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Rising Rents, a High Eviction Rate and Disinvestment Complicate Akron's Housing Picture

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Home on McGowan Street, built in 1916
H.L. Comeriato
The Devil Strip
This home on McGowan Street, built in 1916, is in need of repairs after suffering damage from a fire.

In 2016, the Eviction Lab at Princeton found that among large cities, Akron has the highest eviction rate of any city in the state. And in January and February of last year, there were more evictions in those two months than in the previous three years.

The media partnership, Home in Akron, which includes WKSU, is taking an in-depth look at the city’s rental market and the housing challenges that continue through the pandemic. We spoke with Rosalie Murphy, editor of The Devil Strip, and Akron Beacon Journal reporter Doug Livingston about the launch of the series.

Livingston says the statistics weren’t the surprising part of the reporting.

"What was surprising was how visible it was in their lives," Livingston said. "We stare at these numbers on paper, and as you said, we do form hypotheses and then we test them," Livingston said. "The pressures on these communities—the evictions, rising rents, the shift to majority rental neighborhoods—people feel and see this in who lives next to them and who no longer lives next to them."

To begin to understand the current issues renters were facing, Murphy and her reporters at The Devil Strip had to find residents. They watched over 100 eviction hearings and were present for the teardown of a house in Middlebury in search of people who were comfortable discussing the issue.

Middlebury, one of Akron's oldest neighborhoods, was a focal point for them.

"Many of the homes there are a century old," Murphy said. "Of any neighborhood in the city it had the second highest rate of homes torn down by the Summit County Land Bank in the period from the the foreclosure crisis until now."

Murphy says they learned it is difficult to spark investments in these kinds of neighborhoods because there is no profit motive, especially for private developers.

But with the help of nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity and The Well, their current work to build new homes and rehabilitate residents can open opportunities for future development.

The eviction rate in Akron during the pandemic is down. In January and February of 2020, the rate was as high as 10.5 a day. That number is now significantly lower. Protections put in place for tenants such as a moratorium on evictions have had an impact, but Livingston says there are always loopholes. "Those loopholes are the same loopholes landlords have been using for decades to move people out of their homes when the legal system stops them. Instead of saying someone have fallen behind on rent, you say, 'Hey, I want to sell this house,' or 'Your lease is up and that entitles me to move you out.'"

To help Akron residents understand what the numbers really say about their city and their neighborhoods, Home in Akron is working on an interactive, online map using the data collected for the reporting, including rental rates and locations of torn-down homes.

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

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Andrew Meyer is the deputy editor of news at Ideastream Public Media.