Being a landlord in the ghetto is a quick education.
When I first bought rental property in East Cleveland, I was a typical suburban kid. I mostly believed what I had been told about race in college: that black underperformance was due to racism, whatever that was. At the time of my purchase in 1981, East Cleveland was still a partly white suburb with good schools, public services, and the other amenities that make suburban life comfortable. It was just two miles east of bustling University Circle, Cleveland’s cultural center. It had hospitals, factories, and businesses, and was once the home of John D. Rockefeller, the richest man in the world. Had I been more astute—or, I should say, more racially aware—I could have foreseen the disaster that East Cleveland was to become. There were still a few whites left, but I didn’t realize they were moving out so quickly.
My youthful enthusiasm was soon tempered by the reality of black behavior. After I started renting, I commented to one tenant that another tenant seemed to have a lot of visitors, including people rolling up in wheelchairs. He replied, “Don’t you know? She’s a hooker. She’s turning tricks in there!” My enlightenment continued when a tenant’s boyfriend came out with a butcher knife in his hand to ask me to repair a pipe in her unit. He had no shirt on, his pants were dangling, and I don’t think he had just been helping his girlfriend chop meat. It dawned on me that things were different here than in white suburbia.
When new tenants moved in, I would often get a call that the locks were broken, and find a heavy dead bolt smashed out of its frame, supposedly as a result of normal usage. This was usually the result of a jilted boyfriend who would not take “no” for an answer.
One day I was inspecting a broken window when a muscular black guy named Devon—newly released from prison—walked up and asked if I had any work for him. I told him no, thank you, I did not need any help. He glared at me and walked off. The next time I stopped by, a tenant showed me a newly broken window and said Devon had done it, and that he said to tell me that unless I paid him off, he would break all my windows. She told me not to worry about Devon, though, because he was back on crack and would soon lose the muscle he had put on lifting weights in prison. About a month later, Devon was shot and killed on the East Side.