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Home in Akron: Making ends meet with rising rent

$16 million approved for rent, utility assistance
Alex and Iris Ford.jpeg
Posted at 3:56 PM, Mar 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-10 19:27:13-05

AKRON, Ohio — Iris and Alex Ford know how quickly life can turn upside down. It happened five years ago to the married couple with four children.

"I got evicted. I lost a job. It was just a real bad time, like a really bad time," Iris Ford said.

For about a year, the Ford family stayed with other relatives as they looked for ways to regain their livelihood.

Housing studies show rents cut deepest into incomes in minority neighborhoods.

Iris, who is African American, knows the struggle firsthand.

"That was the bulk of it. Every other bill wasn't too bad. It was just the rent. The rent was a big one for us," she said.

According to Census data reviewed by News 5 partner The Akron Beacon Journal, rent is up 13% since 2016 in the city.

The average rent in Akron was $483 a month in 2000. It jumped to $679 in 2010 and went up to $816 in 2019.

Despite the pandemic, things are looking up for Iris and Alex. Iris became a nurse last year and has jobs at a hospital and a nursing home. Alex is doing well as a contractor in the construction field.

They now live in a West Akron home on a fixed rent of $665 a month. The house is owned by Nazareth Housing Development Corporation, which acquires abandoned or foreclosed properties and renovates them.

Keith Harris, the projects manager for the non-profit, said Nazareth owns about 20 houses in Akron and keeps the rent affordable.

"Our mission is to house people, not to evict people, so we do everything we can to keep people in houses," Harris said.

Harris estimated 30% of clients have taken a financial hit to their income due the coronavirus crisis, leading to a greater need for community help.

Summit County Council recently authorized more than $16 million for the Summit County Cares program to provide rent and utility assistance.

To qualify for assistance in the new iteration of the program, applicants must be Summit County residents, must have been financially impacted by COVID-19, must have unpaid rent or a utility balance and must have gross income under 80% of the Area Median Income Guidelines.

Eligible Summit County applicants can apply for assistance at Summit County Cares or by calling 2-1-1.

According to the United Way of Summit and Medina Counties, the path to homeownership is much more difficult in minority communities and the first barrier is often banking access.

"Oftentimes, our minority population doesn't have those relationships with banking in a way that is meaningful," said Jim Mullen, the president and CEO.

Mullen said the Financial Empowerment Center, a partnership between United Way and the city of Akron, offers hope and free help by focusing on establishing banking relationships, increasing savings and credit scores, and reducing debt — all keys to owning a new home.

FEC has done about 9,000 sessions with approximately 2,500 families.

"We've collectively reduced debt by over $1.5 million," Mullen said. "We've increased assets by over $1 million. Credit scores are up 30%."

The Ford family believes owning their own home is on the horizon, but for now, they're saving up and focusing on other family goals.

"We've got a kid going to college next year so we want to just take our time and make sure that we follow the proper channels," Iris Ford said.

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

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.

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

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.

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