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Cleveland Heights council looks at Community Improvement Corp., college loan relief

Thomas Jewell, special to cleveland.com 

CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — With formation of a new municipal Community Improvement Corporation in the works, Vice Mayor Melissa Yasinow is already looking into a student loan assistance grant program as a potential spinoff.

Yasinow has asked the administration to research the possibility of attracting young professionals to buy homes here, using the newly-enacted program in Newburgh Heights as a model.

Village officials in Newburgh can use their Community Improvement Corporation as a conduit through which half of a homeowner’s student loans can be paid off — good for up to $50,000, as long as the home remains owner-occupied for 15 years, or an 80 percent payout for 10-year occupancy.

Yasinow would like to see terms and requirements along those lines, although she has also suggested a “tiered” model similar to Cleveland Heights‘ citywide Community Reinvestment Area, enacted by council and approved by the state last year.

Under that proposal, the payout could potentially be higher in targeted neighborhoods where the city wants people to invest, such as Taylor and Noble roads.

However, the operative word for the basic student loan incentives would still be “citywide” — just like the CRA.

“We have such a large number of college students in town,” Yasinow noted. “I’d like to see how it might be applicable here as a long-term investment and a means to attract and retain young professionals who move into Cleveland Heights with student loan debt.”

Newburgh Heights officials expect the program to pay for itself with the money collected from local income taxes, as well as improve the village’s housing stock — strategic goals shared by the much larger Cleveland Heights.

But without getting ahead of themselves, Cleveland Heights city officials will still need to establish their own Community Improvement Corporation.

Proposed legislation has already been drafted and could be approved as early as Feb. 19 in order to augment the acquisition efforts of the city’s Community Development Corporation that was formed last year with the local nonprofit Future Heights.

“The CIC will help to facilitate the transfer of properties to our partners with greater flexibility and frequency,” a recent administrative outline to council stated.

In addition to Future Heights, which will receive $70,000 annually from the city in a two-year deal running into next year, those “CDC” partners include the Home Repair Resource Center and Start Right Ministry.

As part of its contract with the city — separate from the roughly $30,000 it has been receiving through federal Community Development Block Grants in recent years — Future Heights agreed to rehab 12 homes over two years.

If approved, the new Community Improvement Corporation would “help to facilitate the transfer of vacant  or tax delinquent properties to our partners with greater flexibility and frequency,” a recent update to council states, also mentioning assistance from the Cuyahoga County Land Bank.

In the draft legislation, the Community Improvement Corporation would be governed by a five-member board consisting of the city manager (president), mayor (vice president), the chair of council‘s Planning and Development Committee, the city housing director, and an appointment by the city manager.

Along with researching a student loan assistance grant program, Yasinow has also asked city staff to consider making Election Day in November a paid holiday for city employees.

This could encourage voter participation among Cleveland Heights city workers, Yasinow reasoned.

She noted that Sandusky recently switched from having Columbus Day as a paid holiday in the city to Election Day.

The problem in Cleveland Heights is that city workers do not get Columbus Day off, City Manager Tanisha Briley noted, calling council‘s further discussion of other aspects in the proposal an “interesting rabbit hole.”

Another request from Yasinow on Feb. 4 involved a study of extending a universal paid family leave policy to all city employees, not just the union members who have it in their collective bargaining agreements.

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