AKRON, Ohio — In recent years, Kristine Moore and her family have struggled to afford the mortgage at one home and the rent in another. Health problems added to their financial strain.
"Eventually, we lost our house and lost cars and then we're trying to dig our way out of the tunnel," Moore said.
But now, Kristine, her husband and their daughter have reached the light at the end of tunnel.
They're renting a home on Crouse Street in Akron's Middlebury neighborhood. The house is owned by The Well, a community development organization. The monthly payment is affordable and Moore said she has found peace.
"They make you feel like part of a family," she said.
In 2018, The Well made a pledge to rehab and restore 60 Middlebury homes in 60 months.
However, with help from community partners, all of those houses will be fixed up by the end of 2021—a year ahead of schedule.
"We currently have 43 of the homes lived in," said Zac Kohl, the executive director of The Well. "As we continue to complete rehabs by the end of the year, we hope all 60 of them would have tenants in them."
Through the Restoring Housing Program, The Well CDC rehabilitates rather than demolishes houses and then manages the housing with a long-term outlook on property development.
In 2019, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation provided a $2 million grant to support The Well's CDC housing initiative. In 2021, Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, a global venture philanthropy firm, added $300,000 in grants.
"We're taking houses that have historically been ignored and disinvested and we're creating spaces where people want to live and and want to be," Kohl said.
Kohl, who went to a church in Middlebury as a child, said the housing stock in the neighborhood is the oldest in Akron.
"It's actually the original bedroom community of Akron, Ohio," he said.
Moore, who grew up in Middlebury before moving around to different parts of Akron, is happy to back in the neighborhood and credits The Well for offering affordable rent and support.
"This is just amazing because there are good people here. There are good families and they need a program like this to help," Moore said.
A study from Eviction Lab, a research program at Princeton University, found Akron has the highest eviction rate in Ohio.
Kohl said Middlebury is among the hardest hit neighborhoods when it comes to evictions.
"What we see in this community is cycles of evictions where you know you're moving into a house and you're only going to be there for six months," Kohl said.
Middlebury has more than 2,600 houses, but only 22% of them are owner-occupied. Kohl said that creates a vacuum on a return on investment.
The Well continues to look for ways to improve the neighborhood and recently met with city leaders to discuss more ideas. Kohl said a big focus in the near future will likely be helping renters take necessary steps to become homeowners.
"It's a home that they can step into and feel like this is a place that speaks to my value and my worth as a human being," Kohl said.