Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Ohio Supreme Court rules against Home Rule and Cleveland
As expected, the state's highest court today sided against the concept of Home Rule, upholding an Ohio law striking down local residency rules requiring city employees to reside in the municipalities that employ them. The decision ensures a reduction in the quality of life and housing values in neighborhoods like Mill Creek,West Park, South Hills, Shaker Square and other pocket havens for police officers, fire fighters and other city workers. While an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is possible, it's a happy day for those workers who fought for their right to choose where they wish to live and a dark day for many other city residents, including me.
Sophie and I moved to Mill Creek 10 years ago in large part because of the high percentage of homes occupied by Cleveland's police officers, firefighters and other city employees. Conservatively, 1 in 10 of our neighbors is a city worker, who unlike his or her counterpart in most of Cleveland's suburbs, is among the wealthiest of city residents. (By contrast, when I went through the Shaker Heights Citizens Police Academy in 2007, I asked many of the 73 police officers on the force where they lived. None lived in Shaker. They were sure that one or two of their brethren were residents of the affluent, inner-ring suburb, but couldn't name them.)
The city of Cleveland workers have good gripes and sound reasons why they want to move to more stable, safe neighborhoods, better schools being high on the list. However, every person employed by the city knew the conditions for employment here, and all made the best of the situation, finding private schools or magnet schools and living in the best neighborhoods they can afford. A handful even kept phantom addresses in Cleveland while making their unofficial homes and sending their kids to schools in nearby suburbs.
While everyone is now free to leave for greener pastures, those of us who remain -- including the majority of city workers who will stay here -- wait to see how bad it will get. Will there be another mass exodus in addition to those newly emancipated, driven perhaps by fear of the final destruction of an already deteriorating urban center? What of home values, dwindling tax collections and the effect to the already struggling municipal school district?
Our housing values have now taken three major hits in the last couple of years. First was the state's initial legislation outlawing residency requirements, making houses in neighborhoods like Mill Creek less desirable. Next, the crumbling economy beginning last year -- brought about by a $3 trillion war of choice in addition to a multitude of other sins and lack of moral leadership -- brought home-buying virtually to a halt. Finally, today's Ohio Supreme Court decision, confirming the legality of the state's far-reaching action.
Will we rue the day we bought into the promise of a really cool neighborhood that's safe and secure, diverse and close to everything we love and now our home of 10 years? Only time will tell. I remain hopeful, but with a healthy dose of skepticism.