As the city moves to close a homeless tent city in Middlebury, the mayor’s staff is backing a proposal by the private property owner to open the first of what could be many boarding homes for the homeless in Akron.
In a notice issued Dec. 6, city administrators gave Sage Lewis 30 days to have any remaining tenants out of tents pitched behind his commercial property at 15 Broad St. Lewis has 20 days to appeal the notice. His attorneys have said they’ll seek a court order to block the eviction.
As the two sides prepare to meet in court, Lewis has filed a conditional zoning request to double the number of tenants he can put in a single-family home his nonprofit organization, the Homeless Charity, purchased at 85 Kent Place. The house borders the tent city.
City planners have recommended approval, allowing 10 homeless people to move into the home. The municipal code limits single-family dwellings to five unrelated residents.
The boarding house plan is part of Lewis’ “mission” to help homeless people in the “space” between living on the street and finding a suitable home or apartment. “We have several great housing providers in Akron,” Lewis said. “But this transitional space seems ripe for opportunity. I’d like to see if the city will let me do this 10-person housing plan again.”
“I’m not looking to house these people forever. I’m just looking to hold them until they’re ready to move into more permanent housing,” he said.
In addition, Summit County Land Bank Executive Director Patrick Bravo said his agency, which reutilizes abandoned and vacant property, is ready to sell Lewis an even bigger house at 47 N. Arlington St. for $4,600. Monday afternoon, Lewis said a real estate agent he’d never met before approached him with an offer from a bank to gift the homeless a third home. A board member for the Homeless Charity went out to view the house.
As a private charity accepting no financial housing assistance or restrictions from the federal government, Lewis would use the properties to offer immediate, no-barrier housing for homeless people. “If it has a roof that doesn’t leak and all the utilities, it’s pretty much a mansion to these people,” Lewis said, noting that he doesn’t have to run background checks or require government documents that are often missing. “I don’t need their ID. If I’m pretty confident they won’t kill everyone in the house, they can get in.”
Support from city planners for Lewis’ boarding home plan marks a turning point in relations between the businessman and City Hall. The city rejected Lewis’ request to continue the tent city. The two sides, while at odds, have worked together to find housing for 46 tent city residents after a divided council rejected the campground zoning application.
Before issuing the 30-day eviction notice on Thursday, the city gave homeless service providers in the Continuum of Care 74 days to house all 46 affected residents. Though some may be a day or two away from landing an apartment, Lewis said 10 of the original 46, plus 10 new arrivals, would be sleeping in tents behind his commercial property Monday night.
In a report released by the city Monday, the CoC said only five of the original 46 have proved too difficult to house. Numbers provided by Lewis and the CoC have conflicted throughout the housing process.
“The CoC believes that ALL individuals … will have a long term housing option (NOT a shelter bed) presented to them by Dec. 21, 2018,” the CoC said.
Lewis has not ruled out the possibility of using tiny homes on his lot, which the city reminded him is zoned for residential use. Dave Murray of Northwest Akron has promised to build the mobile units, which could house two people in each. But cheap homes may make better financial sense.
“If I can get a house for $5,000 and move five people into it, that would be as affordable as five Dave Murray houses. That’s very appealing,” Lewis said.
Reach Doug Livingston at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.