Renae Arias grew up visiting Redmond, Bend and Sisters. She loved the area and how the mountain air made her allergies bearable, so when the opportunity arose to move to Redmond from Texas, the Junction City native jumped at it.
She found herself in the thick of a statewide housing crisis, where rents in Redmond have nearly doubled since she last lived there in 2012. Arias, her 16-year-old daughter and her 14-year-old son spent two months sleeping on air mattresses in a friend’s spare bedroom as she applied in vain to at least 30 apartments.
“We had enough money to get into a place, but we were always fifth on the list,” she said.
Arias finally found an apartment in December, but she’s already decided to return to Texas when her lease ends. “Nothing feels fair in Oregon,” she said. “It feels greedy.”
Arias and many other people searching for rental housing in Central Oregon could have had an easier time if they had access to OneApp, a Portland-based rental application clearinghouse that could expand to the area.
OneApp, which launched in the Portland area in December, collects screening criteria from property management companies. People looking for housing then complete one free application, and the website shows which available rental units they qualify for, which ones they’ll qualify for with an additional deposit or co-signer and which ones won’t approve them.
The website also shows prospective tenants what would cause them to be denied or approved only with an additional deposit or co-signer, so they know what they’d need to change to be approved for a place they really like.
OneApp’s founder, Tyrone Poole, said his own experience looking for a home to rent and helping other people find housing made him want to simplify the application process.
Poole badly injured his leg six weeks into his training to be a firefighter more than a decade ago, and he spent the next nine months in and out of the hospital. He couldn’t work during treatment, and he ended up losing his car and his apartment as he racked up medical bills.
He wound up in a homeless shelter, where a worker handed Poole a lifeline: a letter that would guarantee paid rent for a year in any apartment in Portland — if he could get approved for it.
But with an eviction, a repossession and a lot of debt on his credit report, finding a place was difficult. Poole searched for months in vain.
“I once caught the bus all the way to Vancouver because I heard rumors that they would approve everyone who applied,” he said.
Finally, Poole found an apartment just a few blocks from the shelter. Puzzled, he asked his new landlady why she approved him, and she told him her screening company said he “met the criteria.” It was the first time he realized property management companies all have different screening criteria, he said.
When property management companies pull an applicant’s credit history, they’re looking at different things. Some may care about the number of delinquent accounts; some may care about how much money is in collections; some may look at collections or evictions within the last three years and some may look for five years. The specific criteria is rarely spelled out to prospective tenants when they apply, though.
Poole went on to work as a housing advocate at the shelter, where he gave out rent voucher letters. About half of those vouchers expired unused because recipients couldn’t find an apartment that would take them.
How much time and money it takes to find an apartment depends on what percentage of the market a person or family qualifies for, Poole said. If the time and money required to find an apartment exceeds the time and money those prospective tenants have, they won’t succeed.
“You have to throw out what you’re used to knowing about what access to housing looks like,” Poole said. “Rent is an important factor, but it’s not the only factor.”
The company created two test accounts, Joe Clean and Hank Mess. Joe, with his clean credit history and lack of a criminal record, easily qualified for plenty of apartments. Hank, who has a lot of credit lines, doesn’t pay his bills on time and has a criminal history, qualified for just a handful of places in the Portland area — spots he may not have found on his own.
The site now shows a few dozen apartments in Bend, mostly owned by property management companies from the Portland area. It would take more buy-in from local property management companies to work in Central Oregon, OneApp CEO Tyler Peterson said.
“You really have to have the lion’s share of the market to make this work,” he said.
The site does not currently work for independent landlords, just licensed property management companies. Poole said they hope to expand to mom-and-pop landlords, but because tenant scorecards show personal details, they need a way to make sure independent landlords who list homes are actually landlords and not identity thieves.
It is a market-driven site that wouldn’t need local government to work, Peterson said. But Bend’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee and City Councilor Nathan Boddie, who first proposed looking at ways to reduce rental fees last fall, are looking at what the city can do to support or encourage using the program in Bend.
Terry Luelling, a local landlord, said he was interested in the concept behind OneApp but still skeptical of how it would work.
“We want to join this willingly and do this without a government mandate to do it,” he said. “We don’t want other people picking our tenants not using our criteria.”
— Reporter: 541-633-2160; firstname.lastname@example.org