At the intersection of 38th and Meridian in Indianapolis, four neighborhoods come together, and by some standards Crown Hill neighborhood is the outcast of that quartet. Much has been written about the storied history of Butler Tarkington or Mapleton-Fall Creek (The Polis Center), and the Meridian Kessler neighborhood association even has its own paid employee. Each of these neighborhoods has its own unique housing characteristics, but the housing market in Crown Hill is transitioning as the housing in the area is getting more attention lately. This tour will show an emerging trend of rising housing prices on the south side of 38th Street, and its own impending gentrification problem, as the historic white flight to the north is reversing and finding its way back across 38th Street.
Our Crown Hill neighborhood tour begins at 3702 Kenwood Avenue, just four blocks south of MLK Center. You can follow along and view images at this Story Map. I have been renting and living in this house at the corner of 37th and Kenwood for two years to be in the neighborhood where I’m working and researching. I chose this house for its character like French doors and rounded arch ways. I was drawn in by the modern dark blue exterior paint that was key to its flip. The low rent price was of course attractive, as this house would be at least $100 more per month on the north side of 38th Street in Butler Tarkington, and even as a double, it is much smaller and more manageable than any home in Mapleton-Fall Creek would be across Meridian Street. The owner has a property management company that interfaces with tenants, but I briefly met him a few times when he came to work on the yard. I learned that this was the only rental property he owned on the north side, so I quickly let him know I would be interested in purchasing it if he ever wanted to sell it. This prompted some research into the home’s value, and I learned that he purchased the house just a few months before renting it to me, for just $17,000. I have no way of knowing how much money he invested into the repairs, although research into permitting record at the city might provide some insight. Fast forward two years, when the property management company contacted me say the owner was considering selling the house and wanted me to be the first to know. The asking price was $130,000. I called back the next day to make my offer, only to learn he had sold it in an all-cash transaction that included two other properties in his portfolio. With my mortgage pre-approval in hand, I set out to see what other properties were available with potential rental income.
I’ve previously purchased two homes in Indianapolis and have never profited from either sale. My first homebuying and selling experience could be a narrative all its own, and then most recently, I sold a single-family home on the east side near 10th and Arlington Ave, just outside Irvington. This time was a little different because I was looking for a home that could be my residence and offer potential rental income, either in the form of a double where I lived on one side, or something I could live in temporarily and eventually rent out when the time was right. The first thing I learned, is that it’s much more difficult to purchase an investment property than your primary residence. The financing itself is different, and you’re required to have a larger down payment. I frequently consider what others might be experiencing when I find things challenging for myself as a privileged, middle class, white woman with 2.5 post-secondary degrees. Beyond intentional redlining, this process was complicated – who else, therefore, is shut out of the investment property world? As reported in Fortune Magazine, according to a 2019 report from the Knight Foundation, “Firms owned by white men manage a stunning 98.7% of the $69 trillion managed by the U.S. asset management industry” (Morris, 2020).
As I consider the housing market as an investment opportunity, I’m conflicted giving the high number of evictions in Indiana and lack of affordable housing. Gentrification has not only impacted existing and potential homeowners, but in New York for example, “In 2017, investors purchased over one-third (38 percent) of the homes that sold at prices within reach of middle- and working-class families in New York City, dramatically diminishing the supply of homes affordable to those households. Renters are also affected by house flipping when investors swoop in terminate tenant leases to house flip” (Leonhardt, 2018). This phenomenon could easily take over in the Crown Hill Neighborhood as new, cheaper investments displace the multiple-generations of families who have called this neighborhood home, like Danita Hoskin, the current president of Crown Hill Neighborhood Association, who was recently highlighted by Indianapolis Neighborhood Resource Center.
