An effort by local nonprofits and agencies to connect the people who rent from local landlord Chris Gatley and his company 417 Rentals kicked off Friday with more than 75 people in attendance.
The event continued Saturday at the Springfield Dream Center, where even more people came out to peruse tables of resources and hear a presentation from Legal Services of Southern Missouri about tenants’ rights during foreclosure.
Over the past several months, hundreds of homes and apartments in the Springfield area have gone into foreclosure after federal judges denied two bankruptcy attempts by Gatley.
Those closures have caused challenges for local nonprofits and city agencies, which have scrambled to help many of the tenants who have low incomes, felony records, low credit scores, past evictions or other barriers that would disqualify them from renting almost anywhere else.
But Michelle Garand, who helped coordinate the event and works with Community Partnership of the Ozarks, said the goal was to get people acquainted with resources and potentially to help them solve their issues.
“Every household is very different and unique in their own way with the needs they have, so being able to offer such a varied response has been beneficial,” she said.
A representative for at least one landlord who is purchasing many of the homes was passing out information about rentals and talking with tenants about potential rental possibilities; representatives from City Utilities were there chatting with some residents about settling up outstanding utility bills; and local nonprofits were speaking with tenants about subjects such as credit repair and financial assistance.
Chuck McClancy and Sheena Tarver went to the event hoping to find a solution after living in two of Gatley’s former buildings on East Cherry Street.
McClancy, who is in a wheelchair, said he was struggling to find a place that would offer him the same benefits as the Cherry Street apartment — being within rolling distance to his church, his daughter and grandkids.
He also has to pay more than $1,000 in delinquent utility bills before he can go anywhere else. Another benefit of Gatley’s apartment, he said, was that the utilities were included in his rent.
Even after going to the event, he wasn’t sure he could find a place before the power is shut off next month.
“If I end up leaving, it’s a tent or a truck,” he said.
Other tenants talked about similar struggles with finding new housing, but they were hopeful they could get some help.
Garand said for several people, homeownership may be a more viable option than rentals because typically people aren’t barred from buying a home because they have a certain number of pets or felony records.
Many times, the only thing people need is some help doing credit repair and assistance walking through the loan process, she said.
“By having these conversations and having them all in one room, you can really provide them with holistic care,” she said.