The Rise and Fall of a Grassroots Housing Movement
The mid- to late 1960s were a very turbulent time of demonstrations and uprisings in scores of major American cities. One such riot erupted in July 1966 in Hough, a troubled inner-city neighborhood on Cleveland’s East Side. In the year before the riot, Hough seemed to be mostly forgotten and feelings of helplessness were on the rise. The University-Euclid Urban Renewal Project, announced at the start of the decade, was supposed to leverage spending on campus improvements by University Circle institutions to trigger federal funds for redevelopment and rehabilitation in adjacent Hough, but the program was poorly administered and, if anything, worsened the plight of the neighborhood. Although most observers tend to fixate on the loss of hope, several grassroots groups decided to take matters into their own hands. One such group was created in June 1965 from a plan by Rev. Walter E. Grevatt Jr. and Fr. Albert A. Koklowsky to fix up dilapidated houses in Hough and then sell them to poor families in need. This organization was called Housing Our People Economically, or HOPE Inc. Despite their good intentions, this isn’t a story with a happy ending.
HOPE Inc.’s first rehabilitation, an apartment house at 6516 Hough Avenue, went successfully. However, when attempting to restore two more buildings on nearby Belvidere Avenue, their funds began to run dry and they had effectively stalled by January 1966. HOPE Inc. appeared unable to do even on a small scale what the larger urban renewal campaign was failing to do on a grand scale. The growing tension and lack of aid would mount until they boiled over, leading to the Hough riots. Things finally began looking up as HOPE Inc. became the first organization in the nation to receive federal rent subsidies. However, the election of Carl B. Stokes as mayor in November 1967 could be seen as the biggest turning point. Stokes wanted to improve race relations and revive inner-city Cleveland, ambitions that he packaged in his Cleveland: NOW! program starting in May 1968.
HOPE Inc. was able to finish the restoration of the Belvidere apartments and keep on going to other projects. The organization was even able to expand beyond house restoration, teaching classes and donating food and clothing to those in need. Other similar organizations also benefitted from Stokes’ success in lifting the federal government’s freeze on funding to Cleveland community development, as well as from the aid of some businesses like the Forest City Materials Company, which placed a prefabricated home on HOPE-owned property. With money coming from both local and governmental levels, projects began to be finished. Neighborhood revitalization finally seemed to be getting off the ground.
Unfortunately this wasn’t to last. Even at its best, the amount of restoration was nowhere near enough. While organizations like HOPE Inc., Better Homes for Cleveland Foundation, and Hough Development Corporation were moving, they were still somewhat underfunded and, admirable as their efforts were, it would likely have taken well over a decade fix up all of Cleveland’s inner-city neighborhoods even if they had proper funding. There was a growing impatience and general loss of faith not only in Cleveland but also for other similar programs across the nation thanks to the federal government’s retreat from President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. The event that killed Cleveland’s progress was the Glenville Shootout, which started July 23, 1968, and continued for five days. After the disorder, it came to light that the group that instigated the violence, headed by Fred “Ahmed” Evans, had bought weapons using funds gained from the Cleveland: NOW! and everything fell apart. Although Stokes won reelection in 1969, his political capital was so depleted that he didn’t run in 1971. Funding quickly began drying up along with faith in these programs in general. Government aid stopped not long after as Johnson’s War on Poverty was gradually dismantled in the years after Richard Nixon took office in 1969.
Unfortunately, this is where the story ends, with inner cities far from restored and many of the organizations devoted towards helping revitalize them either closing down or being radically changed. HOPE Inc. would continue to cling to life throughout the 1970s, only to fade into obscurity in the early 1980s.