“The problem with access in America is the strategy that housing providers use to mitigate risk: They identify the most vulnerable applicants using screening, then deny them access to housing. We can do better,” says OneApp founder and CEO Tyrone Poole. “Denying access to housing to mitigate risk should be a last resort, not the go-to strategy.”

Tyrone Poole, Founder and CEO of OneApp
Tyrone Poole, Founder and CEO of OneApp

The idea for OneApp came directly from Poole’s personal experience. After getting injured in firefighter academy and enduring a nine-month stint in the hospital, Poole found himself evicted, with a ruined credit history, debt piling up, and no income. His first day in a homeless shelter, he received an award letter for rent anywhere he wanted to live. But three months later, he was still denied everywhere he applied. Poole says one of the biggest frustrations was not knowing rental properties’ screening criteria ahead of time, which led to him wasting time and application fees applying to apartments he didn’t know he had no chance of getting.

Poole founded OneApp after winning the 2014 Startup PDX Challenge in Portland, Oregon, with his idea for a service that would scan housing providers’ screening criteria and show prospective renters matches based on their background information, such as credit history. The goal was to give people, especially those with low incomes or other barriers to housing access, a solution to the problems he faced in his own housing search. The city of Portland funded the prototype, and a software development company built the app. OneApp quickly took off, and the company even built a housing search site for the state of Oregon.

But even after the success of OneApp’s initial solution, Poole says, he was starting to see a deeper issue to tackle. In 2019, 71% of all denied applicants out of a sample set of 20,000 would’ve been approved with a co-signer, he says. For people with a low or no credit score, not high enough income, and other challenges that make them unattractive to housing providers, having a co-signer is crucial. “It’s the one silver bullet to housing,” Poole says.

That’s why he developed OneApp Guarantee. It acts as the co-signer and is a risk pool that applicants who can’t easily get approved put a nonrefundable fee into and participating rental companies get money from to cover costs if there turns out to be a problem with the renter later on.

OneApp Guarantee is really taking off, Poole says. It’s now prominent in 27 states but will work with renters and rental companies anywhere in the U.S., with Georgia, Florida, and Texas becoming some of its hottest areas.And with the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc on the housing market, Poole says, the need for OneApp Guarantee is greater than ever. The pandemic made housing providers take huge losses; they are more risk-averse than ever before. OneApp Guarantee's co-signer function helps alleviate rental companies’ fears and gives renters a chance.

Despite everything, Poole says, he understands where rental companies are coming from. “You have to mitigate risk if you’re a housing provider. If you don’t, you will lose your asset,” he says. “What we pitch is that we know you need to mitigate risk, but there’s a new way to do it. You do not need to deny first. You need to deny last.”

Poole says the strategy most nonprofits and government agencies use to convince housing providers to expand access to renters who don’t look great on paper doesn’t work well because it forces risk on the providers. But the OneApp Guarantee approach aims for a win-win situation. “You have to look at both sides and say, ‘What do you need? Access. What do you need? Security. OK. We’ll build a solution that gives you both what you need,’” he says.

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