Denverite – by Andrew Kenney
A church in Denver says it has found 150,000 vacant places to live around the city. The tricky part is that they’re in people’s homes.
Providence Bible Church in Northeast Park Hill aims to ease the housing crisis by making it easier and safer for people to rent out some of those thousands of spare bedrooms and basements.
“We actually have the space — it’s just a matter of thinking about it creatively,” said Taylor Schultz, the 26-year-old who’s heading up the Providence HomeShare program.
The program aims to match would-be renters with households throughout the metro for leases of up to a year. But unlike your usual rental options, such as Craigslist, Providence plans to be the matchmaker between landlords and people with low income.
“It’s sort of like eHarmony for affordable housing,” Schultz said, comparing the effort to an online dating service.
This thing is still fledgling. It has facilitated only one match, between Providence’s pastor and a 19-year-old college student. The two already knew one another.
Still, the church has big plans. Schultz will be working on the project full-time starting next year, and he says he’s already talking to people from Highlands Ranch to Westminster about opening their homes to the program. He hopes to make his first matches in the next month or so.
Landlords will be allowed to charge rent, but they’ll be asked to keep it at 70 percent or less of market rate. Renters, meanwhile, are required to be “actively taking steps toward self sufficiency.”
The effort is part of the home-share movement.
Similar programs around the country have focused on older adults, encouraging them to rent out rooms as a way to supplement their income and keep their homes after retirement. Sunshine Home Share is one example of that model in Colorado, and Airbnb has unsurprisingly pitched itself as a central player in the movement.
Providence, however, is unusual in its explicit focus on low-income renters.
“‘Radical’ isn’t the right word, but it is a different approach. In order to get people to buy into it, it’s like, ‘How do we change these perceptions of poverty?’” said Schultz, who works in social services as a professional case manager.
“We still have certain images of what poverty looks like, when in reality there’s this whole swath of people between 30 and 60 percent of area median income, who are working, who have kids,” he wrote in an email.
In fact, almost half of Denver’s renters are “cost burdened,” and the number of people living in poverty has grown by close to 60 percent in large metro suburbs since 2000 — which is why Schultz is looking far beyond central Denver for participants.
The home-share program, he said, will employ a “safety check,” including interviews, background and credit reports, and a trial period for each lease. He plans for Providence to continually check in to make sure that living situations are working out well.
And while Providence is an evangelical church, Schultz said that there are “no strings attached. “We are not trying to convert souls,” he said. In fact, Denver recently has seen religious organizations take a front-and-center role in the housing crisis.
The Beloved “tiny home” village in River North, for example, is sponsored in large part by Beloved Community Mennonite Church and the Interfaith Alliance, among others, while similar plans are under consideration for St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church.
“One of the major things of what we’re trying to say is, whether you’re a Christian or not a Christian, we believe in this idea that every human should have the right to flourish. That’s sort of our core, what’s driving us.”
Providence HomeShare has launched a website at ProvHomeShare.org and is seeking both renters and home providers. People who rent their homes also may sublease to a tenant through the Providence program.