Cleveland's Hough Neighborhood Seeks More Redevelopment

By JOE MILICIA, Associated Press Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) - The city's Hough neighborhood once boasted Millionaires' Row, a lineup of mansions that included the homes of wealthy industrialists.

The mansions were torn down after housing began deteriorating during the Depression, then an influx of lower-income families arrived and conditions worsened. The low point was the Hough race riots of 1966 that killed four.

Today, Hough is an awkward contrast of its past wealth and poverty.

The 50-block neighborhood of 16,000 people is located between downtown and University Circle, the city's hub of hospitals and universities.

It still has many boarded-up houses and dilapidated dwellings. Men still loiter outside carryout liquor stores, drinking out of bottles covered by brown paper bags.

But Hough has been revitalized in the last decade as black professionals returned and built upscale homes.

Practically every city in the United States has its Houghs, said David Rusk, an author on urban policy, but Cleveland's stands apart.

"I haven't seen anything like the upscale homes in Hough repeated anywhere else," said Rusk, who has written about Cleveland's neighborhoods and other metropolitan areas.

But Rusk and Tom Bier, director of Cleveland State University's housing research program, aren't ready to call Hough a national model for how revitalize a poverty-stricken neighborhood.

"It's at an early stage. If it peters out in a couple years, I wouldn't call it a success," Bier said. "I think it is going to continue. It has a life of its own already. There is a great deal of vacant land there, and it's in an excellent location."

The area has made strides with more than 200 new housing starts in the 1990s, compared to just a handful in the previous decade, Bier said.

The building boom was prompted by the city's offer of tax breaks and low land costs. The city also got banks to offer low-interest home loans.

Eric and Genice Holland were one of the families who responded. Holland, a postal worker, grew up in the neighborhood and wanted to return -- with one difference.

"I wanted a large house because when I was little there was so many of us," he said.

As a child, he lived in a two-bedroom apartment with seven kids. The Hollands now live in a two-story, six-bedroom home with a four-car garage, where they raise several foster children.

Since the Hollands' return to Hough, their only brush with crime was a 13-year-old trying to break in through their patio door after school.

"I've never had any problem since I've been here. We look after each other," Genice Holland said.

City Councilwoman Fannie Lewis, who has represented the Hough area for 22 years, said the neighborhood still needs improved schools and businesses other than its numerous carryout beverage stores.

Hough was so crowded in the 1950s that she wanted to leave but couldn't afford to get out. Then came the 1966 riots.

Millions of dollars of property was destroyed in the weeklong burning and looting that started after a racial incident in a bar. National Guardsmen were called in and patrolled the streets in jeeps to restore order.

"This neighborhood was so bad, all the people who wanted to leave here were gone. All you had in Hough was poor folks," said Lewis, 76, a former welfare mother.

Timmy Reed, 50, who lived in Hough as a teen-ager and now lives a few blocks away, said the revitalization has stagnated.

"It needs a large influx of small businesses: barber shops, beauty salons, gas stations, shopping markets," he said. "In order to stabilize an area, the money has to stay in the area."

Chris Warren, community development director of Cleveland, said "retail follows rooftops."

"Before you're going to see retail development, you're going to need 400 or 500 more houses," Warren said.

Sandra Brooks, a nurse practitioner, moved to the neighborhood with her husband, a Cleveland attorney, and built a four-bedroom home in 1991.

Still, they send their 7-year-old son to a private school in suburban Shaker Heights.

"That's the only drawback that I would say we have living here with a child is the school system," Brooks said. "We want him to be in an environment where learning is the actual focus."

Community activists are working to develop League Park, former home of the Cleveland Indians and the Negro Leagues.

The state landmark is celebrated with just a single historic marker. Activists envision a museum, cafes and shops.

They also successfully campaigned recently to keep a new liquor store from opening.

"There's more that needs to be done. You never finish," Lewis said.

Rusk said income and poverty data from the 2000 census to be released midyear will indicate whether the upscale homes have helped Hough's economic status. He said the more important question is whether the revival of Hough represents a citywide trend.

"I don't think anybody has the data yet that can answer that question," he said.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)