AKRON, Ohio — Donna Christy, a resident of Roselawn Avenue for nearly 40 years, takes great pride in Akron's Middlebury neighborhood.
"My sweat equity is here and my kids went here. My daughter and son-in-law live with us — with my grandkids — and now they're in the rooms that my kids were in," Christy said.
Christy, 59, carries around a color-coded map to keep track of what's happening on her street and along Excelsior Avenue behind her home. Green represents a vacant lot. Pink means rental. Yellows stands for home ownership. The yellow blocks are in the minority.
But what really bothers the long-time resident is the the high number of vacant houses in Middlebury. One of them, a few doors down from Christy's home, seemingly continues to crumble with shingles falling from the roof. She believes other vacants serve as invitations for copper thieves or squatters.
"How do you entice people to come live here when you got every other house boarded up?" Christy asked. "Would you want to bring your kids here?"
The Well CDC, a non-profit headquartered in the neighborhood, is trying to change Middlebury one rehabbed house at a time.
Since 2018, The Well has purchased 33 homes. About $50,000 to $60,000 is used to fix up the properties, which are then rented or sold, breathing new life into the old neighborhood.
The organization has an ambitious goal to buy and refurbish 60 homes in 60 months.
"We're trying to show that people in our neighborhood, they're worth the investment," said Reuben Auck, the housing manager for The Well.
Auck said restoring homes and hope is especially important in an area hit hard by evictions. In fact, some of the people who move into Well properties dealt with eviction somewhere else.
According to Akron Municipal Court records from the past three years, 375 tenants have been evicted in the Middlebury neighborhood. On average, 4.4 percent of tenants here face eviction, which is nearly double the citywide average of 2.3 percent. Only the Summit Lake and South Akron neighborhoods have slightly higher eviction rates.
"You see it on the street. It's harder to get to know your neighbors and be a real community when people are in and out and moving," Auck said.
The Well received $100,000 in grant funding from the city of Akron. Donations and rent payments also help the organization purchase and rehab more homes. In addition, The Well operates Compass Coffee, a gathering place designed to increase the overall economic health of the neighborhood.
Despite the challenges, Christy has no plans to leave Middlebury. She believes the work being done by The Well is proof that revitalization is possible.
"Get families back in here and get kids playing in the neighborhood. That's what I want to hear," she said.
This story is part of “Home in Akron,” a special content series being produced by the Akron Media Collaborative based on community feedback from a series of town hall meetings across Akron. We're exploring the complex issues confronting Akron’s housing and rental markets and its impact on citizens and the city’s goal of growing its population. The collaborative includes journalists working together from the Akron Beacon Journal, The Devil Strip, WKSU, Your Voice Ohio, News 5 Cleveland and Reveal – Center for Investigative Reporting. Additional community meetings are being planned for this spring. Have an idea for a story? Email us: InvestigatorTips@wews.com.