Cleveland City Council passes $15 million in American Rescue Plan projects

Cleveland City Hall
Cleveland City Council approved $15 million in stimulus projects Monday night, but did not vote on a larger $70 million set of line items. [Tim Harrison / Ideastream Public Media]

In its last meeting of the Frank Jackson era, Cleveland City Council decided to push until next year — when a new council president and new mayor take over — the decision on how to spend $70 million in coronavirus relief dollars that the Jackson administration had proposed.

Council did vote to approve some spending on Monday, though, amounting to $15 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds on  development projects and health programs.

The legislation passed by council includes $2 million for health programs, criminal record expungement clinics and fire damage recovery at Northeast Ohio Neighborhood Health Services, a financially troubled healthcare provider in the city.

NEON, which has a budget of $25 million, reported about $915,000 in losses in 2019, the latest year for which nonprofit tax disclosures are available. Its chief operating officer was paid $501,964 that year, according to the disclosures.

At a committee meeting earlier in the day, Ward 7 Councilman Basheer Jones said that the health center’s recent troubles shouldn’t overshadow its history of serving Clevelanders.

“Unfortunately for them, we look at the past couple of years, and kind of throw away the last 50 years,” Jones said.

The legislation authorizes the city to enter an agreement with NEON to fund services such as food distribution and mental health counseling. The health center would team up with LegalWorks to run expungement clinics.

The city would also dedicate $200,000 to help NEON rebuild after a May 19 fire at its health center in the Hough neighborhood.

“I just want for us to understand that my community is starving, man,” Jones, who represents the Hough neighborhood, continued. “My community is hurting because they can’t get their records expunged.”

Ward 8 Councilman Michael Polensek said at the meeting that he would oppose the measure and in the evening council meeting, he joined four other members in voting no.

“I understand the importance of NEON and the health care aspect,” he said. “But I’m very concerned about the management of NEON.”

Council also approved three other projects that would draw on ARPA money: $8 million to restore a condemned affordable housing building, a $3 million loan for a housing and retail project in the Hough neighborhood and $2 million to support a new building for the Hitchcock Center for Women.

The $3 million loan will help Frontline Development, a minority- and women-led firm, build 72 units of housing just northwest of historic League Park. The project, named the Allen Estates, includes six townhomes and 15 affordable apartments.

Council also passed a three-year agreement to lease land along the Opportunity Corridor for a construction school. The city nixed a portion of the plan that called for an asphalt plant.

In addition to the $70 million of spending recommendations by the Jackson administration that will be considered next year, incoming Mayor Justin Bibb and council will decide how to spend more than $200 million, roughly half of the $511 million in federal coronavirus aid coming to Cleveland. 

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