October 1, 2014

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Cleveland braces for new poverty rankings

CLEVELAND — Almost hidden within the city that last year ranked as the nation’s most impoverished is a village of 1,400 people, where incomes of $100,000 or more are common and homes are occasionally placed on the market for millions. The three-mile-long, half-mile-wide Bratenahl is incorporated, with its own mayor and police force. So, it’s demographic data aren’t included in the Census Bureau’s poverty rankings for big cities, which for two of the past three years, including last year, pegged Cleveland as No. 1 nationally in poverty rankings among large cities.

The next annual poverty ranking — part of the Bureau’s American Community Survey — is due Tuesday, when Cleveland will find out if it will take another hit to an already tarnished national image.

AP
A bicyclist rides past an upscale home on Thursday in Bratenahl, a village almost hidden within Cleveland, the country’s poorest big city.

The Census has previously estimated the Cleveland population at about 415,000 in 2005, down from the estimated 478,000 on 2000, with 32.4 percent living below the poverty line.

But just a short distance from some of the city’s urban blight are Bratenahl’s gated mansions, some built 100 years ago by Cleveland industry and shipping magnates. Mixed in near the Lake Erie shoreline are more modern high-rise condos and newly built cluster homes.

Joggers or dog walkers move safely past the ritzy structures and less costly but usually well kept single-family homes and cottages.

They can take a breather to gaze at docked yachts.

Bratenahl’s mayor, John Licastro, 57, a longtime villager, said residents are keenly aware that despite its apparent wealth, the village’s link to Cleveland urban woes is indisputable.

“You cannot separate the fortunes and future of Bratenahl from Cleveland,” Licastro said. “Do we have high poverty? No. Do we have a high crime rate? Thank goodness, no.”

So what’s the connection?

“We have probably at this point have more available homes in Bratenahl than we’ve had in the last few years,” he said. “As Cleveland has lost jobs and businesses, a lot of the people who perhaps would own those companies or become executives might have considered locating to Bratenahl.”

Powerful people who make their big incomes in Cleveland make their homes in the village named after Charles Bratenahl, a land owner from the 1800s.

“We have attorneys from a lot of major law firms downtown, and well over a dozen judges,” Licastro said. “We have a lot of physicians living here because of our proximity to the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals.”

In 1905, some of the Cleveland elite who had built homes outside of the city by Lake Erie formed the independent village to avoid being annexed as Cleveland expanded. That separation over the years became an enclave and an unquestioned fact of Cleveland life.

A 29-year Cleveland City Council member, Mike Polensek, whose ward is near Bratenahl, sees important connections between the village and the impoverished city. Although Bratenahl has its own police, Cleveland provides it with fire protection and emergency medical services.

One of the newest Bratenahl residents is Eugene Sanders, the recently hired chief executive officer of the Cleveland public schools. Bratenahl is within the Cleveland school district, although, residents tend to send their children to private or parochial schools, Licastro said.

The location and connections beg the question: Can Bratenahl ever be an actual Cleveland neighborhood?

“That will never happen,” Polensek said. “People in Bratenahl will fight that.”

A sense of safety and the need to run their own village are crucial to residents, Licastro said.

A recent civic push to tie Cleveland to its more well-off suburbs through regionalism, a recognition of shared interests, depends on Cleveland showing it can start solving its own problems, Polensek said.

Because its population is so small, Bratenahl probably wouldn’t have much of an effect on Cleveland’s poverty ranking if it were to become part of the city, said Nicole Bouchet, an American Community Survey statistician.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson isn’t much concerned with how Cleveland may be ranked in the poverty survey results to be disclosed Tuesday.

“Let me put this way. We have some questions about the methodology,” he said, pointing out that Cleveland ranked 12th in poverty two years ago. “They have us going from 1-to-12-to-1. It’s really irrelevant to us. The fact remains there is poverty. We’re working on strategies both economically and educationally to address that.”