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Union Miles Mt. Pleasant unite as one CDC

Posted November 16, 2023 in News Items

Don't underestimate the ability of Community Development Corporation (CDC) to empower and reinvigorate a neighborhood.

On Cleveland’s southeast side—with neighborhoods like Lee-Harvard, Slavic Village, Union Miles, and Mt. Pleasant—blight, poverty, disinvestment, and crime have prompted Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb to allocate $15 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds toward repairing and rebuilding the region where he grew up.

But CDCs like Union Miles Development Corporation have been immersed in the Union Miles community since 1981—working with residents and businesses to keep the neighborhood strong, safe, and engaged—touting the slogan “Improving the quality of life within the Union Miles service area through community engagement, housing, and economic development.”

Now Union Miles CDC is also taking the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood under its wing, announced Union Miles CDC executive director Roshawn Samples. She says the Mt. Pleasant NOW CDC was defunded several years ago and has struggled. Although Union Miles CDC is a small entity, the organization agreed to absorb the neighborhood abutting its north edge into its footprint.

“It was either that or [Mt. Pleasant] creates a whole new CDC, which takes a very long time,” Samples says. “Those residents need to be serviced. We want to make sure that we're out there in the community, we're building trust—engaging with those residents and business owners to make some things happen on this side of town.”

Samples says the process of incorporating Mt. Pleasant into the Union Mile CDC’s footprint has been going on for almost two years—gathering resident feedback, holding community meetings, and working to build the CDC’s capacity.

She has spent the past four months applying for grant funding to build that capacity and bring on additional staff. Union Miles CDC secured a $100,000 grant from Cleveland Neighborhood Progress and a two-year, $250,000 grant from St. Luke’s Foundation, which helped Samples grow her staff from six people to 13 and grow the board of directors to 15 members.

She says she should hear by the end of the year whether $700,000 in additional grant funding from other sources has been approved.

“Those who will be servicing the Mount Pleasant neighborhood are located in the Murtis Taylor building on Kinsman Road,” she explains, “because we felt that, in order to service the residents in Mount Pleasant, they needed to be accessible in that neighborhood instead of being in our office in Union Miles.”

Having the capacity to serve the entire area encourages Samples. “I'm really excited about it because we were able to hire a community engagement director, a whole community engagement department to really build the trust in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood,” she says.

The team is now working with a marketing firm on a new name, new website, and new tagline for the united CDC. Samples says they are playing with “Better Together” as the tagline.

Additionally, Samples says she has been applying for additional grants so the new CDC can develop a neighborhood plan under the expanded footprint.

“The last neighborhood plan we had was back in 2018, and we were able to implement quite a few things,” Samples recalls. “For instance, we're about [to collaborate with Rid-All Green Partnership] to break ground on veterans housing—11 housing units on Harvard Avenue, just east of East 93rd Street. We’re really excited about that, but both neighborhoods need a joint neighborhood plan to move forward.”

She says the new neighborhood plan should be drafted by March 2024.

Samples says they have also been working with Ward 4 Cleveland City Council member Deborah Gray, Ward 2 Council member Kevin Bishop, and Council president Blaine Griffith, whose Ward 6 covers a small portion of Union Miles.

“Both communities have been neglected for so long, and disinvested in, so we're really excited that we're getting an opportunity as a CDC to provide these services and do what we can,” Samples says of the recent help the neighborhoods have received. “We've been doing a lot with the little. We're extremely excited that this is an opportune time for us to build upon that and work with the city, to provide the resources and build up the community so that more investments can come to the southeast side.”

She adds that Cleveland Neighborhood Progress had been especially helpful in the transition. “They have been extremely supportive with us going through the process, providing technical assistance,” she says. “They have been just great.”

Community Pride

Part of what motivates Samples to oversee positive chances in the Union Miles and Mt. Pleasant neighborhoods is the fact that she was born and raised there. She’s seen the decline over the years.

“I'm from this neighborhood, so I know what it used to be, what it is now, and what it can be,” she says. It has so much great potential. Riding down the streets many days is extremely heavy for me because I have great memories of what the neighborhood used to be.”

Over the years, it has declined so much because of the lack of investment not being a priority for development or getting those private dollars into the neighborhood,” Samples continues, “so many residents my age have moved out of the neighborhood and moved on.”

When Samples was growing up, she says there was pride and ownership in her neighborhood.

“The neighbors, they were family, they disciplined me,” she recalls. “[The neighborhood] was really booming. There were many homeowners, who invested, had pride. That is not happening anymore because of safety concerns. Seeing how everything has changed, like with people not being neighbors or a community anymore… that dynamic has truly changed over the years. I just want to bring a sense of that back because the youth won't have those memories like I have. All they see is crime. And that's sad.”

Yet Samples still points to the community pride residents still have and the businesses that have stayed committed to the neighborhood.

“There are a lot of Black-owned businesses on the southeast Side, and [the community] has a very high voting turnout compared to other neighborhoods,” she says. “But we continue to talk about a lot of the negative. There's crime that happens everywhere.

“On the Southeast Side, we have homeowners that have been here many years, businesses, generational business, that have been here, and they haven't given up—they haven't given up hope,” Samples continues.

She cites Haynes Firestone Tires as an example of a business that’s been around for more than 50 years. “He's really invested—he always keeps his area clean,” Samples says. “He's bought up the whole block. He's been invested in his neighborhood for many years and gives back to the community.”

In Mt. Pleasant, Samples points to Henry's Cleaners on the corner of East 116th Street and Kinsman. “Henry, he's been in business for many years,” she says. “Each year, he has a summer event for the residents. There are businesses in the neighborhood that give back, that are committed to the neighborhood.”

Samples says she wants to encourage more examples like Haynes and Henry’s.

“We want to change the environment,” she says. “As a CDC, our goal is to build up the community and bring that economic boost of energy back, so they can thrive and build economic generational wealth.”

Read more at FreshWater Cleveland: www.freshwatercleveland.com/features/Union_Miles_MtPleasant_CDC_111623.aspx