News

January 2023

Newsmaker: Homeport veteran Maude Hill reflects on decades promoting affordable housing

Affordable housing is a hot topic today, but Maude Hill remembers a time when few were talking about it.

By Bonnie Meibers – Staff reporter , Columbus Business First

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Affordable housing is a hot topic today, but Maude Hill remembers a time when few were talking about it.

Hill, 75, retired from Homeport on Dec. 31 before taking a new job with the Columbus Urban League. She worked for Homeport for more than three decades and saw it evolve and the conversation around affordable housing in Central Ohio evolve, too.

To her co-workers, Hill was known as “the fixer” – someone who can smooth over the roughest situations and form meaningful relationships and partnerships to help move the affordable housing developer’s mission forward.

“It is all about our partnerships,” she said.

Hill was born in southwestern Alabama. Her grandfather, Clark Cade, had a huge influence on her life, and raised her and her cousins. Her grandfather was born into slavery before becoming a farmer and entrepreneur who valued education.

Hill was a single mother when she graduated from night school at John Hay High School in Cleveland. Today, she is a mother to 11 – six of her own that she brought to her marriage with the late Rev. Baxter Hill, who had four kids, and one they had together.

Hill and her husband, who died in 2004, met in Cleveland in the 1970s, when Maude was a welfare rights organizer and Baxter was a civil rights activist.

As a police community relations representative for the city of Cleveland, she made sure that both Black and white children got on the bus safely when integration was implemented.

That’s what told Beth Hughes, Homeport’s first executive director, that Hill was up for the work.

In the 1980s, her husband took a government job in Columbus and made introductions for her in Columbus.

“He was able to reach out to folks and say, ‘That’s my wife, you better help her,’” she said.

Later, she worked for the Governor’s Office for Recovery Services and was an adviser to then-First Lady Dagmar Celeste on social and cultural issues.

Hill started at Homeport in 1990, when it was called the Columbus Housing Partnership. She applied for the job after seeing an ad in a newspaper.

The first development Hill worked on was the Indian Mound apartments on Rosland Drive on the city’s south side.She said a local church leader asked her and a colleague to leave after they presented the idea for the 100-unit complex.

A few days later, a meeting about the apartments was held at that same church. About 200 people attended. Hill said she could count on one hand the number of Black people in the room. One neighborhood group objected to the apartments because it was planned to be affordable.

“The things these people were talking about … ‘We’re not going to have those people in our community. They’re going to break in our houses and steal,’” Hill said. “It was everything negative that you possibly could think of. And I thought to myself, ‘Am I back in rural Alabama?’”

After that, Hill went looking for other faith leaders to help educate the public about Homeport’s housing goals.

“I got out there every day, working with that community, because this housing was necessary for us to do, and here’s why: We had designed this community around playgrounds, so mom could be in the kitchen, cooking, doing her laundry, supervise the kid at the table doing his homework, and could watch another kid on the playground out the kitchen window,” Hill said.

The Indian Mound apartments were built in 1991 and are still providing affordable housing for residents.

“That’s what began the Maude Hill romance with affordable housing development,” she said.

“I love seeing families’ eyes light up when they get into safe, decent and affordable housing,” she said.

The work hasn’t gotten much easier, Hill said, but Homeport has developed enough relationships that conversations about development are more productive.

“I think that we found the secret sauce of how to work with the community, how to listen to the community,” Hill said.

Hill said her work in Cleveland helped her better work with community members.

“It’s like driving. The more you try, the better you get,” she said.

A good example of this is Kenlawn Place, which opened in early 2022. Hill was instrumental in getting many in the Linden community behind the 45 apartments and five single-family homes. The area commission originally voted “no” on the project on North Cleveland Avenue, but Columbus City Council approved rezoning in 2019.

Hill’s church, new Salem Baptist Church, which is down the road from the development, helped drum up support for the project.

“We’re helping people whose everyday lifestyle isn’t getting them good quality, safe, affordable housing, and a place for their children to play, a place for their children to learn,” she said.

“Not only do we put a good quality roof over their head, but we also enhance their lives, help them to get jobs, get them connected to education, make sure that the children in the summer months are not experiencing a learning loss.”

Hill’s career with Homeport was capped by the Covid-19 pandemic, during which the organization had to find new ways to help residents.

That meant opening up community centers for children to do online schooling with tutors, providing internet at Homeport communities, and providing meals and rental assistance, among other things.

“I am still impressed of how we did so many things for our residents to ensure that they were safe,” Hill said. “I’m so proud to be an employee of Homeport. They put their money where their mouth is.”

Hill credits the late Irving Schottenstein, co-founder of M/I Homes and a member of the group that founded Homeport, with starting the conversation about affordable housing in Columbus.

And she said current M/I Homes CEO Bob Schottenstein has continued his father’s work along with other notable real estate developers in Columbus, particularly the Kelley and Weiler families.

“Those families still give the big moolah to Homeport and after 35 years, that is something to say that all those powerful people still believe in us and what we do,” Hill said.

This week, she announced she’s joining the Columbus Urban League as associate vice president for public and community affairs.

“This work is like politics,” she said. “It is hard to get out of.”

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