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How the Cuyahoga Land Bank is helping refugees “Discover Home”

December 18, 2014

Rehab - Cuyahoga County, OH - Credit Cuyahoga County Land Bank - 2014

Rehab - Cuyahoga County, OH - Credit Cuyahoga County Land Bank - 2014

Rehab in Cuyahoga County, OH (Credit: Cuyahoga County Land Bank, 2014)

Land banks can work in concert with a whole host of private, public, and nonprofit partners, using those creative partnerships to help the communities they serve.

An example of one such partnership is the Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corporation (Cuyahoga Land Bank)’s Discovering Home program–described in Take it to the Bank: How Land Banks Are Strengthening America’s Neighborhoods—which works to house refugee families in Cuyahoga County, Ohio.

The program, which was created in partnership with International Services Center, a refugee resettlement agency, is a win-win-win. A refugee family is given housing, a vacant home is revitalized, and the community grows stronger and more diverse.

To learn more about this project, we interviewed Karen Wishner, the Executive Director of International Services Center in Cleveland, Ohio. Here’s what she had to say:

How many families have been served through the Discovering Home program, and what has the impact been on those families and the surrounding community?

Karen Wishner: In the last year, we have served 11 families through the Discovering Home program. A third (four) of those families were refugees who had recently arrived in Cleveland and were resettled by our agency. Those were their first homes in the United States after having lived in refugee camps for over 20 years.

The surrounding community was welcoming. One family had neighbors help shovel snow in the winter and get the lawn mower started so that regular mowing could take place. There is a neighborhood association that looks out for each other. That is the exception, but that family was fortunate to move into a home where so much support was available.

Others moved to areas that were relatively close to members of their ethnic community. Support came from staff from our agency as well as from community members who had been resettled in previous years.

The impact on the community is that homes are no longer vacant. The economic impact is that money is coming into the community because our refugee clients are more likely to shop within walking distance of where they live. They have no cars when they first arrive.

Can you share the story of one refugee family that’s found a new home through this program?

KW: One family that found a home through this program was a family of three from a camp in Nepal. They are Bhutanese. They were married in the camp and their child was born in that same camp. They had very little when they came to Cleveland. The husband and wife both got a job within the first 8 months after arrival to the U.S. They worked different shifts so that someone was home to take care of the child while the other worked. They also had support for child care from some family members already living in Cleveland. They saved as much money as they could and were soon able to buy a car. The wife planted flowers in the yard and a vegetable garden was put in the back yard. They maintain the home and yard and are good neighbors.

What advice would you offer a land bank, or a refugee services nonprofit, interested in creating a similar partnership in their city?

KW: Through the collaboration of International Services Center with the Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corporation, it has been possible for the ISC to acquire housing through the CCLRC’s inventory of foreclosed, abandoned and vacant properties. Housing is a critical component of integration in American society and as a result refugees will learn firsthand the obligation of tenants and future home ownership. Refugees are earnest, hardworking, and motivated to success when given opportunities they did not receive in their home county. The International Services Center is proud to be working with CCLRC to help rebuild Cleveland and make a positive impact on our economy and community through housing for refugees. I would encourage any organization to look to make those same impacts in their community and accept the challenge of rehabbing homes to rebuild communities.

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