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Home Girl

Native Daughter Returns to Cleveland

By Lee Chilcote

Hand-wringers of the so-called Quiet Crisis might be a little less anxious if they knew what Cleveland Heights native Lisa Kious is up to. Kious is creating affordable housing as director of housing for a non-profit, community development corporation in Seattle—but not for much longer.

Although she’s enjoyed living in a city that’s hyped to be a lot hipper than Cleveland, Kious is leaving the Latte Capital for the Rust Belt.

She doesn’t have a job yet, but that hasn't deterred Kious from coming home—with her boyfriend (a non-native) and a sense of optimism. She’s fairly confident that her connections here (a master’s degree in Urban Planning and her family still lives in Cleveland) will make it easier to find a job here than when she moved to Seattle during its boom.

Recently, Lee Chilcote caught up with Lisa Kious to chat about why she’s leaving Seattle and what’s pulling her back to Cleveland.

[LEE CHILCOTE]: You’re a native of Cleveland Heights, but have spent the last few years in Seattle. What brings you back to Cleveland?

[LISA KIOUS]: I’m leaving for three reasons. The first is my family. Many of my friends in Seattle are also away from their homes, and each of us has been struggling with the idea that our parents are getting older, and we want to be around them, and for our kids to be around them. So, I’m tired of being in a different time zone from my family.

The second reason is housing. I’m sick of paying $900 per month for a one bedroom apartment, which I’ve done for the past five years. There’s no way I could afford to buy anything in Seattle. Even the cheapest one bedroom condo is $190,000 – and I live in a working class neighborhood! For that amount, it’s astounding what you can get in Cleveland.

The third reason is transportation. Seattle is a very beautiful place, but it’s overcrowded, and the transportation is horrible. My boyfriend quit his job because it took him two hours to commute each day – it took 50 minutes to drive 16 miles. He took another job with a pay cut because he didn’t want to spend two hours every day in a car!

LC: Tell me about your job in Seattle...

LK: I worked at an organization called LATCH, or Lutheran Alliance to Create Housing, which develops affordable housing. We build mutual housing cooperatives in which rents are controlled. The residents of the co-ops participate in maintaining the housing; there is a community board; and they attend community meetings. It’s like a traditional housing co-op, but residents don’t own the units. My job is to develop the sites—I find the land, run the feasibility study, negotiate the purchase of the property, finance the deal, and manage the design and construction. There is a huge need for affordable housing here, and the most difficult thing is competing to buy the land on the open market.

Another reason that I’m leaving Seattle is that there are a ton of people waiting in line to get my job. It doesn’t feel like I have the same opportunities to make a difference here as I will in Cleveland. I feel responsible for Cleveland, and I think there are lots of people being entrepreneurial there, so it’s exciting to move back, to try to create something.

LC: Seattle is a boomtown, and lots of young people have moved there. Many people are attracted to the fact that it’s a vibrant city with good urban planning. Did you learn anything about urban planning and development that you think is applicable to Cleveland while living there?

LK: Creating livable neighborhoods is something that I want to focus on, and Seattle has a lot of tightly-knit neighborhoods. From where I live, I can walk anywhere—to the bar, the coffee shop, the grocery store or the park. There’s also a respect between walkers and drivers in Seattle. So yes, Seattle has lots of examples of quality urban design. We’ve debated whether traffic islands would be possible in Cleveland, as a means of calming the traffic and creating more walk-able neighborhoods. Every time I come home to Cleveland, I’m amazed at how many drivers run red lights!

One thing that Cleveland has over Seattle, however, is older architecture. A 1920s house is considered really old (in Seattle). There is no Cleveland Heights here.

LC: In Cleveland, we spend a lot of time mulling over ways to attract and retain young people. What do you think would encourage your friends to move back here?

LK: I’m twenty eight, and this is when people start to think about coming back, I think. They get tired of paying astronomical sums of money for rent in other cities. There needs to be a critical mass of people moving back, because they bring others with them. When my brother Chris and his wife Adele moved to Cleveland, I started thinking about it, too. Now that I’m moving back, some of my friends are considering it more seriously.

LC: What do you want to do in Cleveland?

LK: I want to create interesting, urban development. Most of my experience is with nonprofits that develop affordable housing; so, I’d like to transfer that knowledge into the for-profit world. When I came back to visit recently, I met with various developers. One of them was Keith Sutton, who has done a lot of development in Tremont. He helped to create a market for luxury housing in a neighborhood where no one thought it was possible. I’m also interested in economic development, because I think that in terms of urban revitalization, physical development and business development are closely linked.

LC: What’s the first thing you’ll do when you get home?

LK: Go to Nate’s Deli on West 25th Street! You know, there are a lot of Clevelanders living in Seattle, and on Friday nights, a bunch of us go out to the same bar, and we always end up talking about Cleveland. We talk about Nate’s Deli, Tommy’s on Coventry, and Malley’s Chocolate in Lakewood. It’s all about the good food!

I’m also looking forward to the accessibility. Seattle is beautiful, but I’m reluctant to drive out of the city because of traffic. In Cleveland, it’s easy to get to natural areas around the city. Here, there are many things I don’t go to because it’s hard to get there, or too crowded. In Cleveland, you can go to a great concert and find that it’s not sold out.


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