Tyrone Poole is a big-thinking 33 year-old. Growing up in inner northeast Portland, he graduated from the worst-performing high school in the city, Jefferson, in 2001, then went to Portland Community College to become a firefighter, earning both his fire science degree and emergency medical technician credentials by 2005 - and in the process, the workouts made him "look like an action figure", in his words. Tragedy struck in December of that year when he fell during a training and tore a muscle in his left leg, also destroying lymph nodes. He was out of the firefighting business. Then it got worse:
Without a paycheck, he couldn't afford rent. After nine months of hospital visits, he had lots of debt, nowhere to live and a leg that had to be elevated most of the day.
He couch-surfed for a while. But his friends grew tired of taking care of him. One night, around 10 p.m., a friend told Poole he could no longer stay.
"I grabbed all my stuff and left,'" Poole said. "I was carrying my entire life with me on crutches."
He hobbled a few miles toward a MAX station, each step like walking on glass. By the time he arrived, he could barely stand. He laid down and vomited.
A police officer found him, Poole said, and assumed he'd been drinking. Poole explained his injury, and the cop offered him a ride.
The cop drove him to a shelter at the YWCA, where the beds were full, but they dragged out a broken cot for him to sleep on. So there he was, ten years ago: broke, homeless, on crutches still, and sleeping on a busted cot. Times were bad.
The next morning, he limped out of the shelter. A worker stopped him and offered a voucher for a year of paid rent, wherever he could find a place. Poole agreed to stay and volunteer at the shelter while he searched for an apartment.
"I looked for four months," he said. "Denied. Denied. Denied."
Poole tried to tell managers he had a year of guaranteed rent. But they saw his drawbacks: Poole had been evicted while in the hospital. His car and his storage unit had been repossessed. His credit was bad. And because his doctors had yet to clear him for work, he had no income.
What's a guy to do? Many would have given up. Instead, he came up with an idea based upon the difficulties that he, and others he knew, had encountered when trying to score a new crib. He figured there had to be a better way.
The application process, as he saw it, needed an overhaul, so people wouldn't be wasting time and money on application fees only to be turned down. And landlords/managers could benefit as well, by not spending time interviewing applicants, money running background checks, etc., and not having it work out.
So he pitched his idea, and people liked it.
Poole imagined something automated, a program that could pull a renter's background once — and then screen it against new rentals as they become available.
He didn't have the money or credit to start a business. He wasn't a coder. He didn't have a business degree that taught him how to succeed.
Poole won a spot in the development commission's 2014 start-up incubator. Agency leaders gave him free rent and paid for lawyers to set up his business. They introduced him to investors and city bigwigs. Poole hired coders to build his platform.
It went live yesterday in Portland and Atlanta. There are 4000 rentals listed here, and 10,000 rentals in the Atlanta area.
"We pull all your life data," Poole said. "We plugged into all of the courthouses. We plugged into TransUnion. We wrote algorithms to read the documents and extract the information we need."
When users log in, they will see every vacant property, along with an icon that notes whether they qualify. If they don't, the website explains why. For instance, if a manager requires three times the rent in monthly income — say $4,000 — and an applicant's household earns $3,000 a month, the website will tell the tenant they are $1,000 a month short.
Applicants initially pay $35 to use NoAppFee.com. Landlords — grateful to be spared the hassle of meeting people who don't qualify, Poole said — then take $35 off the tenants' move-in fees.
So for the tenants, there's no application fee, because they get it back. Hence the name of the startup. People have been investing in his vision, and he's been able to set up an office on Hall Blvd. in Beaverton, Oregon to run the operation. Their promise: "We can house any family regardless of rental barriers in 24 hours."
In the future: to license the software to agencies using it for affordable housing. This guy is no dummy, not by a long shot.