‘I Am Drained Emotionally’

Chicago-area landlord Derrick Rowe had to sell three properties and borrow against his retirement to make ends meet this year.

Derrick Rowe with text illustration
Courtesy of Derrick Rowe. Illustration by Jessica Martinaitis.
Derrick Rowe with text illustration
Courtesy of Derrick Rowe. Illustration by Jessica Martinaitis.

‘I Am Drained Emotionally’

Chicago-area landlord Derrick Rowe had to sell three properties and borrow against his retirement to make ends meet this year.

I was three years from retiring when COVID-19 hit. But the pandemic has stopped me in my tracks and set me way back. Now I don’t know if I can ever retire.

There isn’t much wealth passed down between generations in my community. I grew up in Chicago public housing and wanted to teach my children about investing, about building wealth.

So I’ve worked as a landlord for decades to build up something for my retirement and my kids.

When lockdown started, the governor put a moratorium on evictions — nobody wanted people on the street. I understood this goal, but I was, and still am, confused on how housing providers were supposed to pay for this decision.

Then, people started hurting — losing their family members and their income — and lots of them stopped paying rent.

But I still had to pay for repairs.

I had to get the boiler repaired to provide adequate heat. At one point, one of my tenants put something down the toilet, requiring plumbing repairs.

And there was no moratorium on my mortgage payments, the utilities, insurance, the property taxes.

I’ve had to sell off three of my six properties, exhaust my accounts, cash in my IRA and borrow against my retirement.

This has been a very emotional roller coaster, and I am conflicted.

I know what it feels like to not have food or shelter … and now being in a better position, I am drained emotionally.

I know there is supposed to be relief coming for my renters, but I don’t know if it will be enough to dig me out of this hole that COVID-19 has dug.

About the author: Derrick Rowe is a Chicago-area native who lives on the South Side of Chicago.

Mariah Woelfel produced this story for audio. Follow her @MariahWoelfel. Jessica Martinaitis and Mary Hall produced this for digital. Follow them @jess_morgan and @hall_marye.