Cleveland has been hit hard by the housing crisis. Cuyahoga County has the highest rate of foreclosures per capita in the country and some 80,000 homes were repossessed by banks — about one in eight homes.
But the misfortune of many has turned into a gold mine — or rather, a copper mine — for scrappers. These hard luck entrepreneurs literally denude cities by stripping away piping, ventilation, air conditioning units, man hole covers, anything they can resell as scrap.
An increase in the price of metals has prompted a boom in this business in Cleveland. Some of it is legal, but much of it is illegal.
Here & Now’s Robin Young speaks to Diane Merriweather, who sells legally-obtained metal to scrap yards, and Vice magazine editor Wilbert Cooper, who wrote a piece about Cleveland called “Scrap or Die.”
Diane Merriweather on illegal scrapping in Cleveland
“A friend of mine was telling me, they took her neighbor’s car out of her driveway because it was down for a few months. And they took it out and they scrapped it because in some places, you don’t even need a title and they’ll scrap these cars illegally. That tends to be the thing now too – they’re just taking people’s cars and scrapping them. The city needs to make it mandatory and have some liability on the scrap yards to say ‘if anyone comes in here, they have to be a registered junk car or we will not let you scrap.’”
Wilbert Cooper on how scrappers sell stolen manhole covers
“A lot of the scrap yard owners buy it. There are also drug dealers that will purchase scrap after hours at a lower rate, and then they have their own ways to break it down. And one of the things that I learned was that connection between drugs and the scrap metal theft. I was actually told by the main character of this ‘Scrap or Die’ piece – he explicitly explains to me how some scrap yards will have a back room, like a secret room, where the stuff that they get that’s illegal, that should not be scrapped, is stored.”
Wilbert Cooper on the harm caused by illegal scrapping
“The problem is – if someone goes into a house and scraps $200 worth of scrap, they can do $20,000 worth of damage. Say if you go into a home and you rip out all of the copper wiring, you bust the walls and get out all of the copper, every wire in the house needs to be replaced because you can’t trust any of the wiring anymore, and the same thing with the flooding. They’ll come in and steal the pipes and then the water will run continuously for days and days, could potentially cause fires. There have been, in the city of Cleveland, different instances where abandoned homes went up in flames and that was often connected with scrap.”
- Diane Merriweather, legal scrapper and real estate developer.
- Wilbert Cooper, editor for Vice magazine. He tweets @WilbertLCooper.