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High eviction areas in Cleveland echo the city's history of redlining

While tenants all over the city are receiving right-to-counsel help, these Clevelanders tend to live in a historically redlined neighborhood.
Gabriel Kramer
Ideastream Public Media
While tenants all over the city are receiving right to counsel help, these Clevelanders tend to live in historically redlined neighborhoods.

Time and time again Clevelanders are presented with data maps that illustrate stark inequities suffered by disadvantaged communities, and each time, the maps seem to echo the city's legacy of redlining.

A recent report on the use of the city's relatively new right-to-counsel law is just the latest. It shows where evictions took place in Cleveland in 2022 and where residents took advantage of the free legal advice now available to tenants under the new law. When the data is mapped, it falls closely along the lines of the city's historically redlined neighborhoods.

“When we are analyzing maps and comparing it to things like prior redlining maps, maps that show concentrations of persons living in poverty, concentrations of communities of color, it’s not unusual to see that highly correlated with concentrations of evictions,” said Neil Steinkamp, managing director of Stout, the New York-based consulting firm evaluating Cleveland’s right to counsel data.

Most tenants facing eviction have been guaranteed legal representation since Cleveland passed its right to counsel legislation two and a half years ago.

Right to Counsel-Cleveland (RTC-C), a partnership between the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland and United Way of Greater Cleveland, were tasked with providing the legal assistance for these cases.

RTC-C released datain early March showing that nearly 79% of eligible Cleveland residents facing eviction received right-to-counsel help in 2022.

The RTC-C report also detailed the parts of Cleveland that see the highest concentrations of evictions and right-to-counsel cases. These areas include, but are not limited to, Union-Miles, Broadway-Slavic Village, Buckeye-Shaker, Mt. Pleasant, Glenville, Collinwood, Edgewater and Cudell.

Cleveland State University Associate Professor of Urban Affairs Ronnie Dunn said these areas match up with areas that were historically “redlined.”

“This is evidence of the saturation effect of institutional racism, which stems from government policies,” Dunn said.

“Redlining” refers to discriminatory housing policies that segregated neighborhoods in the mid-20th century. Black people and other minority communities often found themselves in areas that had been redlined.

These redlined neighborhoods were deprived of investment over the years and today tend to be hardest hit with other negative outcomes such as poverty, lower life expectancy, high infant-mortality rates and several other health discrepancies, according to Dunn.

“These are the residual effects of segregation and redlining,” Dunn said. “No matter what facet of one’s well-being you look at, for the most part, they’re all concentrated in these very same neighborhoods.”

Dunn added that these high eviction areas are also areas that had high concentrations of foreclosures during the foreclosure crisis that began in the late 2000s, which he said reduced housing prices, allowing more small entrepreneurs to get into the housing market as landlords.

Zip code 44109, which covers parts of Cleveland’s Old Brooklyn and Brooklyn Center neighborhoods, seemed to be an outlier to the trend of redlining. Dunn said it was surprising to see that the predominately white zip code had the highest number of evictions filings in Cleveland in 2022. But he was unsurprised by the rest of the zip codes appearing hot on Stout’s right-to-council client map.

Legal Aid Society Executive Director Colleen Cotter said she wasn’t surprised that Cleveland’s redlining map lined up with the map of where tenants were taking advantage of RTC-C.

“You see some pretty significant concentration on the southeast side of the city, but in lots of other pockets, too,” Cotter said.

Despite the concentration of RTC-C cases, Cotter said Cleveland’s eviction crisis is not just a specific neighborhood issue.

“It also says there are people who are living below the poverty level who face eviction in every ward in our city. This is everywhere, and we need to see it as a city issue, as a community issue,” Cotter said. “It’s throughout the city and we need to address it as system through the city."

This map shows that Cleveland's East Side neighborhoods tend to have higher rates of poverty.
The Center for Community Solutions
This map shows that Cleveland's East Side neighborhoods tend to have higher rates of poverty.

The origins of redlining

Redlining was part of a federal program started in the 1930s that rated neighborhoods across the country to help mortgage lenders predict whether an area was a good financial risk. Black neighborhoods were deemed 'hazardous" risks, which led to decades of disinvestment, according to "Mapping Inequality", a study collaboratively produced by the University of Richmond's Digital Scholarship Lab, Virginia Tech University and the University of Maryland.

Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC), the federal agency that created the color-coded maps that give us the term “redlining," in the 1930s graded neighborhoods in nearly 250 cities nationwide, rating them A, green, "best"; B, blue, "still desirable"; C, yellow, "definitely declining"; and D, red, “hazardous."

HOLC's maps, and others created by other federal agencies and possibly private banks and insurers, were used to determine which areas in the city were safe investments for banks and mortgage lenders.

“Race was a key — arguably the key — variable in determining these grades,” according to the University of Richmond. “Neighborhoods of color received D or C grades with only white neighborhoods receiving A and B grades.”

Other key data points

RTC-C found that 2022 right-to-counsel clients were disproportionately female and Black compared to Cleveland’s overall demographics. Clients in 2022 were more than 80% female, while Cleveland’s population is more than 50% female. Clients in 2022 were more than 70% Black, while Cleveland’s population is a little less than 50% Black.

The data also indicates that approximately 57% of children in right-to-counsel client homes in 2022 were attending public and charter schools participating in Cleveland's Say Yes program.

While some clients identified lead as a defective condition in their homes, Stout suggested that the lead exposure in the homes could be even worse, as many tenants are often not aware of lead presence in their homes.

Dunn said education and lead exposure go hand-in-hand.

“We know the negative impact that lead exposure has on cognitive development,” Dunn said.

This map shows the areas of Cleveland where children tend to have higher blood lead levels.
The Ohio Department of Health
This map shows the areas of Cleveland where children tend to have higher blood lead levels.

Gabriel Kramer is a reporter/producer and the host of “NewsDepth,” Ideastream Public Media's news show for kids.