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Cleveland’s Poor Economy and Deplorable Housing Conditions Essay

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Updated: Jul 3rd, 2019


Plans to attain a stable regional future for Cleveland are surrounded by so many challenges. Policies that are exclusionary and discriminatory, complex urban disinvestment as well as the divided and inconsistent suburban growth that gives rise to segregation are part of these challenges.

These challenges and associated complexities of Cleveland city have left the metropolitan region dry and almost lifeless. There are heightened disparities within the City of Cleveland that have led to unstable social, economic and health facets of Cleveland’s City. In addition, competition in the region is dangerously eminent. This paper aims to understand how the once highly accredited city in Ohio is now fighting to restructure its current poor economy and deplorable housing conditions.



The population of Cleveland is low at an estimated 438, 042 in 2007 and is expected to further decline (Cleveland Land Lab, 2008). According to Mallach & Brachman (2010), Cleveland’s population is less than 50% of what it initially used to be. The worst part is that the population continues to decrease and the situation is not presumed to get any better. Close to 3,300 acres of land are empty space and around15, 000 buildings are vacant. As if this is not enough, current demolishes and fires are consuming the already derelict structures.

Most people have deserted the urban core and moved to the edges of the city even after a long-term investment within the heart of Cleveland. Growth on the fringes of the city gives rise to radical and high living standards due to a high need for city services, high taxes and diminishing rural outlook.

The mansions that once made up John hay neighborhood do not exist. The Euclid Avenue of Aristocrats is forlorn-looking with long blocks of empty buildings, factories and lots. It is apparently clear that population loss has led to a declined economy for Cleveland. Currently, very few residents are foreign and fewer of the residents have achieved tertiary education.


According to “The Plain Dealer” by Lubinger (1992), mortgage rates were at their lowest in 20 years during this time. Housing has been at the heart of issues in Cleveland, escalated by the formidable foreclosures that continue to become worse to the extent of house abolishment (Kotlowitz, 2009).

Either one of the following reasons lead to foreclosure as indicated by Mikelbank & Post (2011): “the sale was a sheriff’s sale; the house had sold at a sheriff’s sale in the last 2 years; and the house had a foreclosure filing against it in the last 2 years”. There is obviously substantial land that is unused and various buildings have no one residing in them. This is due to the harsh reality of population and job loss. The following exhibit illustrates the prices of housing in Cleveland’s submarkets.

The exhibit evidently shows that the housing price in Cleveland city is less by half than that of the suburbs. Other than a clear split of the city versus suburbs, there are distinct features denoting the comparison between the two markets (Mikelbank & Post, 2011). Also, there have been peculiar price changes, which raised concern among the residents, as obviously indicated by the exhibit.

The foreclosure filings are higher in the suburbs than in the city. These have partly led to the lowered rates in housing prices and changed ways of doing business. Low housing prices might have also resulted from the economic crisis that hit the land.


The current status of Cleveland has stemmed from a social and historical past marked by discrimination and exclusion across race and class during planning of state affairs. The current status of the African Americans in Cleveland is poor and is getting worse with each passing day (Blackwell, Bullard, Ferris & Powell, 2007).

Unemployment and low wages/income, lack of education and sprawl are the attributive factors for these poor conditions. Cleveland has a strong health care industry but the marginalized African American group is not able to access adequate and quality health care.


Cleveland is struggling with its many challenges in the attainment of a stable economy. Currently, Cleveland is undergoing decentralization of jobs and individuals as they move to the fringes of the suburban areas from the urban core.

The economy of Cleveland has now become a service economy; the humming machines that once occupied the riverside are now replaced by white suburbanites enjoying their night (Keating, Krumholz, & Perry, 1995). There is a decline of the once renowned industrial zone of Cleveland, jobs and population while dominance of the suburbs prevails.

Cleveland does not fit to get into global competition because of disinvestment and disparities in education, which are very obvious within the entire region. As a result of no robustness in Cleveland’s economy, it becomes impossible to hire and meet business and family needs. Cleveland is the hub of economic struggles in Ohio manifested by loss of jobs and poor population growth. Availability and accessibility to economic opportunities differ due to the prevailing segregation.



The growth of Cleveland is owed to its strategic location at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River and connecting Ohio River with Lake Erie. It was not until after 1830 that Cleveland’s population began to grow modestly as foreigners arrived in the region. The canal network and railroad supported the evident growth. Cleveland was among the American cities that had a high population of foreigners. However, the systems in place did not do much to bring about integration and desegregation among the different foreign groups.


Initially, Cleveland was the epitome of cultural diversity. Segregation in Cleveland came about after the Civil War when Millionaires’ Rows such as Euclid Avenue, occupied by wealthy industrialists, became a place for elegant mansions facing Lake Erie (Kotlowitz, 2009). On the other hand, there were the poorest sections of Cleveland, near the work places. Also, ethnic enclaves were evident as new immigrants sought to develop and maintain social and economic networks.

