Matching Needy Tenants with Affordable Housing

A middle-of-the-night epiphany spurred frustrated social worker Van Gottel to launch Socialserve.com, a nonprofit Web site that matches people with affordable rental housing. Though other rental-search Web sites exist, Gottel's model is so innovative that he now has contracts for its use with government housing agencies in twenty-seven states and major cities including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston. While most sites are run to benefit landlords, Gottel's site puts the tenants' needs first, says marketing director Beth Leysieffer. Prospective tenants can search by price, location, proximity to hospitals or public transportation, availability of subsidies, wheelchair access, or even by whether a criminal background check is required. Socialserve.com also offers a call center whose staffers take a personal interest in resolving the tenant's housing needs. Landlords post their property for free. And true to Gottel's sense of mission, many of Socialserve.com's fifty-plus employees are former homeless people. "We believe that we've all been given a chance in life, and we give chances here," Gottel says. "I asked myself why was I here every day, until the middle of that night when the idea for Socialserve came to me."