Lakewood, Ohio, which shares a border on Cleveland’s west side, is a quintessential “streetcar” suburb with a rich history, apparent in its diverse housing and architecture. Some of Lakewood’s 50,000-plus residents live in beautiful Tudor homes along Lake Erie. Others live in high-rise apartment buildings in the city’s nearby Gold Coast section. Still others live in smaller bungalows and multi-family duplexes that line Lakewood’s dense street grid.

Yet like other cities and towns throughout the greater Cleveland area, this suburban community is facing tough economic challenges. The loss of manufacturing jobs throughout the 2000s, punctuated by an even more rapid decline during the Great Recession, exacted a terrible toll on the regional economy. Workers lost employment and income, and families lost homes to foreclosure. Lakewood’s unemployment rate, which had hovered below 3 percent as recently as 2001, grew to more than 8 percent by 2010. Moreover, a good portion of Lakewood’s housing stock was built for manufacturing workers—many at the local Union Carbide plant—in the early 20th century and has weathered decades of disinvestment. More than 90 percent of Lakewood’s housing units date from the 1960s or earlier.

Lakewood faces additional challenges arising from its location and size. Because it shares a border with the city of Cleveland, Lakewood is also the first stop for many low-income individuals and families, some with significant barriers to work, who are looking for better schools or housing options, or seeking escape from unsafe or undesirable neighborhoods in Cleveland. Yet Lakewood is not a large enough municipality on its own to carry out needed housing code enforcement, or to deliver social services at scale.

Lakewood Community Services Center (LCSC) is a small nonprofit organization that offers emergency and supportive housing assistance for residents at risk of homeless and operates a food pantry. According to Executive Director Trish Rooney, LCSC experienced a 140 percent increase in the number of people needing assistance between 2008 and 2012. Some clients come directly from homeless shelters in Cleveland, but many others have moved to Lakewood from other, worse-off inner-ring suburbs or are longer-term residents who have fallen on hard times amid the region’s broader economic struggles. Many have serious mental health and substance abuse issues that the local non-profit and public sectors face challenges in addressing. Overstretched providers like LCSC attract limited philanthropic support, given the long shadow of Lakewood’s needy next-door neighbor. Rooney noted that the level of need coupled with limited resources makes it difficult to “get beyond triage.”

 

DATA POINTS

  • By 2008-2010, about 16 percent of Lakewood residents lived below the poverty line, up from 11 percent in 2000.
  • Between 1998/99 and 2009/2010, the share of Lakewood High students receiving free and reduced price lunch shot up from 9 to 46 percent