Affordable Rentals Northwest says it's a legitimate business. But five more people who paid the company $250 to help them find an apartment have come forward to say they feel scammed.
And managers contacted at five properties shown on an Affordable Rentals vacancy list obtained by Real Change say they did not give the company permission to list their apartments, with two low-income housing operators who have learned they are on the list -- Seattle's Housing Resources Group and Plymouth Housing Group -- saying they want off.
Rollins Odom sells Real Change and read a story in the paper three weeks ago ["Affordable Rentals takes $250 from homeless couple," Aug. 5-11] that he says sounded just like what happened to him.
Odom is a disabled construction worker who lives on Social Security and shares an apartment with a roommate. After a long wait, the 55-year-old was planning to get a place of his own in July with a federal Section 8 rental voucher that he had gotten from the Seattle Housing Authority -- if the apartment cost less than $775 a month. He says he hadn't had much luck in his search when he called a number he found on Craigslist and got Affordable Rentals on the phone.
He told the woman who answered that his Section 8 voucher was about to expire and she said the company could help, so he made an appointment. After paying the $250, he says, he was given a fat list and told to mark off the apartments he wanted to see, then Affordable Rentals would call the property managers and make appointments for him.
After doing that, Odom says he was sent to a particular address he'd checked off, but, when he got there, the manager told him she didn't take Section 8. He went back to Affordable Rentals the next day and another employee said he would call property managers for him and to wait until he heard back.
"I waited two days and they never called me," Odom says. He asked for a partial refund, he says, and was told he wouldn't qualify unless he came to the office twice a week for 90 days to get fresh listings.
"I figured it was just a big scam," he says. "They gave me the runaround from the beginning" -- not only costing him $250, Odom says, but his Section 8 voucher, which expired later that week.
Anne and Jerry O'Connell say Affordable Rentals did the same thing to them back in May or June, but, instead of $250, they paid the company $195 after they saw an ad on Craigslist, Anne O'Connell says, that stated bad credit or an eviction wasn't a problem. But a Section 8 voucher the homeless couple had expired before they ever saw a single apartment.
"When we called them to get the apartments we wanted, they never called back," says Jerry O'Connell. Since then, he says, the two have been paying $895 a month for a motel, with little money left over for food.
"It was slick," Anne O'Connell adds, "but it's probably legal."
Rahel Schwartz, owner of Affordable Rentals -- which changed its name two years ago from Global Management One after a spate of complaints by customers to the Attorney General's Office -- says she's put thousands of people into apartments. The one-page contract that the company has people sign, she adds, "clearly states that we are simply a referral service that provides information on current available rental openings."
Schwartz says she always calls the property managers of the apartments she finds advertised in the newspaper or on the Internet to ask if they would like a free listing with Affordable Rentals. But she declined to provide a single referral to a property manager who had given permission or a customer who found an apartment.
The apartment buildings shown on the company's Aug. 7 vacancy list include Belltown's Charlesgate Apartments, First Hill's Clarwood Apartments and a rooming house called the Catherine Court in the University District. Managers at each say they never gave permission for the company to list their rentals. Two large property management companies with units on the list -- Don Kennedy Real Estate and Windermere Property Management -- say they've never heard of Affordable Rentals.
Two managers say prospective tenants have found them through the company, only to discover, says Charlesgate manager Peggy Schimmel, that they wasted their money. "I was really sad for them they paid the $250 because the information they can get from Affordable Rentals they can get [for free] from Craigslist," she says -- or from Aptfinder.org, a nonprofit website that lists low-income units.
Aptfinder.org was founded in 1999 by the Affordable Housing Management Association of Washington and lists units at more than 400 buildings. Among the AHMA members that advertise rentals there is Seattle's Plymouth Housing Group, which learned through Real Change that one of its buildings -- the David Colwell in downtown Seattle -- is on the list sold by Affordable Rentals.
Kathy Roseth, Plymouth's chief operations officer, says the nonprofit does not post any information with Affordable Rentals and has no relationship with the company. Another building on the list, the John Winthrop Apartments on First Hill, is owned by Seattle's Housing Resources Group, where Executive Director Sarah Lewontin says the same.
"To the best of our knowledge," Lewontin says, "no one at HRG has given anyone at Affordable Rentals Northwest (or Global Management One) permission to list any of our apartments."