These enclaves saw a distinct division among the foreign ethnic groups that were perceived as a threat to the existence of the Native Americans. As a result, there resulted a fight for 100% Americanism. The adverse effects of this conflict between America and the foreign ethnic groups were labor strikes, inflation, unemployment and race riots. In its eventuality, immigration from Europe was restricted and as an alternative, Cleveland employers sought cheap labor from South America.

Cleveland was referred to an “All America City” because it embraced reforms, streamlined City Council and implemented a recovery strategy that was comprehensive (Keating, Krumholz, & Perry, 1995). These would not be achieved if both private and public sectors did not work together.

The city also was seen as a representative of American urban change. The locality, economic prosperity and size of Cleveland favored the establishment of a medical school within the region in 1840. A public health officer and a board of health were formed in 1856 when poor sanitation was regarded as an aggravating factor for health problems (Keating, Krumholz, & Perry, 1995).

The early German and Irish immigrants formed social and economic networks that would help preserve their cultural traditions and beliefs. The Germans developed their own newspaper in 1846 and formed various functional groups. The Irish on the other hand came up with self-help organizations and maintained a religiously Catholic culture.

Protestants were the predominant religious group with a total of 34 congregations. There were 8 Catholic and 2 Jewish congregations. At this time, Blacks were few and accounted for less than or 2% of the population. The blacks were scattered and worked as semiskilled or skilled employees. Education

Education became an issue of interest in 1853 and a Board was formed then. Three years later, the first high school was built.


The nineteenth century was the time when Cleveland was in the race for national development. This was between the Civil War and the Great Depression, when most American cities changed from agriculture, business and trade cities to industrial cities. Cleveland was part of this transition and in 1886, Cleveland had become a “great manufacturing city” (Keating, Krumholz, & Perry, 1995). Cleveland underwent various economic changes that are interlinked with the present economic status of Cleveland.

Initially, it was the pasture grounds that changed to become a hub for commerce and later as grounds for oil and manufacturing companies. The transition from a mercantile to an industrial city was linked to an influx of ethnic immigration. This was due to economic expansion that attracted Germans and Irish to Cleveland. The Germans managed to secure stable jobs as skilled workers while the Irish were casual laborers.

The Civil War led to the development and growth of Cleveland’s iron industry because its isolation and an excellent transport and communication system transformed it into a production site for war materials. Cleveland witnessed periodic depressions that were mostly followed by wage cuts, strikes and importation of strikebreakers from foreign countries. The First World War changed everything, from the population of young men to European immigration.

As a result, the Great Migration was used to counteract the effects of World War I. Labor was obtained from Blacks in the South and their population exponentially increased, increasing by 308% in 10years. 1930 was the year when Cleveland’s prosperity came halting to an end after the great market crash of 29th October 1929. The rate of joblessness shot up rapidly, tax revenues dwindled rapidly yet the demand for shelter food and clothing was adamantly high (Keating, Krumholz, & Perry, 1995).

During World War II, Cleveland’s population swelled as industrial workers streamed in. The result was inadequate housing leading to overcrowding and overuse, hence creating a base for deterioration in the future.

As if this was not enough, the return of servicemen wanting to raise new families aggravated the situation. In the mid-nineteenth century, the living conditions in downtown Cleveland were deteriorating and people were moving to the suburbs (Michney, 2007). In 1978, the situation peaked in Cleveland when it experienced bankruptcy.

Cleveland was not able to settle its $14 million debt. In the early 1970s, Ralph J. Perk, who was Carl Stokes’ successor, took heavy loans and sourced money from bonds to cater for operational costs within the city. He also either sold or leased valuable assets of the city. The situation became worse when Dennis J. Kucinich was voted in as mayor in 1978 and default of the debt became a possibility as local banks did not roll over short term notes.

However, George V. Voinovich brought new hope for Cleveland when he became elected as mayor in 1979. Nonetheless, the general situation in Cleveland did not improve nor did Cleveland restore its former glory as one of the best and prosperous cities in America. At the end of the twentieth century, Cleveland had shrunk in population despite ongoing development at the time and the gap between poverty and affluence was wider (Warf & Holly, 1997).



The loss of population in Cleveland is not something that can be remedied overnight. As a matter of fact, the projected population size is 387, 039 in 2016, a further decline compared to the 2007 estimate (Cleveland Land Lab, 2008). However, it is believed that proper governance and administration would somehow restore the success of former Cleveland.

There is a lot of reclaimed land that is idle and is a valuable resource in future developments (The Citizens’ bioregional plan for Northeast Ohio, 1999). It is expected that permanent and long-term solutions will be formulated. However, for a start, some short-term holding strategies will be set up to aid in stabilizing the region. Despite the fact that land is available and believed to be a ground for future developments, other factors do not show an auspicious future for Cleveland.

Fewer people are an indicator for a weak labor force. Therefore, even if industries are set up, there is no labor available and the one that is available does not qualify to compete in the contemporary world with new technology because the people have achieved little education. Most families are single headed and the high poverty levels within Cleveland do not make the situation any better.

The future is somewhat bleak and Cleveland may only have to rely on foreign residents to help in restructuring its economy. Developing land is not the only thing that will help Cleveland. It is important to help the existing population raise its standards of living with a focus on education, health and housing. Only then, such a population will help to build Cleveland despite the alternative of relying on foreigners.