Given the challenges with purchasing, affording and fixing up large doubles in my neighborhood all by myself, my relator encouraged me to look at single family homes that needed only minor repairs and would make a good investment. We saw plenty of homes that would be ideal for a company to quickly flip them, and large doubles that had too much square footage for just me living on one side and have a tenant on the other. On numerous occasions, I received new listings near the Riverside Park area that is considered up-and-coming, and the current target of gentrification efforts. As I declined the offers to look outside Crown Hill, I looked more into the single-family homes in my neighborhood and saw the comparable properties that seemed to be selling for high prices – like the next house on our tour at 3732 N Kenwood, just a few doors down. My realtor was excited to share that she had coincidentally just sold that home to another buyer earlier in the month after it underwent a full renovation. The role of realtors in gentrification is a separate subject matter all its own.
Two blocks west of Kenwood Avenue is Graceland Avenue. The house at 3719 Graceland Avenue is also a single-family home. The price increase from 2020 to 2021 was only about $30,000 but the curb appeal is striking. In between the crowded streets of Kenwood and Graceland is the one-way south, major throughfare of Capital Avenue. As you can see in the story map, comparatively, Google street view photos are much lower quality than any MLS listing photo, but the before and after photos of this property in the story map are the most remarkable of all, even though the two prices are only again, about $30,000 different.
Our tour concludes at 625 W 32nd Street, a house I recently purchased that was renovated and flipped about three years ago. It was built in 1930 across from the south fence of Crown Hill Cemetery that had its first burial around 1964. The roof line is shaped like a barn, and I’ve gotten more than one question about whether or not it was a Sears house kit, but haven’t had a chance to research it. There’s a great sunset view from the front porch and I can picture it’s spot on the north side of Indianapolis when it was more rural. One street south of the house is I-65, making for an unsightly view from the bedroom window. According to the 2021 appraisal, it is the most improved house on the block and most houses right around it look like they never recovered from the interstate coming through that decimated Black neighborhoods in the late 60s and early 1970s. (Fenwick, 2018). Thirty-second Street is currently a dead end when it reaches Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr Street, and a hot spot for illegal dumping that the Crown Hill Neighborhood Association has been tackling with the City Department of Public Works in 2020 and 2021. It can be a long process with city government with the burden falling on neighborhood residents to take stuff to the dump and pay the fee themselves.
Driving around mid-north and mid-town Indianapolis you can appreciate the various history of housing in each neighborhood. You can also see how intentional disinvestment has made the housing cheap and unsafe for current residents, and prime investment opportunities for investors. Indianapolis used to have thriving Black neighborhoods, but just as we heard from Mr. Moore and his other, accessing houses for investment opportunities can be as difficult for potential Black investors as Black homeowners due to redlining (2021). The historical housing records viewed for this project don’t speak specifically to race, but it wouldn’t take too long to make some inferences by connecting other data and seeing trends. The County Tax Assessors Website can be somewhat of a rabbit hole. A good starting point is using the keyword “Flip” in the Owner Name field, to see the prevalence of housing turnover in Indianapolis neighborhoods.
Fenwick, T. (2018, December 27). How I-65/70 shattered Black neighborhoods. Indianapolis Recorder. https://indianapolisrecorder.com/c57d7e9c-09e4-11e9-b276-83369364ae4e/.
Leonhardt, A. (2018, May 3). Report Reveals How House Flipping Hurts Affordable Neighborhoods (BKReader). Center for New York City Neighborhoods. https://cnycn.org/report-reveals-how-house-flipping-hurts-affordable-neighborhoods-bkreader/.
Moore, J. G. (2021, April). The Work of Justin Garrett Moore. ANTH 680. Indianapolis; IUPUI.
Morris, D. Z. (2020, June 19). Investment management is overwhelmingly dominated by white men-and it’s costing you money. Fortune. https://fortune.com/2020/06/19/investment-management-diversity-hedge-funds-mutual-funds-real-estate-pe-private-equity/.
The Polis Center. (ND). Study Neighborhoods. The Polis Center. https://polis.iupui.edu/about/community-culture/project-on-religion-culture/study-neighborhoods/