Generating Neighborhood Power in North Toledo, Ohio

terry glazer thumbnailTerry Glazer combined people power and the might of the media to revitalize neglected North Toledo neighborhoods. 

June 15, 2016


Terry Glazer's first clue that community organizing was his calling came while pursuing a masters in urban planning at the University of Pittsburgh. When the university ignored a roach infestation in graduate housing, students mailed the critters in with their rent checks. "It was pretty effective," recalls Glazer, one of the instigators.

In 1989, when he stepped up as CEO of a community development corporation in Toledo, Ohio, Glazer quickly sought to build neighborhood leadership along with affordable housing. It turned out to be a powerful combination.

Residents of North Toledo – a low-income, racially diverse area – have successfully battled negligent landlords, fought to retain needed services like a YMCA, and even helped send one swindling businessman and his investor to jail. And in 2007 and 2008, hundreds crafted a plan currently at work to revitalize four North Toledo neighborhoods.

"There's a lot of power when people get together," Glazer notes. "When you create powerful neighborhood leadership, that neighborhood tends to attract more attention and more resources."

Glazer's CDC, formerly Lagrange CDC and now United North, is located in the Polish Village neighborhood. Prior to World War II, it was home to well-paid Polish-American factory workers living between the smokestacks of the Libby Glass factory and the Jeep plant. Just south by the Maumee River stood the turreted mansions of Toledo's elite.

But in the decades following, as in other Rust Belt cities, many of Toledo's factories relocated to suburbs and southern states while white residents and small businesses fled the city center. Mansions fell into disrepair. Today the 25,000 residents of the CDC's North Toledo neighborhoods are primarily African American and Hispanic. Few work at Libby or Jeep, and unemployment remains high.

Quick Win

Glazer came to the CDC after two brief jobs in city planning, five invigorating years as a community organizer for a church group, and after it folded, five unsatisfying ones as a real estate appraiser.

At the CDC, he immediately leaped back into organizing. To start, he needed an issue that would produce a quick win. "People need to see results,” he explains. Then you can build to bigger issues."

Working with a nearby Catholic church, he set up a meeting between residents and city officials at a senior center to discuss a dangerous intersection. Officials had long ignored neighborhood complaints. But confronted in a room by 200 displeased residents, they agreed to fix it pronto.
That single act gave roots to an empowered neighborhood that would last for over 20 years.

Revitalized Neighborhoods

To build on the success, Glazer knew they would need a community organizer who could recruit members and help them identify issues and winning strategies. He won a grant from the Needmor Fund to pay for the position. The organizer would work for the CDC but report to the village council, which would make its own decisions.

"If you are going to build a sustainable neighborhood, the people who live there are what's most important," he insists. "Other people should not decide what's best for them." At the start, council membership was mostly white. But the elderly Polish ladies in charge selected a young African American woman as their first organizer. "I thought that was a good sign," Glazer says.

Gradually the village council's leadership came to reflect the neighborhood's diversity. The organizer networked with other churches and community groups to identify potential leaders. The council held trainings to mentor them. And leaders gained confidence by putting their skills into action, Glazer observes. "Over time, success emboldened them."

Bigger achievements

Abandoned or neglected homes, including ones with disruptive tenants, are a council priority. A single bad property can spoil a whole block, he says, even a block with newly built or renovated housing. "Nobody wants to live near blight or next door to someone who makes them afraid."

To deal with difficult landlords, the council employs many strategies. After documenting violations, they attempt to meet with the landlord, sometimes with a police officer. If that doesn't inspire action, demonstrations in front of the landlord's home, accompanied by the press, does the trick. Other times, they lobby city officials or request help from the county to raze abandoned properties.

United North

Under the council's watch, more than 200 abandoned homes have been removed, many properties repaired, and problem tenants evicted, Glazer reports.

The worst slumlord they battled was a man named John Ulmer. He had a scheme to "sell" poorly maintained homes to low-income people. He roped low-income buyers into several years of down payments at exorbitant interest rates and then required payment in full. Victims realized too late that banks wouldn't finance the overpriced homes. Ulmer then evicted them and moved to the next unsuspecting buyers.

The council's multi-year campaign included hanging "WANTED" posters with Ulmer's image around town and pressuring a reluctant district attorney. Their campaign prompted an investigation that landed Ulmer and his most prominent investor in prison. Council members were jubilant.

Media Bait

United North postcard campaignOver the last 25+ years, Glazer and his team have become adept at leveraging media attention for their causes. “The local media in Toledo has done an effective job making our community’s challenges transparent. When officials, residents, and the masses are all working with the same information, they tend to make good decisions for everyone.”

For example, when the postal service announced the closing of Polish Village's only post office, the council designed an enormous post card with the time and date of a community hearing that they had organized to register their opposition then marched en mass to deliver it to the postmaster. Naturally, they brought reporters with them.

"The media loves to cover those kind of things," Glazer remarks. And the tactic worked. "They did save the post office."

Combining community development and community organizing hasn't always been easy, he acknowledges. At times the village council makes the CDC board nervous, such as when they demanded a police foot patrol by demonstrating in front of the mayor's house.

"The mayor didn't talk to us for a year," recalls Glazer, who reassured the board with words from legendary organizer Saul Alinksky: "'There are no permanent enemies and no permanent allies." And indeed, the mayor later became an ally on issues aligned with his interests.


In 2006, Lagrange CDC joined with nearby NorthRiver CDC to form United North. Together they took on their most ambitious project to date: engaging residents in creating a plan for four North Toledo neighborhoods that encompasses all aspects of community life – education, housing, economic development, safety, parks and community facilities.

Keeping residents and community residents engaged for the year-and-a-half it took to craft the plan wasn't easy. But the village council, expanded to include residents of North River's neighborhoods, kept 500 participants involved.

"That takes intensive door-knocking and calling," he explains. "You can't just throw out a bunch of flyers and hope that people show up."

So far, the plan has resulted in a financial opportunity center with free one-on-one financial coaching, senior apartments, and the first new housing subdivision in nearly 100 years for Polish Village. The county also agreed to transform a marsh into a park with a boardwalk.
"It made a big impact," says Glazer.

And just like part of Toledo’s community evolution, its leadership has also changed.

In November 2015, Glazer moved on, retiring after 27 years at the helm. But at the core, United’s strategy will remain the same. It will put residents first and hold community stakeholders accountable. His most important advice, Glazer says, will be to keep finding, developing and listening to neighborhood leaders.

"In the industry, we've emphasized developing properties and may have missed out on the most important resource to develop – the people themselves."


Share this post:

Comments on "Generating Neighborhood Power in North Toledo, Ohio"

Comments 0-5 of 0

Please login to comment