Kristin Gonnella
Doing Good Is Good for Business: The Community Pillar Program

As rents across the country continue to rise, accessing affordable housing is harder for millions of renters. Learn how landlords are helping renters in need and giving back to their communities all while doing good business.


Across the country, rents are on the rise and vacancies are decreasing. While this can be good for your bottom line, for millions of Americans, these factors have combined to create a serious lack of affordable housing. This issue is compounded even further for renters with potential barriers to securing a lease, such as low income or lack of housing references.

Zillow’s Community Pillar program was created to help address this challenge by helping renters who need housing — but have a hard time competing for quality rentals due to their economic situation — connect with landlords and property managers who are willing to modify their rental criteria.

“Research shows securing safe and reliable housing is typically the first step toward a better future for many vulnerable populations,” said Zillow’s VP of Products Rebekah Bastian, who created the program earlier this year. “Landlords hold the keys to giving people with potential barriers the start they need.”

As rents continue to increase, access to affordable housing is receiving more national attention. In fact, First Lady Michelle Obama recently encouraged landlords to consider opening their units to homeless veterans as part of her larger initiative to end veteran’s homelessness. You can learn more about it here.

“So many people have the means to pay rent, but struggle with landlord references if they have been homeless or have a lower credit score,” Bastian stated. “The current market is too competitive for these people to secure quality housing, even when they have the means to pay. This affects people from all across the country, across generations and includes veterans and families.”

A landlord or property manager who signs up to be a Community Pillar through Zillow agrees to modify their standard tenant screening process to help applicants with potential barriers obtain housing. Currently, over 2,800 landlords and property managers have a Community Pillar designation. These people are not only helping their communities and the renters they work with, they are also doing good business.

Jay Caudy, leasing manager for Kessler Properties in Springfield, Missouri, has been a member of the Community Pillar program for a few months now and has received a handful of leads so far. He expects more after the holidays, and, as a rule, he follows up with each and every person who contacts him.

Caudy is responsible for 110 rental units in the area, most of which are single-family homes and duplexes. He says Kessler Properties is the lowest-priced rental company in Springfield. He does not run credit checks on potential residents, and instead focuses on criminal background checks and employment verification.

“Our motto is that a number doesn’t really justify who you are,” he said. “We have the opportunity to give people options and an opportunity they might not have been able to get from some of the big companies.”

He joined the program after finding it on Zillow.

“When I came across Community Pillar, I said, ‘That’s exactly what our company stands for,’” he shared. “The best advertising in the world for us is word of mouth. I like that renters know what we’re about, and they can call us and be upfront with information. That’s the best way to work with them. These are the type of people I want to see in our properties.”

Overall, his goal is to keep tenants in his properties for the long term. His average length of occupancy is two years.

“I try to be a big part of my community and have strong professional relationships with our tenants,” because, he noted, “the closer we are with our tenants and the community, the closer we are to the money. If something comes up, we’ll know. And we can work with the tenant. I don’t want to be the usual landlord. We’re there for them.”


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