The Cuyahoga Plan
Toward Countywide Open Housing
The integration of Cleveland suburbs was a long and controversial process. However, with the influence of the Cuyahoga Plan, many African American families were welcomed into predominantly white neighborhoods. In Bay Village, a black family was contacted before their move by residents of the neighborhood to "let them know they had friends in Bay." Neighbors also provided the family with a home-cooked meal on moving day, and neighborhood children accompanied their new classmates to school. Aside from welcoming new families, the Cuyahoga Plan provided support for families who faced intimidation and less than friendly neighborhood experiences. The Cuyahoga Plan was important to Clevelanders hoping to live in integrated communities because of the services and support it provided.
The Cuyahoga Plan was formed in 1974 in response to the racially motivated discriminatory practices in the Cleveland real estate market. Prior to the Plan, very few suburbs had any kind of substantial minority population, with the exception of some eastern Cleveland suburbs, like Shaker Heights, Cleveland Heights and Warrensville Heights. Members of all races were steered into particular neighborhoods, and in areas like East Cleveland, the racial make-up of communities was in constant flux. For decades, blacks had been excluded from all-white neighborhoods, in which some residents would resort to bombings and threats in order to intimidate and prevent minorities from buying or renting homes. The Ludlow Community Association, formed in 1957, was the first group to make a concentrated effort to maintain an integrated community. While Ludlow became a national model for its integration efforts, the existence of only one racially welcoming neighborhood in Cleveland placed too much pressure on Ludlow and the surrounding neighborhoods, causing communities to be unstable. Organizations like Fair Housing Inc. (formed in 1962) and Operation Equality (a national program with support from the Urban League of Greater Cleveland, created in 1966) were two later efforts to further the desegregation of suburbs with a reach wider than the Ludlow community. The efforts of the organizations and the fair housing movement were federally solidified with the Fair Housing Act of 1968, but there was no real power to enforce the act, resulting in only modest successes for both Operation Equality and Fair Housing Inc. The Cuyahoga Plan formed to help African American families move to the suburbs by enforcing the laws enacted by the Fair Housing Act.
The Cuyahoga Plan used "checkers" to monitor fair and unfair real estate and lending practices in Cuyahoga County, and pressed charges against those found guilty of discrimination. Hoping to stabilize communities throughout Cleveland during and after integration, the Cuyahoga Plan monitored real estate companies as well as lenders. The Cuyahoga Plan took an institutional approach to the cause, forming relationships with not only real estate agents, but brokers and lending agencies, as well as other community members, allowing for the creation of a list of preferred agents and brokers who promised to practice fairly. While initial integration was important to the Plan, its board understood the importance of lasting integration, and as a result created resources to support families living in integrated neighborhoods, as well as promoted community activities to create a sense of togetherness. These resources fell under the Plan's "Life Support Systems," which, with their very existence, demonstrate the difficulty in maintaining an integrated neighborhood.
The Plan was not without resistance from both white and black community members. White families feared plummeting house values (another problem battled by the Cuyahoga Plan) while some black families did not want to place their safety and comfort on the line for the sake of integration. There was resistance from not only the community level, but business and governmental level as well. Even after the passage of the Fair Housing Act, some companies continued their unfair and manipulative methods. If companies were caught disobeying the act, they often entered into a legal battle facilitated or backed by the Cuyahoga Plan, and the discriminating company frequently lost. The Plan's Discrimination Complaint Service provided a place for black families who felt discriminated against to report their problems. One such complaint resulted in a lawsuit which ended with a settlement of $20,000 in favor of an African American couple, according to an article in the Plain Dealer from September 1980.
Unlike earlier attempts in Ludlow, the Cuyahoga Plan took an open housing approach to the fair housing movement, meaning the organization simply wanted to provide the resources to allow families to move into whatever neighborhoods they chose, rather than persuading white families to move and stay in suburbs with a growing black population, and persuading black families to be "pioneers" in white neighborhoods. The emphasis on fair housing and ensuring free choice set the Cuyahoga Plan apart as a progressive initiative.