I often hear voices in the private sector speak of market-driven solutions to many societal needs. Yet, all too often the most pressing needs of destitute families and youth are addressed by charities, churches and nonprofit organizations funded by the taxpayers. Every year, particularly when winter sets in, journalists highlight these issues to prick the national conscience to come up with solutions.
The problem of homeless families was most recently set before the nation in an impossible-to-ignore gut-wrenching New York Times five-part series, "Invisible Child," which profiled the personal story of an 11-year-old girl named Dasani.
Exceptionally cold weather in southern Oregon turned the attention of a regional newspaper also to the subject of homeless families and the lack of affordable housing. In its first Sunday edition of 2014, the Mail Tribune featured a front page story, "A Place To Stay," which chronicled challenges faced by many charitable organizations (like the Maslow Project) and unique transitional family housing projects (like Rogue Retreat) that address the immediate food, clothing and shelter needs of homeless youth and families.
Such perennial media stories over the years may have helped catalyze what appears to be a budding trend in developing market-driven solutions to problems faced by the homeless.
Utah policymakers got serious about the issue in 2005 and instituted a Housing First initiative that has reduced homelessness statewide by 78 percent thus far. The state conducted a study and concluded it is less expensive to simply give apartments to homeless families. Utah expects to completely eradicate chronic homelessness by the end of this year. Although a number of cities across America have employed varying degrees of the Housing First initiative, only Utah has instituted it statewide. The idea is so popular other states are cozying up to it and it's even being promoted in Europe. But An Oregon entrepreneur believes he may have the perfect complimentary platform to the Housing First initiative.
Tyrone Poole was an aspiring firefighter whose debilitating injury during training cost him his dream. The long recovery process cost him the ability to work for an extended length of time. He eventually ended up living in a homeless shelter and working as a volunteer helping find rental housing for homeless families. During that time he discovered inefficiencies in the process and sought to resolve them. His experience in helping homeless families search for housing informed his knowledge of the rental market, attitudes of landlords, challenges of unconventional renters and opportunities inherent in the marketplace. His own experience with the rental process pushed him over the entrepreneurial edge. Said Poole:
Try renting a property when you haven't worked in two years. It seems like the mold... you have to fit it perfectly... and if you don't, if you're a little bit outside of it, then you're too much of a risk and everybody denies you.
NoAppFee: Re-inventing Renting
Poole and his family were denied by four properties during their search. The experience of his wife and children "falling in love" with properties that rejected them compelled him to resolve the problem for all families like his own. Poole realized the problems homeless families have in the rental process is similar for many 21st century unconventional renters, such as the growing numbers of people working multiple jobs, freelancers, entrepreneurs, students, families faced with foreclosure, etc. The duplication of application fees, travel costs and time spent in unsuccessful interviews is painful for renters. The time spent on background checks and interviewing a constant stream of unqualified renters impacts the landlord's pocket as well.
Poole recruited a team and invested in the development of NoAppFee.com, an online platform that performs background checks and matches renters with properties for which they qualify. Poole says his platform addresses these market conditions by removing the multiple application fees treadmill, and reduces the cost of travel. For landlords, listing properties on NoAppFee.com is free and the platform conducts necessary checks on renters while greatly reducing time spent by property managers with unqualified prospective tenants.
The unique matching process that NoAppFee employs is part of its secret sauce formula that Poole believes could disrupt the entire rental market nationwide. He's launched an IndieGoGo campaign to raise seed funds needed for a significant beta test. If successful, NoAppFee.com could be a true market-driven solution to housing homeless families across America.