlap.  If you have largely working people, professional people, that’s another.  So, who and what that population is, and the demand that they have for goods and services would go a long way. 

   The second thing is to have additional people working downtown. Because having people live here means in the evening time, after hours you’ll have a demand.  But during the working hours, if we increase the number of people working downtown, then they also have a demand.  And whatever it is that they demand... some would to go to eat, some would want to go shopping for clothes, or...

Grapevine: Park?

Jackson: Whatever it might be.  And then the third leg to that stool for creating the 24 hour city is to have people visit the City of Cleveland.  [We want] 100,000 more people a year, or 200,000 a year visiting the City of Cleveland.  That’s also a demand for goods and services.  That’s a different crowd. You know, some of this stuff is overlapping, some of it’s not.  So, when you do that, that helps to create a 24 hour city.  Where the city is alive 24 hours a day, and you have to start Downtown. 

   You have to start Downtown, and the same thing and the same principle works in neighborhoods.  You go over to Tremont, where over the last decade or so, they’ve greatly improved conditions of the area.  There’s a lot of small stores and restaurants and bars and things.  You go over to Ohio City, it’s the same way.  So, if you have people there who are demanding 24 hours, it’ll be open 24 hours.  So, it’s the same principle.  And if people are visiting, then they may want to go to the Art Museum, the Orchestra, the baseball [stadium], the health museum, the Rock and Roll, Science.  Then, they may want to visit the neighborhoods and things like that. 

Grapevine: I noticed you spoke of increasing tourism, and I recently read that we’re pursuing the Republican National Convention.  Do you think that if we put similar efforts into getting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies here it would bring in a similar amount of tourism dollars?

Jackson: The purpose for me wanting to drive ahead and driving this thing about the Republican...I’m a Democrat, but [the purpose] driving this Republican Convention is twofold.  One is that, if we’re successful, it puts Cleveland on the map.  Not only nationally, [but] internationally.  It will be a great boost to the economy.  But it will also force us to work together to get things done.  Whether you’re a Democrat, Republican; if you’re a businessperson, labor.  All the segments of this society would have to work together.  And it would also mean that the City would have to work with suburban and regional neighbors to promote this.  Because you’ve got to raise a lot of private money, and things like that.  So, those two things help greatly.

   Now, to get back to your question about Rock and Roll.  Even if we fail, we would have created the relationships and set in place the infrastructure to work together.  So that, those relationships and that infrastructure could be used for anything.  It could be used for the induction at Rock and Roll, similar to what happened a few years ago with the International Children’s Games.  That was a collaboration working together to pull that off.  So, once you develop the infrastructure and you develop the relationships, you can direct it in any area you want to take it in.

   It could even address, since you’re with the Grapevine, that kind of energy and resources and personnel could be applied to addressing the issue of homelessness, addressing the issue of people coming back from prison and not being able to have jobs.  So it’s a matter of setting up the infrastructure and creating the relationships.  That’s the important part, as well as the recognition you would get from the Convention. 

Grapevine: There was a recent interview we did with Mike Sering, who was the Director of Shelter and Housing at Lutheran Metro Ministries.  He said that roughly 6,000 ex-offenders return to Cuyahoga Country every year, and approximately 25 people per month are ending up at 2100 Lakeside, which is the area’s largest homeless men’s shelter, which you recently visited (see Homeless Grapevine 75).  A lot of these individuals face discrimination in housing and employment when they get out of prison.  What can Cleveland do to ease their re-entry into society, in terms of securing employment or housing?

Jackson: Well, again.  That’s my point.  Cleveland, meaning government, in and of itself,  cannot [solve those issues].   Even Cleveland and the County can’t do it.  So you have to bring in the non-profit, the private [sector], and the non-profit agencies.  You have to bring in the corporate community.  Now, corporate people are not going to see that as their mission.  So, that’s why you have to show corporate people and employers how this is a benefit to them.  And it just can’t be because it’s the right thing to do, or a social service project.

Grapevine: It has to be in their self interest?

Jackson: Well...and it has to be the self-interest of the non-profits too, because these non-profits who are promoting certain types of facilities in the City of Cleveland are promoting it because the dollars are there.  You know, they’re not taking them into their homes.  You know, they’re promoting it because the dollars are there.  So, it has to be in all of our self-interests to do this, and I believe that it is.  But each party or component of that overall drive has to see specifically how it benefits them.

   That’s why, if we can...  The two issues will be housing and employment.  As you know, as part of some people’s paroles, they can’t go into certain areas, can’t go into public housing.  Now HUD is allowing housing authorities and Section 8 properties to put restrictions on admitting ex-felons if it’s not 5 or 10 years removed from the application.  So, it’s set up against [ex-offenders].  When you go into the public sector, the public sector will hire ex-felons.  When you go into the private sector, you cannot impose upon them, by government, rules, regulations, or laws to hire an ex-felon.  So they do it, and if they have a broad range of choices... they’ll make choices other than [hiring ex-offenders].  So what we have to do is, again, is to let them see it’s in their self-interest. 

