During the heady days of the financial crisis in 2009, I was a writer/bartender living in Stuyvesant Town in the East Village. The 25,000 residents of Stuy Town and I had a disturbingly close view of the crisis as the property went into bankruptcy and receivership. Added into the mix was the first court ruling in what became known as the Roberts Case – a huge roll back of illegally raised rents – that initially lowered my rent but plunged me and everyone into deep uncertainty and confusion.
Having been a recent resident, I felt slightly guilty about having my rent reduced so dramatically. I decided to get involved and volunteered with the Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association who had been organizing residents through the entire ordeal (and for decades beforehand). I got started knocking on doors, handing out flyers, attending rallies, and learning the underlying issues.
Then one day about a year later, I got an eviction notice. As it turned out - after two court appearances and months of back and forth - the previous management company had basically lost some of our rent payments and misapplied others to another apartment with a similar name to mine. After the stress of going through that process coupled with the total uncertainly of my current lease, I recognized that something had to change in the rental market or my head was going to explode.
So I decided to go back to grad school for urban planning and made peace with not being the next Fitzgerald. Instead, I wanted to understand why the housing market was so messy, so opaque, and so unfair - and do something about it. As I progressed through school, I also started to recognize that, though tenants get squeezed badly in the current market structure, landlords, particularly smaller ones, also faced their share of squeezing. The fact that both sides had genuine grievances was a revelation. How could the market be failing both parties so badly?
I should mention here that while in grad school and still bartending, some friends and I started a company called Brightbox, which is a secure cellphone charging kiosk. We raised money, hired some great people, and expanded across the country (and internationally) over the next few years. Having the dual-track of startup experience and housing experience helped me conceive homeBody.
Finally, while still with Brightbox, I met my co-founder Jo Owre, who had joined as our senior engineer, after his previous startup didn’t work out. That ended up being a blessing in disguise for both of us. With Jo onboard, I found someone that knew the technology and business worlds well, was insane enough to jump head first with me, and got my vision for homeBody. That vision is simple enough – to make renting fair and easy for both small landlords and tenants.