LINCOLN HEIGHTS, Ohio — Taeleigha Greene has a little boy, a little girl and a baby due Oct. 1. As if that weren’t enough, Greene also is preparing to move -- without knowing when her family must leave their home or where they will be going.
Greene lives in Marianna Terrace, a 74-unit public housing community in Lincoln Heights. Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority has been telling residents for years that a major renovation of the property is in the works. But CMHA -- which is supported by federal taxpayers through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development -- hasn’t been able to pinpoint when residents will need to move or where they all will go to make way for those improvements.
“The baby can come early. It’s really on God’s timing,” said Greene, who has lived at Marianna Terrace since December 2019. “I’m trying to plan ahead, but you can’t plan ahead if you don’t have a date or, you know, even a location. So I’m just trying to hang in there.”
The uncertainty is making many Marianna Terrace residents anxious, said Daronce Daniels, a Lincoln Heights village councilmember and community activist.
“The residents, they deserve better. The residents deserve accountability,” Daniels said. “The residents deserve a sense of urgency.”
They also deserve a sense of empathy, said Carlton Collins, program director for the Heights Movement, an initiative working to help Lincoln Heights thrive.
“There was a communication breakdown somewhere,” Collins said. “And when you’re talking about people’s livelihoods, this is where their kids are. This is where their families have been planted. You have to take that with a certain amount of care, and I didn’t see that happen.”
A CMHA spokesperson insisted the housing authority has been communicating about the renovations. Plans were first announced in September 2017, and eight meetings have been held either in person or virtually since then, Lesley Wardlow, CMHA’s senior communications coordinator, wrote in an email response to WCPO’s questions.
“Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority has provided open communication with residents about the process for the past four years,” she wrote. “Just recently the CEO provided an update to the Lincoln Heights City Council, and there was no negative feedback.”
Making way for a major makeover
The renovation of Marianna Terrace will involve all 74 units in the complex, Wardlow said, as part of the federal Rental Assistance Demonstration, or RAD, program. The RAD program is designed to help local housing authorities tap into private funding to make much-needed repairs to public housing.
The RAD conversion in Lincoln Heights will include “aesthetic upgrades and improvements to the buildings’ major systems.” The units will get new porches with covered outdoor spaces, new flooring, new kitchen cabinets, countertops, sinks, lighting, plumbing fixtures, water heaters, entry doors and mini-blinds. Exterior improvements will include new doors, shingles, lighting, gutters, downspouts, mailboxes and stone veneer.
Common spaces in the community will be upgraded, too, Wardlow said, with new sidewalks, landscaping, fencing, gazebos and a recoating of the basketball court.
“CMHA took advantage of the rebid situation and added items to the scope,” Wardlow wrote, “including rear screen door replacement, fence line clearing, HVAC equipment servicing, cleaning of storm water and catch basin pits and jet cleaning of main waste lines.”
The work is so extensive that it would be unsafe for residents to stay while it’s happening, according to the housing authority. CMHA’s relocation team meets with tenants to figure out what they need in their temporary housing, Wardlow said, and asks residents to complete surveys that include questions about needs related to handicaps, in-home care and school-age children.
Residents will get at least one option for where they can move, she said, and CMHA will pay for third-party movers or give residents checks to help cover the cost of moving themselves. Wardlow said residents will receive a 30-day notice before their scheduled move. They will have the right to return to Marianna Terrace, she said, but CMHA can’t guarantee they will return to their same unit.
But getting notified 30 days before a move isn’t enough for residents like Robyn Oliver. A self-described planner, Oliver is worried about mail delivery and voter registration and the fact that her temporary address won’t match her driver’s license. She’s concerned about whether premiums will change for her rental insurance and whether the temporary move will impact her 12-year-old son, who attends a nearby private school on scholarship.
“If you don’t know anything, how can you prepare?” said Oliver, who works as a nurse’s aide at Glendale Elementary School. “It’s not just physical. It’s psychological and emotional.”
Mitzi Jeffries said she’s grateful CMHA has provided a unit at Marianna Terrace for her and her three school-age children for the past three years.
“It’s a blessing CMHA gave me somewhere to live – me and my family,” she said. “They didn’t have to, but they did.”
Still, Jeffries wants more for her family. She has been working to pay off her car, repair her credit and save up to buy a manufactured home. The uncertainty about the renovation project and money she has had to spend because of problems with her unit are making it difficult to achieve those goals, she said.
“Sometimes I feel stuck,” Jeffries said. “But, hey, you gotta do what you gotta do. Because they didn’t have these children. I did. It’s my responsibility to take care of them and provide for them.”
The whole situation has been stressful for Angel Smith, she said.
“They’re not telling me, like, nothing,” said Smith, a widow with four children who also is visually impaired. “I don’t know where they’re putting me, where I’m going. And there’s certain places I don’t want to go.”
Smith's children are young adults, she said, and she worries they could become victims of violence in the wrong neighborhood. If her only option is to move someplace where she believes her children won't be safe, Smith said, she might need to find an apartment that isn't operated by CMHA.
“If I have to venture out and move out of Metropolitan, I need to know these things, like now,” she said. “You know, money doesn’t just fall from trees.”
Plus, the tight rental market makes finding a place to live more difficult than ever, Greene said.
“If it’s a place that I don’t feel comfortable in, then I’d like to be able to have adequate time to make my own situation,” Greene said. “And maybe just completely opt out from where they choose to send me, especially with a newborn baby.”
All the residents who spoke with WCPO said they understand the coronavirus pandemic has caused problems beyond CMHA’s control.
“Due to extreme increases in material and labor pricing, the financial closing and construction start for the Marianna Terrace renovation were delayed,” Wardlow said, adding that CMHA plans to meet with residents during the week of Aug. 9 to offer updates. “The team plans to discuss the reason for the delay, how CMHA had to pivot to keep the project moving forward and projected closing and construction start dates.”
Wardlow added that residents can always call or email the housing authority with questions.
Daniels said he applauds CMHA’s goals – and he’s excited about the plans for Marianna Terrace. But he said, as Hamilton County’s largest landlord, the housing authority should be able to do better.
“I do hold them to a higher standard, and they have not met that standard,” Daniels said. “If you are the biggest, then you should be doing the best. You should be doing the most. You should be the most involved, the most engaged in the process of what’s taking place in Lincoln Heights. And I can’t say necessarily that we’ve seen that. I don’t think the residents have seen that.”
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on problems we need to address. Poverty is an important focus for Lucy and for WCPO 9. To reach Lucy, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.
Monique John covers gentrification for WCPO 9. She is part of our Report For America donor-supported journalism program. Read more about RFA here.
If there are stories about gentrification in Greater Cincinnati that you think we should cover, let us know. Send your tips to email@example.com.