RentReady program looks to create path out of homelessness

Published: Dec. 16, 2019 at 4:39 PM CST
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Community leaders in Stevens Point are trying to help people facing homelessness get into stable housing.

It's the mission of a new program called RentReady, which is working with landlords and potential tenants to get people ready to rent.

This program came about because leaders here noticed that the path out of homelessness is often blocked by something in the person's past, like eviction or bankruptcy, keeping them from being able to rent.

"That's what community is supposed to be. A network of folks who help one another out," said Jane Johnson, a pastor and priest from the Beloved Community of Intersession Episcopal and Redeemer Lutheran who is helping coordinate the program by backing renters as a sponsor.

“We were frustrated, because there were all these folks who should be able to be in sustainable housing, and yet, there are all these barriers,” said Johnson.

So the city, landlords, The Salvation Army and local churches have banded together to create RentReady.

“Our goal is to help them overcome those barriers and get back into the rental market,” said Bob Quam, the Director of Community Relations for the Salvation Army in Stevens Point.

Potential renters will first have to complete two to three hours of classroom training about renting, where they create a portfolio detailing their past and present situation.

"During that classroom period, they will learn about fair housing laws, they will learn about why perhaps they were out of the rental market because of something in their background, how that affects their ability to rent,” said Mark Kordus, who works in community development for the City of Stevens Point, and organized the program.

RentReady is part of Hunger and Poverty Prevention Partnership of Portage County, or HPPP, a consortium of local government and community-based organizations. HPPP will then back their rent using a pool from local community organizations.

"They'll get a list of landlords participating in that program. When they rent from that landlord, the landlord has an assurance, should they default, HPPP will cover up to 3 months' rent," said Kordus.

To support them while they become renters, RentReady participants will get a sponsor.

"That sponsor walks with them post-placement. That can be something as simple as mentoring or a weekly ride for groceries. The other thing we’ve kind of noticed with people is that they don’t have any furniture. So even second hand furniture, all these items are things they can get from their local sponsor," he said.

Kordus wants to make sure they won't be in substandard housing. So he got the support of area landlords.

"Looking at the issues they've had in the past, how they're correcting them, being upfront with the landlords and letting them know what they plan on doing, and then you throw the component in of a little bit of a rent guarantee should they default, it really kind of takes some of the fear out of it," said Travis Haines of the Central Wisconsin Apartment Association, who worked with Kordus to give a landlord’s perspective so they could get on board with the program.

The goal is to help 16 to 24 people at the Salvation Army get into good housing in 2020.

"With the program, they will be able to overcome those barriers through education," said Quam.

RentReady has tried their plan on a few renters with success. Their first official session will start next February at the Salvation Army.

Donations to RentReady can be sent to HPPP AT P.O. Box 570, Stevens Point, Wisconsin, 54481.