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United Way of Lancaster County


ReHome, a tech startup focused on refugee housing, to launch crowdfunding effort

Joe Landis describes ReHome Marketplace during a launch event at Southern Market Center in this July 2023 file photo. (Source: OUL file)

The ReHome team has learned a lot over the past year about the refugee resettlement ecosystem and what agencies’ needs are, CEO and co-founder Joe Landis said.

The company’s business model has evolved as a result, but its objective is unchanged. It remains focused on becoming a comprehensive resource for organizations like Church World Service Lancaster, helping them speedily and efficiently place new arrivals into suitable housing and serving as a clearinghouse for employment, education, financial and other services.

On World Refugee Day this Thursday, ReHome is set to launch a drive to raise $250,000 in seed capital. That would cover ReHome’s basic expenses for up to nine months while it builds out its software and services.

The centerpiece of the drive will be a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign, supplemented with outreach to family foundations and institutional donors.

Landis created ReHome to address the challenges in refugee resettlement he saw when he worked at CWS Lancaster. The process is complicated and differs in important ways from conventional renting: Among other things, a refugee newly arrived from overseas isn’t going to have a job right away, or a credit score.

To streamline things and help landlords and agencies work together smoothly, Landis’ team developed ReHome Marketplace, an online rental “matching” platform. It allows landlords to post available properties to rent, then collaborate with agencies through the stages of leasing. Landis demonstrated the product at a launch event for ReHome at Southern Market Center last summer.

To date, ReHome has facilitated 11 landlord-tenant matches for CWS Lancaster. Each match has saved around nine hours of staff time, as well as around $1,500 because families were moved more quickly out of high-cost temporary placements in hotels.

Meanwhile, the matches cut the time for landlords to secure a new tenant to around one week rather than three to four weeks, Landis said, adding an average of $970 to their bottom line.

Still, he said, it has become clear over the past year that resettlement agencies need a more comprehensive solution.

At any given time, an agency’s staff may be juggling dozens of families at different stages of the process. At the same time, they have to keep tabs on the local housing market: Which units are becoming available (or unavailable) and when, under what terms, is a volunteer “welcome team” available to help with move-in, and so on. A given family likely has multiple team members handling different aspects of their case.

It all quickly gets overwhelming. But if something is missed, or miscommunicated, the result could be a family that could have had a place to stay, but now doesn’t.
“They need a way to track their progress in a better manner,” Landis said, and to flag deadlines and other action points.

So, ReHome is developing core software to help manage all aspects of resettlement from start to finish. Among other things, ReHome is combing local real estate listings to find available apartments and analyzing them for suitability, yielding a ranked list.

“It is really helping us locate leads,” said Matt Johnson, CWS Lancaster’s strategic community partnerships officer. It saves CWS staff from chasing prospects that won’t pan out and alerts them to ones they might not have found. With each iteration, the system is being refined in light of previous outcomes to optimize the chance of good matches.

Landis’ experience “in the trenches” is evident, Johnson said. Besides the software itself, he is a persuasive advocate to landlords for refugee resettlement.

Worldwide, the refugee crisis continues to grow. The UN High Commission on Refugees estimates 2.9 million people will need to be resettled in 2025, up 20% from this year.

Under the Biden administration, the U.S. has committed to admitting up to 125,000 refugees a year. Due to logistical challenges, however, the actual numbers have been lower; in fiscal year 2023, a little over 60,000 individuals were resettled.

Locally, CWS Lancaster resettled 356 individuals in FY2023, up 31% from 271 in FY2021. The largest number, 147, came from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Besides CWS Lancaster, ReHome has with agencies in Boston, St. Louis and Los Angeles County. All four real estate markets are distinct, giving ReHome data it can use to build in flexibility and adaptability. In particular, Boston’s high rents are often more than refugee households can afford on their own, necessitating supplementary contributions from family members or other sources. That’s an element ReHome aims to integrate into the platform, Landis said.

Rehome Marketplace remains very much in the mix, he said, as does the vision of ReHome as a one-stop resource hub, providing access not only to housing but to a broad range of third-party products tailored to refugees: financial services, education and employment opportunities and so on.

ReHome plans to form a nonprofit, a step it will need to take if it wants to accept grant funding. It is actively seeking partnerships, Landis said. One potential collaborator is Compound Impact, a nonprofit in Philadelphia that refurbishes properties for use as refugee housing.

“We have this vision to create transformational software for the resettlement system,” he said, and getting more individuals and organizations involved that are passionate about refugee housing will make it an easier task.