The Federate Association to Innovate Rental (FAIR) Housing includes Brian Wojcik (president, COO and co-founder), Carmen Fields (CEO, engagement director and co-founder), Jack Tomalis (director, alliances and public affairs) and Michael Salonish (CTO).
SIL: Tell us about FAIR Housing. What are you working on?
FAIR Housing focuses on being a central resource hub for housing providers, landlords and tenants. Over time, we have found that many resources and tools are available to those on the verge of or experiencing an eviction. However, most resources are not easily found, not adept with current technology and siloed within each prospective arena. Many systems still rely on paper, and many small independent landlords are not recognized in the space, even though they make up most affordable housing providers in Baltimore.
SIL: Why did you decide to start this? Where did the idea come from?
The idea for FAIR Housing emerged from our founding team’s collective experience working in the real estate industry over the past two decades. Co-founder and COO Brian Wojcik understood firsthand the lifelong consequences of childhood poverty and evictions after his family was forced to move from their house when he was a child. Decades later, he found himself understanding the painful perspective of a housing provider forced to evict a renter.
The FAIR Housing team knew we had the knowledge to put the pieces together to create a formula, built on technology, that could provide relief to all parties involved and lead to fewer evictions. We saw that by sharing the right resources at a given moment in time, we could provide instant relief for that renter or that housing provider. In taking an impartial stance, we can be ‘FAIR’ to all involved. That is also what makes us unique — we advocate for the human interest on behalf of the housing industry.
SIL: What would you consider success for FAIR Housing? How will the world be different when you are successful?
Success for FAIR Housing is all parties involved taking a seat at the table, including landlords and the associations they represent; tenants and the associations they represent; and government agencies involved with providing affordable housing. By collectively working together, identifying target neighborhoods and launching our Zero Eviction pilot program in those areas, the community should see success and positive impact simply because people will remain in their homes. Stability will be created and many additional social issues that stem from eviction will see relief.
As for how the world will be different when FAIR Housing is successful, that is simple. Home is the center of life. Stability in the home leads to strength in the community and makes our world a better place.
SIL: How can people get involved in supporting you in your venture?
Our ask is that agencies already focused on providing resources to those impacted by evictions take a seat at the table. Because eviction is a multisided problem, all parties need to be represented. We want those interested to use our platform to launch a Zero Eviction pilot to reduce the stress and strain of eviction and ultimately provide a proactive approach to preventing eviction versus the reactionary approach used today.
If you are interested in learning more about volunteering, partnering or donating, please send us a message at [email protected].
SIL: What have been some of the biggest challenges in scaling your venture during the pandemic?
Eviction was a problem in Baltimore pre-pandemic. Baltimore is No. 2 in the country for its number of evictions, behind Detroit.
FAIR Housing has been addressing the preventive approach to evictions, and COVID has brought attention to the matter and made us shift our focus slightly. The moratoriums in place and rental assistance funds have aided in some areas and shed light on other underserviced population segments. For example, small independent landlords are not recognized as a business industry. They are often left out of the conversation while attention is given to the multifamily space, because they are more easily identifiable.
Regarding tenants needing assistance, many have options that can and will help them, but finding those resources is a challenge. While we were developing a response to evictions due to the pandemic, our approach will remain proactive versus reactive regarding evictions and how to best serve the housing industry post-pandemic.
SIL: What advice do you have for would-be social entrepreneurs thinking about starting a venture?
Jump in and do it. Keep your eyes open to see the problem you are addressing as a whole and follow your intuition. Embrace the customer discovery process. It will lead you down many roads you may not have thought of and open your eyes even wider to the problem you are addressing. Typically, you will find the root of the problem, and that is where you can create change.
SIL: Why did you apply to SIL? What attracted you to SIL?
The Johns Hopkins University is known for innovation. We were looking to connect and work with strong mentors to understand what we are aiming to accomplish. We felt that the services and connections offered through SIL could help accelerate our path. We know that eviction is more of a social problem than many realize and impacts other areas where social issues exist. Through SIL, we hoped to connect with and learn from others doing social good to help them create positive change.
Read more about FAIR Housing here. To learn more about the Social Innovation Lab and the 2020–21 cohort, click here. Join them at our virtual SIL Innovators’ Showcase event, 4–6 p.m. on April 27.