   Now, what are we trying to do?  We’re working on, how do we create, through our Workforce Development Division that the County and the City has; how we do deal with people coming back from prison to provide them a marketable skill?  Then, how do we work, meaning the Mayor’s Office, government, work with employers to relieve some of their fears and anxieties?  To ask them to give the people a chance?  And what you’ll find is, to get one, you may have to deal with ten.  And then, when you’re in a very competitive sector of our society, they may not have the time or inclination or will to do that.  Because they [companies] don’t see themselves as social service agencies, and they’re not. 

   So, we have to, on one end, provide high-quality people, meaning people who [are] ready for employment, who are prepared to be employed, who will go to work, who have a skill, that won’t create issues.  Because, if we create success, a successful experience with that business, then they’re more likely to want to hire another ex-felon than if we don’t.

   With housing, it’s problematic also.  Because, as I said, HUD has allowed for certain rules to be implemented, regulations, and even the parole boards are restricting where people can and cannot go.  So, there’s a need to take people who are in the homeless shelters... and an ex-felon is not necessarily someone...they’re homeless because they don’t have a job.  They may not be drug-addicted, alcohol-addicted, or have mental issues.  They just don’t have a job, so they’ve got to go there [homeless shelters].  But if we can do transitional housing, and get people who are in a homeless situation into a transitional housing [program] and focus our energy and money on providing them with the next step, which is employment, then we’ll have a higher rate of success.

Grapevine: Would you see something like The Homeless Grapevine, where we essentially train people to run their own businesses selling the newspaper, would you see that as a model that could be used for both ex-offenders, and for helping people out of shelters?

Jackson: I believe the ultimate solution for homelessness, and ex-felons who are associated with homelessness... it’s going to have to come from that community.  I’ve always been a proponent of 2100 Lakeside being an entrepreneur.  Not that it charges people to be there, but they can develop businesses.  They have a laundry there.  What is it to get contracts to provide, to wash, to do laundry?  Say, for instance, you’ve got a place like Cleveland Clinic, or University Hospital, they do sheets and pillowcases.  What if we were able to get a portion of that business to them?

Grapevine: Or, say, the Community Hiring Hall?

Jackson: Well, not necessarily. [It would be] whoever it is who will be in the business of hiring ex-felons and homeless people.  And transitional housing... the people will be more successful.  That employment opportunity can be generated out of that community.  The same is if you’re doing catering service.  So there is, in my mind, opportunity for the homeless community and those agencies to set up business opportunity and to get contracts to supply goods and services to businesses and to people.  And that’s where you’re going to get your employment.  You’re not going to get it just shopping around out here, because people have choices.  And if, all things being equal, they’re going to choose somebody else.

   And then, if you had a janitorial service.  If you had a commercial janitorial service... One of these office buildings who contract out for people to come in and clean their office.  I mean, there’s a way to create employment there too.  So there are many ways to do employment.  There’s the need for government and non-profits to work on it.  And then there’s a way that community itself can work on it.  And the real solution is not going to come from government or the non-profits, believe me.  The real solution is going to have to come from the community.

Grapevine: One question we hear a lot from homeless people is: Is there any way that Cleveland could offer some of the housing that was boarded up during Mayor White’s administration to homeless people?  And if not, why not?

Jackson: Well, first of all, the City doesn’t own the property.  So, we can’t offer what we don’t have.  Secondly, what would they do with it?  Because if, in order to allow someone to live in a house, you’d have to give them an occupancy permit, which means it’d have to be up to code.  The vast majority of those homes are condemned, or condemnable.  So that means there’d have to be a significant investment in the rehab of that house to get it up to code, in order for someone to occupy it.  So, who would invest that money to give it to someone who doesn’t have a job?  Or to give it to someone who may have a drug or alcohol problem.

   I would imagine that scenario would work if there’s a non-profit who then gets receivership of the property, renovates it, and a homeless person is living there as [some form of] transitional housing.  Because the person has become stable and things like that.  It works in that fashion.  But just to say, even if the City of Cleveland did own them, who would make the investment to bring them up to code?  You can’t just turn stuff over just to anybody.

Grapevine: A lot of homeless people in Cleveland actually do have skills in terms of day labor, or carpentry, etc.  Would there be some way for them to work on the homes in exchange for them?

Jackson: Well, that’s an approach.  But I think it has to be part of an overall program.  I’ve actually heard the same thing from homeless people.  You know, “let us go in, and we’ll fix it up.”  Well, if they can do that, that’s fine.  But, you still can’t have 10, 15 people living in a house.  So there has to be some structure to this, some organization.  And, I believe that’s another way to get employment for people.   If, in fact, you have a non-profit, or the homeless community, would be the ones who sponsor, to have the money to acquire and then do all this kind of stuff.  And as part of, if they had construction crews, hiring homeless men and women as crews to work; it’s another way to do employment.  So, it could work, but it would take some management.

