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Akron is consistently ranked among the cheapest housing markets in the country, yet rents have risen 50% in the last two decades, while wages have remained stagnant. And the eviction rate is the highest among Ohio's largest cities. Home in Akron is a multimedia collaborative including WKSU focused on helping audiences better understand these housing issues and their underlying reasons.

Akron Deals With the True Cost of Renting

Tony Sullivan at apartment
Mike Cardew
Akron Beacon Journal
Tony Sullivan gestures as he talks outside of his apartment in the Timbertop Apartment complex in Akron Jan. 31. Sullivan's rent has gone up from $485 to $600 in the five to six years he's lived there.

Renting cheap housing in Akron is not cheap.

The city has a disproportionate share of homes built around the first and second world wars. And they’re concentrated in neighborhoods with extreme “rent burdens,” Census tracts where rent consumes 35% or more of a tenant’s income. In 2019, one in four renters in the city gave half their income to a landlord.

Older homes are more costly per unit to repair, upgrade or maintain than larger apartment complexes. City administrators suspect they eat into a landlord’s profit margins, discourage investment or force renters to make difficult budgetary decisions.

According to a Beacon Journal analysis of tract-level Census data, rents consume 40-50% of incomes in nearly all of the central neighborhoods, including downtown. Renters send less of their wages to their landlords the farther they live from the city center, though some pockets in Goodyear Heights, North Hill and around Romig Road in Kenmore come close to rent eating up 40% of household incomes.

There’s diversity in pricing across Akron, home to the cheapest median rent in Summit County outside of Twinsburg Township, Northfield Village and Barberton, according to Census data. Compared to Ohio’s other large cities, median gross rent (which includes utilities paid by tenants) is higher in Akron than in Canton, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Dayton, Mansfield, Toledo and Youngstown. Only Columbus is more expensive.

Rent can vary widely in Akron, like any city, depending on the neighborhood. Across the city, though, the average renter paid $816 a month in 2019, up from $679 in 2010 and $483 in 2000. The rent hikes have outpaced inflation, especially in the run-up to the housing crisis.

Outside of luxury condominiums and rentals near the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the highest median rents in the city per month are $1,082 where West Akron meets Wallhaven, $937 in Firestone Park and $903 where Ellet and Goodyear Heights touch Tallmadge.

Akron rents have been on the rise for some time, though wage growth in the five years before the pandemic hit has kept the percent of income going toward rent steady at about 29%.

Akron’s median rent soared 35% from 2000 to 2006 then fell in 2007. It stayed steady until 2015, when landlords began passing sewer bill increases onto tenants. Since 2016, rent is back up 13%.

For the average renter, that’s about $100 more a month than five years ago.

In the five or six years he’s lived in Timbertop Apartments in the Merriman Valley, Tony Sullivan’s rent has gone from $485 to $600.

His rent went up another $16 in December at the end of his last one-year lease contract. He gets a $17 monthly loyalty credit for being a long-term tenant in a complex that evicts more people than anywhere else in Akron.

“I’ve loved living here. I know there are a lot of evictions. But at least since the new management takes over, I’ve really loved it here. I’m kind of spoiled,” he said, talking beneath a wooden stairwell outside his apartment. Beyond the view of a babbling brook cutting through a wooded valley, the 34-year-old appreciates being able to pay his bill online during the pandemic.

And, as a college graduate making $15 to $16 an hour as a DoorDash driver while doing home repairs for a friend, he understands how younger tenants around him, many working in retail and restaurants, have fallen behind on rent and now face eviction during this pandemic.

“It reflects the economy,” he said. “I’ve had different neighbors come and go.”

Reach Beacon Journal reporter Doug Livingston at dlivingston@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3792.

This “Home in Akron” story is part of a local media collaborative informed by a series of 2019 town hall meetings across Akron.

Project partners include the Akron Beacon Journal, The Devil Strip, WKSU, Your Voice Ohio, News Channel 5and Reveal – The Center for Investigative Reporting.

Your Voice Ohio logo

Throughout 2021, we are continuing to explore the complex issues confronting Akron’s housing and rental markets and the impact on citizens and the city’s goal of growing its population.

Want to get involved?

Our reporters are convening small-group conversations in the coming months about housing issues in Akron. Individuals who participate will receive a $50 gift card. To join the conversation, sign up here: https://forms.gle/QMDaFUGF46rEqodb7