This story is part of a package published before the May 2021 City of Omaha General Elections. Read all the personal perspectives on issues ailing Omaha here.

A single mother with an autistic son, Anissa, who did not want to provide her last name, was looking for a place to live. She checked websites, newspapers and asked friends. While numerous ads promised apartments around $500 per month, most were duplicates owned by the same companies. Anissa wanted to stay away from them, saying she had experienced their “slumlord” behavior in the past.

Many affordable places were also in neighborhoods police consider high-crime. More than fearing the crime, Anissa worried about living in a heavily patrolled area for the sake of her son, a Black teenager who may not respond to an officer the way they want.

Anissa started looking at other neighborhoods. She wanted simple amenities: a couple of bedrooms, access to laundry, decent parking and a neighborhood without constant policing. She found one-bedroom units averaging $1,200 and two-bedrooms up to $1,800 in places like Downtown, Midtown and the Blackstone district. These newer units would sometimes require an extra $200 for parking plus monthly fees.

Anissa said people told her to buy a house instead. Interest rates are low, and it could be cheaper than renting. But Anissa didn’t want to commit to buying a property, so she decided she had to pay the higher rents. That was managable, she had the cash flow, but then came another issue: the application process.

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Applying for an apartment can cost $30 to $50, and be rigorous in scope. Management companies’ standards are specific and differ by company. Criteria can include requiring deposits of three times the rent, a credit score of 650 or higher and a history of no bankruptcies, evictions or criminal convictions, qualifications that can disproportionately impact marginalized communities. While Anissa was able to meet all the requirements, she still spent hundreds of dollars in application fees just to get turned down, even after offering to pay a year’s rent up front. She learned to start asking blunt questions about the criteria before paying an application fee for a rejection letter.

After months of searching, Anissa finally found a suitable house that worked for he. But she got lucky. A friend of a friend owned a property. They had a face-to-face conversation, and he rented to her. Anissa said her experience matched that of friends and family members looking for decent housing, and her story is echoed by many people in Omaha in the same situation.  

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