What is the Latino community like in Northeast Ohio?
The near-west side of Cleveland has the largest concentration of Latino residents in the entire state of Ohio. Cleveland is not usually top of mind as a big Latino enclave but we're here. The community started growing in the 40's and 50's when men in Puerto Rico were recruited to Ohio to work in the steel mills. This is why such there's such a large density of Puerto Ricans — they comprise about 75 percent of the Latinos here. That's how my grandfather and uncle got here, through recruitment and why I'm in Cleveland.
The community moved around the city but settled in the near west side of Cleveland where you have the social services, the churches, and the community activity. Newcomers arrive here looking to stay with a tío or tía (aunt or uncle) and for a long time, this is home.
Like in many other minority urban areas, once they get on their feet and increase their incomes, they move out to better parts of the city and neighborhood. But we want them to start here and stay here.
What's the key to developing your community in a sustainable way?
The La Villa Hispana redevelopment program is trying to preserve the neighborhood by leveraging its biggest asset, which is its people. There are a lot of issues related to gentrification and community development. For instance, increasing the market value of housing brings in retail but we have to be careful that it doesn't out-price residents from their housing and that the new retail developments fail to meet the needs of the community. Basically, we want to redevelop by keeping in mind the people who live here today because if we don't, we will be gentrified in 5 years.