In 2002 my husband, then a full-time law enforcement officer, began investing in real estate with his father. The original intention was to buy low, rehab cheap and quickly flip “a property or two”. The real estate market in our suburban Summit County area wasn’t favoring cash poor rookie investors; the houses we did buy took too long to resell and the net profit wasn’t quite worth the effort. We either had to make a larger initial investment or step outside our middle-class comfort zone into areas where houses were cheaper. We chose the latter and soon became the proud owners of more than 40 rental units among 10-12 properties, most within walking distance to the University of Akron. So much for flipping houses; we were now Landlords. We were hoping to provide decent, affordable housing to mostly students, which worked well in the handful of multi-unit properties we acquired. Most of our investments were along East Buchtel Avenue in Akron’s Middlebury neighborhood, just east of the University; beautiful, Victorian homes built in the late 19th Century when Akron was becoming known for its rubber industry.
The Rubber Capital of the World
In the later part of the 19th Century, rubber factories began to establish in Akron, Ohio. As cars became more widely accessible the demand for tires increased and so did the demand for factory workers. Families migrated from across the U.S. to find work in Akron’s factories. The rubber manufacturing industry exploded, along with Akron’s population, and in the early 20th Century, Akron was the fastest growing city in the entire nation, rendering it the “Rubber Capital of the World”. European competitors eventually swallowed the Akron factories along with over 30,000 manufacturing jobs. Between 1970 and 1975, Akron lost an estimated 23,000 residents. As of 2017, Akron had suffered a 31.9% decrease in population since its peak in 1960 and is currently considered one of America’s stagnating metropolitan areas.
Welcome to Roselawn
During the housing bubble of 2004-2005, we purchased a three story single family home less than two blocks from our existing properties in the same Middlebury neighborhood. Roselawn Avenue sits a block or two away from Middlebury’s busier streets like Buchtel Avenue and Exchange Street. At the time, the homes were relatively well-maintained and many were still owner occupied. Between 2005 and 2015, among a rash of mortgage fraud schemes, the housing market crashed and Akron experienced a huge spike in foreclosures. Between 2013 and 2017, the city saw a surge in drug activity as the heroin epidemic took hold. It wasn’t long before the quaint street of Roselawn was dominated by drug dealers and criminals, making it difficult to find solid tenants; selling would result in a significant loss. We stuck it out for several years and in 2017, we turned the house on Roselawn into rented rooms, just to keep it consistently occupied. Once famous for rubber manufacturing, Akron quickly became known for heroin trafficking and overdoses.
Akron’s Middlebury Neighborhood
- 70% of homes were built before 1940
- 56% of homes are renter occupied; 26% of homes are vacant
- Median household income is $24,744
- 45% of the population lives below poverty level
- 15.1% of the population is unemployed
- Nearly 1/3 of adults 25 or older did not graduate high school
My youngest two kids graduated from their upper middle class high school in 2015. Soon after, they began experiencing the tragic losses of classmates taken by the demon heroin. Many of these kids were the elite in our community; star high school athletes and high-performing academics who suffered the demise of poor choices. As my kids were faced with the cold reality of early deaths, my heart for those who suffer addiction and substance abuse grew. My research instinct kicked in and I scoured articles and statistics in search of reasons and solutions, as if I alone could solve the problem. The crisis truly hit home for me when I learned of the overdose of a kid from our town; it happened a few houses up from one of our rentals in Akron. Until that point, I had somehow been able to separate our rental world from our family home, as if there were some sort of impenetrable barrier between Akron and Stow, which sit just nine miles apart. I was smacked in the face with the realization that no one is untouchable by substance abuse and addiction. There was no reason–other than the pure grace of God–that my kids hadn’t been victims. My hard-line, black and white views toward “drug addicts” slowly began to change.
And then Kurt came back to Roselawn Avenue.