Living on the lakefront

New housing is a major part of the lakefront plan being developed by the City of Cleveland. Its seen as the citys best opportunity to lure higher-income, tax-paying residents to the city while leveraging investments to pay for new parks and public access along the water.

Planners estimate that the reconfiguration of the Shoreway and other changes could free up land to accommodate about 10,000 units of housing. And a recent market analysis by the Housing Policy Research Center at Cleveland State University confirms that 10,000 is a realistic number. (See complete study: Word document, 279KB, or Acrobat PDF, 834KB.)

The study surveyed households in the Greater Cleveland region and found that 6,000 and possibly up to 9,000 middle- and upper-income households are interested in living on the lakefront. Thus, its possible to envision a lakefront with a mix of 7,000 middle- and upper-income households (85 percent of whom would be movers into the city) and 3,000 moderate-income households (all current city residents). This would add up to 12,000 persons to the citys population.

If Cleveland had 10,000 households living on the lakefront, they would be five percent of the citys total households, according to the study. That is comparable to the percentage of waterfront households in other cities.
Interestingly, nearly two thirds of those interested in the lakefront said they would stay in their current residence if a suitable lakefront property does not materialize indicating that lakefront development would tap new market opportunities and would not diminish construction elsewhere in the region.

Benefits and questions

Construction of just 7,000 new residential units with a median value of $200,000 would annually generate (based on current tax rate and abatement policy) $6.3 million in additional property taxes, and the amount would grow to $31.3 million when the abatement period expires. New income tax revenues would be $2.1 million a year.

Lakefront development also could have positive impacts on nearby existing neighborhoods impacts such as increased demand for retail services, increased property values, and expanded employment opportunities.

But, given the politics of Cleveland, a number of questions will have to be answered before current neighborhood residents will embrace a plan for a predominantly upscale lakefront:

  • Will lakefront development require public improvements that will drain city resources from existing neighborhoods? Or will private developers help pay for improvements (such as park facilities and public access) in exchange for the right to develop valuable lakefront property?
  • Will new private housing be surrounded by high quality public space with new residents contributing to a lakefront full of people and activity? Or will wealthy residents wall themselves off in secure enclaves?
  • Will the lakefront demonstrate how mixed-income neighborhoods can work in Cleveland? Or will market realities eliminate affordable housing options?
  • ill all new lakefront housing be tax abated (which is arguably unfair to existing homeowners in the city)? Or will the lakefront market grow strong enough to succeed without such subsidies?

The answers to such questions will determine how valuable the Cleveland lakefront turns out to be.


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