From the People: Ward 7 Resident Interview

Mylonne Sullivan MSW, LSW, CCTP

Alana Garrett-Furgerson, a community organizer and current resident of Ward 7, agreed to be interviewed on her thoughts of residing in Ward 7 and the recent and upcoming changes. She has an extensive background in advocating for the rights of others, especially within her community.

Can you explore the changes you see in your neighborhood?
“In Ward 7, I have seen quite a few changes taking place. The ward is very diverse with people from different ethnicities, nationalities, and religions. It is a cultural melting pot that is beautiful to see like the new Free Clinic on 72nd and Euclid, or the increase in services provided to low-income families in the community. The Recreation Center is now providing more activities for youth. The elementary school, Wade Park Elementary, has a new washer and dryer for the students to keep their clothes clean. League Park is serving as a great community space in the summer for residents and families. I also see Ward 7 becoming a place for affluent residents and families. This change is due to new housing developments that are priced out of the income threshold for the average resident. I also believe this change is due to the current and future employment opportunities that surround the neighborhood.”

What do you perceive as the biggest issues facing your community right now?
“The biggest issues I see facing Ward 7 are two-fold. On one hand, I see affordable, equitable housing and a mismatch of labor skills and job opportunities. The other huge issue I see is the impending change of ward boundaries and the political discourse around it. In 2020, the boundary lines of Ward 7 are going to change, whether that is due to the census data or the results from the March primary election. The expansion of Ward 7 can be either a blessing or a curse depending on the leadership, resources allocated, and the community representation.  Right now, there are not many places in the ward that provide quality housing at an affordable rate. The average price of rent is around $1,000 and the median income level is below $29,000. While there are many anchor institutions in and surrounding Ward 7, often times the residents are not able to take advantage of the high-paying jobs those institutions offer due to a mismatch in skills.”

What do you see as the benefits of the changes within your community?
“The most recent changes with the Recreation Center and the upgrades to the elementary school are great for families and youth. Yet I believe more is needed for those families to be able to thrive in this community. Unfortunately, while the elementary school is improving, Martin Luther King Jr. High School is set to close.”

What do you perceive as the unintended consequences of these changes?
“Ward 7 becoming a place for middle income and affluent families can be great as long as it is not at the expense of lower socio-economic and working class residents. In revitalizing a beautiful and historic neighborhood like Ward 7, one has to be careful of the unintentional consequences that can arise, like limiting the housing options for low-income families while simultaneously building expensive apartments.”

If you could, explore the most important considerations for developers in your community.
“I think developers should work more with the community when making changes. Tackling community problems from a community asset-based model can ensure that all needs are being met. The community, often times, is aware of the things it needs, so when you include them from the initial stages of development instead of just at the end, a more thorough and equitable outcome is achieved.”

What do you think your community is still lacking?
“Communities don’t need handouts that leave them dependent on the benefits-services system. Communities need opportunities that encourage self-sufficiency, empowerment and autonomy. I would like to see an increase in residents and youth working on construction projects receiving small grants and business loans; job training for occupations with a starting salary of $18 an hour and multiple housing options and community organizations for returning citizens. Returning citizens need communities to work and live and build in just like anyone else. I also think more sustainable and environmental programs need to be enacted here, like an expansion of publicly funded ridesharing and investment of upcycled projects.”

What are the benefits of living in your community?
“The benefit of living in my community is that I am a part of a civically engaged, diverse population of people. There are many great amenities like the proximity to University Circle, the new Dave’s Market, Thurgood Recreation Center, League Park, the co-working space at the Tech Hive and the strong faith community. There is also a lot of green space in my community and places for community gardens.”

Are there any policies or political practices from your perspective that influence your way of life in your community, whether positive or negative?
“Yes, I believe in being civically engaged in my community. I am very passionate about being a part of change in Cleveland, so that means I need to make sure I reside in Cleveland. I cannot serve any community politically that I would not be willing to live in. My political practices are to ensure that people are valued over profit. Equity, sustainability, and community development are the foundation of policy.”

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