Can a Website Help Fight Portland's Housing Crisis?
Tyrone Poole, 35, thinks he can solve the housing crisis—or at least dent it. Last December, the Portland native launched start-up website OneApp Oregon, allowing would-be renters to find out, for free, if they qualify for any of 4,000 apartments (and counting). Last year, the city of Portland backed Poole with $125,000 in grant money, and now he’s expanding to Atlanta.
How did you start on this project?
I went to school to be a fireman and got injured in the academy. I was hospitalized on and off for nine months. Then, I was at a clinic for a year on crutches. So, during that process I ended up homeless. I couldn’t work.
What happened then?
I moved into a homeless shelter, and I was blessed and lucky enough to get an award letter [from the YMCA] that paid rent anywhere I wanted to live in the city. I was on cloud nine. But then I found out that letter was useless. I got denied all over the city—over and over and over. I was bright. I was smart. I graduated fourth out of 72 in my [high school] class. But I just felt like I couldn’t figure out the process of getting back on my feet. I went to properties and brought my transcripts to show my grades, thinking that might actually help. But no matter what I did, I was denied. One place denied me for credit. I had medical bills hit my credit while I was still in the hospital. Some denied me because I had an eviction. Others because I had property debt.
How did that lead up to OneApp Oregon?
I realized that it’s not just the way they feel about you. There are 200 management companies in Portland, all with different screening criteria. They’re just algorithms. Because each one has their own, it gets super-challenging to find where you qualify to live. It’s random. You can’t tell which ones you qualify for. It’s just a guessing game.
There’s a myth we need to debunk: access to housing is not based on supply and demand. That is one way to measure it, but it’s not the most accurate way. The true unit of measurement is landlord screening criteria. I had a voucher that would pay rent anywhere. But I didn’t qualify anywhere. Money is only a piece of the equation. When I got out of the hospital—with my evictions, my bills, my property debt, my derogatory rental criteria—I probably qualified for 1 percent of housing. Do you know the time and money it will take to find that needle in the haystack?
So what does OneApp Oregon do?
I went out and got the screening criteria for every management company in the city. The app filters the renter’s background check against every single one of them. We have about 4,000 listings right now. Going through all of them will be the equivalent of spending $200,000 in application fees and driving around and applying to properties for 11 years. Now it takes five minutes. You might only qualify for 40 places. But now, the odds of approval on your first application is 100 percent. The whole concept of being denied for housing is gone.