It is believed that the core of the urban area will redevelop to host renovated and elegant buildings and this will decline rapidly as an individual moves outside the city. There is likelihood that more job opportunities will be witnessed in the future. However, it is presumed that there will be difficulties trying to match diverse and well educated and well trained individuals to the emerging job opportunities.

In addition, it is presumed that most of the job opportunities will be available in the suburbs. However, according to literature like the one from Kerr and Dole (2005), it is obvious that this objective is far from being achieved.

Kerr & Dole (2005) indicate that laborers are not paid in full commensurate with their labor costs. As a result, the living standards of the Clevelanders that the leaders are inexorably trying to improve will continue to be deplorable at this rate. It is not possible to ask for reforms if people will continue to suffer under the very same people calling for reforms. This article shows that the homeless and a majority of people living in the Cleveland’s shelters were laborers through day-labor agencies (Kerr & Dole, 2005).

Even though they would be paid the minimum wage or slightly above the minimum wage, this is not adequate to cater for a standard kind of life characterized by the availability and accessibility to social amenities like health care, good education, water and electricity in addition to the basic human needs.

As long as some people will continue to get very low income, segregation will be salient and with it in the picture, it is difficult to bring back the former Cleveland. The Service industry that has dominated the region cannot manage to pillar the economy of Cleveland and much less, meet employment demands (Kerr, 2011). The Plain Dealer by Smith (2013) indicates some of the lessons that Cleveland should learn from Youngstown. Cleveland should learn to utilize what is already in its possession.


Crime is evident in Cleveland and is an impediment to achieving the future goals of restructuring and renewal. Crime mainly results from poor living conditions and racial discrimination. But, when it occurs, it causes more unrest as involved groups go against one another in a bid to prove their credibility (Durham, 2011).

Racial segregation is a great challenge for the auspicious future of Cleveland because as long as racism exists, there will always be demonstrations, riots and strikes that will always bring down the progress of Cleveland as was the case in the 1960s in Hough (Keating, Krumholz, & Perry, 1995). Racial struggles consume much of the time that could otherwise be spent on building and developing the state (Jones, 2012; Saatcioglu & Carl, 2011).


Cleveland’s past has greatly affected the present Cleveland and will continue to affect its future. The city stemmed from a mere reserve to an industrial city that was viewed as an epitome of success in Ohio and in the entire American region.

Unfortunately, when disaster struck, the long-term investment was not spared and everything was lost in a matter of days. Currently, Cleveland is struggling to survive and the future is quite bleak due to the associated challenges. However, all these can be overcome if leaders take a sound, noble, just and reasonable position.


Blackwell, A., Bullard, R., Ferris, D., & Powell, J. A. (2007). Regionalism: Growing together to expand opportunity to all. Cleveland, OH: The Presidents’ Council of Cleveland.

Cleveland Land Lab. (2008). Re-imagining a more sustainable Cleveland: Citywide strategies for reuse of vacant land. Cleveland: Kent State University.

Durham, M. G. (2011). Vicious Assault Shakes Texas Town. Journalism Studies, 14(1), 1-12.

Jones, P. (2012). Coming of Age in Cleveland. OAH Magazine of History, 26(1), 7-8.

Keating, W. D., Krumholz, N., & Perry, D. C. (1995). Cleveland: A Metropolitan reader. Ohio: The Kent State University Press.

Kerr, D. (2011). Derelict Paradise: Homelessness and Urban Development in Cleveland, Ohio. Amherst and Boston: University of Massachusetts Press.

Kerr, D., & Dole, C. (2005). Cracking the Temp Trap: Day Laborers’ Grievances and Strategies for Change in Cleveland, Ohio. Labor Studies journal, 29(4), 87- 108.

Kotlowitz, A. (2009, March 8). . The New York Times. Web.

Lubinger, B. (1992, July 19). Medina county leads in home sales buyers attracted to the area’s low crime rate, schools and large lots. Plain Dealer, The (Cleveland, OH). Web.

Mallach, A., & Brachman, L. (2010). Ohio’s cities at a turning point: finding the way forward. Washington, DC: Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings.

Michney, T. M. (2007). Constrained communities: Black Cleveland’s experience with World War II public housing. Journal of Social History, 40(4), 933-956.

Mikelbank, B. A., & Post, C. (2011). Separating the good from the bad from the ugly: Indicators for housing market analysis. A Journal of Policy Development and Research, 13(2), 175-183.

Saatcioglu, A., & Carl, J. (2011). The discursive turn in school desegregation: National patterns and a case analysis of Cleveland 1973-1998. Social Science History, 35(1), 59-108.

Smith, R. L. (2013, March 3). Can Youngstown shift gears from Rust Belt to Tech Belt? Steel, manufacturing, software are building blocks. Plain Dealer, The (Cleveland, OH). Web.

The Citizens’ bioregional plan for Northeast Ohio. (1999). EcoCity Cleveland, 6(4-6).

Warf, B., & Holly, B. (1997). The rise and fall and rise of Cleveland. Annals of the American Academy of Political & Social Science, 551, 208-222.

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