Cleveland Hts. plans charm class for low-income renters

June 17, 2005
The city wants to send low-income renters to charm school.
     Mayor Ed Kelley plans to start mandatory classes, as soon as this fall, for new residents who receive federal assistance in paying their rent.
     Each tenant at the one-time, quarterly program would receive the city's "Good Neighbor Guide," a booklet that lays down the law on curfews, noise, dogs, overnight street parking and other potential areas of friction. With the advice would come a welcome, Kelley said, in the form of briefings on schools, recreation and other community perks.
     "We want to make this a fun thing," said Kelley, who cast the program as being in the tenants' best interests. "I want this to be positive for them, not something where they walk out and say, 'Gee, the mayor lectured to me for an hour and a half.' "
     The idea may have friendly touches, but it springs from concerns that some of Cleveland's older suburbs have about an influx of tenants from the federal housing choice voucher program, formerly known as Section 8.
     The weak Northeast Ohio rental market has allowed many subsidized renters to choose single-family homes and duplexes, raising anxiety in middle-class neighborhoods.
     Forcing voucher holders to go to the class may be discrimination, said attorney Peter Iskin, who oversees housing cases for the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland. It also may violate their privacy, he said.
     Iskin, who headed the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority board in the 1980s, said he had never heard of such a program. He questioned how the requirement could be imposed in one community and not another.
     Suburban officials worry about crime and other problems associated with poverty. They also say the tenants often come from Cleveland and don't realize the suburbs like things quieter.
     The cities and CMHA, which issues the vouchers, have begun meeting to discuss cooperation on housing inspection, law enforcement and other matters.
     Kelley wants CMHA to cut off rent payments if tenants refuse to attend the training program. He said he would ask his congresswoman, Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, to apply pressure if the agency resists.