The Biggest Story About Cleveland Not Being Told

This is the biggest story not being told about rust belt cities, and maybe cities generally, in my opinion.

Check out this map of cities in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) that fared “best” and “worst” since the recession. This was published in the Plain Dealer, based on a real estate analysis by Frank Ford.

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Kevin Leeson, who works for Cuyahoga County, really cut through the clutter here. The places that are fared the worst are the blackest. The places that fared the best are among the whitest. Notice how one of the best performing places, Orange, is nestled right up against two of the worst performing. What’s the big difference? Among other things, I’m sure, Warrensville Heights is 93 percent black and Orange is less than 10 percent black.

Households by percentage African-American:
Highland Hills: 93.6%
Warrensville Heights: 92.8%
Orange Village: 9.8%

It’s actually pretty remarkable that such starkly contrasted segregation could be maintained.

Anyway, this an enormous equity issue. Millions and possibly billions of dollars in black wealth tied up in homeownership just evaporated in the last few years.

I tend to get a little frustrated when equity advocates seize on the issue of gentrification, which is admittedly a huge problem in Coastal cities like New York and San Francisco, and try to apply the same kinds of struggles to Detroit and Cleveland. This is a much, much bigger problem for the Cleveland region from an equity perspective. And it’s hardly discussed.

I’ve heard it called a “segregation tax.” Because of racism in the housing market, essentially, some people even wonder if homeownership is a worthwhile investment for black people. Meanwhile, homeownership has helped lift millions of white families into the middle class.

The median home selling price in East Cleveland (93 percent black) last year was $12,500. It’s disturbing.

The blog recently shared a study from Social Psychology Quarterly investigating how the racial composition of neighborhoods affects their perceived level of “disorder.” The study found there was a correlation, basically showing that racial biases are a fundamental way we understand neighborhoods. That leads to a “stigma” for black neighborhoods. It’s easy to see how that “stigma” can translate into lower home values and white flight.


Admittedly, I don’t fully understand the causes. If I had the time and financial support for it, I’d love to interview researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland about this issue. (I have a feeling unfair lending is part of the issue, as well.) Anyway, I wish we were having a more substantive discussion about it locally.

–Angie Schmitt


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