Grapevine: You would see it coming primarily from the non-profit sector?  You don’t see it as something that would result from the private sector?

Jackson: No, I can’t see the private sector doing it.  The private sector wouldn’t do it; because, why would they do it?  Unless...  Now they would, the private sector, if there was a contractor, a construction company that hired homeless men and women to do the work, and they did quality work.  The private sector would hire them to build homes for them, or to do the renovations; they would do that.  But, just to purchase a home, put money into it, renovate it, and then manage it, or in some way, turn it over to someone, I couldn’t see them [companies in the private sector] doing that.  It would have to be done through a non-profit.

   Another example of that is Habitat for Humanity, where you have volunteers and the Habitat community going out and building homes.  But even then, whoever it is, through their system, winds up in that home, they have to pay for it.  And then, finally, I’ve actually heard people in the community say that [if] it is a vacant house next to them... and then if you told them... Well, if a non-profit did that and rehabbed it and said, “we’re going to put 10 homeless men in here,” they would have a problem with that.  So even though people are saying that and it sounds [good], there’s different levels of hindrances. 

   Although, even with all that said, it could work if you had a non-profit go in, acquire the home, renovate it, and then [through] some kind of way do transitional housing.  Because, even they would have to have some revenue to offset their costs and be able to invest in some future things. 

Grapevine: Would the biggest financial hurdle be that in the foreclosure by the bank, the bank still needs to be paid, or does it have to do with backed property taxes?

Jackson: Well, it depends.  The cost of acquiring the house is the number 1 priority because, if you could acquire it for $5,000, and it costs you $30,000 to fix it up, then that’s $35,000.  If it costs you $30,000 to fix it up, but it cost you $30,000, there goes your $60,000, and so on.  And so, the cost of acquiring is very important. 

   Like I said, the City of Cleveland doesn’t own these properties.  They are in the hands of property owners, or mortgage companies, or somebody.  And until you are able to get it into your hands... there’s a cost to that.  There’s a cost to it, and the greater that cost, the less sense it makes for even a non-profit to do it.  Because they have to, in some way... somebody has to give them the money, or they have to recover the cost.  But it could work.  It working on a massive scale is problematic, and having it done without some management of the house as transitional housing; if it’s not done that way, it gets to be a problem too.

Grapevine: One of the major other hurdles for homeless people in Cleveland is transportation costs.  Is there any way that the Regional Transit Authority could offer reduced rates for bus passes for people in our shelters, similar to what they’ve done for Cleveland State students?

Jackson: Well, the quick answer is yes.  I mean, they could just do it.  Whether it makes financial sense for them to do it or not, I don’t know.  One approach you could take, as part of the funding of shelters, is to have a portion of money set aside just for that, just like the Cleveland Municipal School District.  They work out an agreement that gives them a large sum, a block of passes, and they pay a reduced amount for that.  You have student rates, you have elderly rates.  I don’t know if you could get away with having a homeless rate.  But if you followed the model of the Cleveland Municipal School District, where you bought a block of passes, and at a reduced rate, then maybe the shelter  could be the provider of those passes to people that they know are going on interviews, or back and forth to work, and things like that.

Grapevine: So that would be something that would be worked out individually between shelters and RTA, or should they, for instance, band together?

Jackson: I think they should combine.  2100 Lakeside would be the driving one, but you have other, transitional housing situations where their people, their clients would be the ones who would get the most out of it.  As opposed to giving it to someone who, rather than walking from 2100 to a food program or something, you’d give them a ticket to catch the bus and go there.  You know, that’s not as productive.  But, if you’re talking about helping in terms of employment, then whoever’s employed or on interview, then I think it would be a benefit.  I don’t think RTA will offer a homeless rate, though.  But I do believe, if talked to, they would be willing to provide a block of passes and tickets at some reduced amount.  And somebody would have to come up with the money to do it.

Grapevine: The state of Ohio recently passed a law forbidding residency requirements for workers in Ohio municipalities, and I understand you’re challenging that law.  If unsuccessful, how do you think that would impact Cleveland’s economy?

Jackson: Well, it could go either way.  I mean, of course, if you’ve got 5,000 people moving out of the City of Cleveland, you’ve got whatever that means in terms of... [economic impact].

Grapevine: Do you anticipate that many people would move out of the City?

Jackson: No, I don’t.  I think the City of Cleveland has about 8,700 employees.  The ones who are pushing it the most are in Safety.  I think that would probably be about 3,000 at the most, and probably less than 3,000.  I don’t think all of them would want to move out of the City of Cleveland.  And then you have to balance the other 5,000 you’ve got.  You know, there’d be a good portion of them who would make that choice, because they would choose to go somewhere else.  So, it would have some impact, but what that is, I don’t know.

Grapevine: Mayor Jackson, we’d like to thank you for taking the time to speak with us today about poverty and homelessness, and Cleveland’s future.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio Issue 77 August 2006