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Community Impact Heroes: Why this local executive is raising money to help renters

Community Impact Heroes: Why this local executive is raising money to help renters

Last month, Adam Wonus knew he had to do something after he turned on the news and saw a story about people helping deliver food during the pandemic. 

But the owner at Lake Mary-based Atrium Property Group LLC acknowledged handing out meals wasn't his forte. That said, he was good at raising money due to his background in buying and selling properties. 

So at the end of March, Wonus fired off an email to a few property owners about cobbling together some cash for those who needed rental assistance due to a loss in income as a result of COVID-19. Wonus wanted to use the funds to help pay part of the rent for some of his 3,000 tenants across his Central Florida and Gainesville properties. The average apartment rent in his portfolio is $1,381 a month. 

"Within a weekend we had $10,000," he said.

Currently, the rental assistance GoFundMe page has captured $12,540 with more to money to come, Wonus said. And he's been talking with at least 16 other property owners in the U.S. about raising money to help renters. Roughly one in four renters and homeowners didn't make their full their April payments, according to a recent Apartments List survey.

Here, Wonus talks with Orlando Business Journal about the project, Orlando's rental market and his thoughts on the novel coronavirus' impact on Central Florida's economy.  

Why help with the rent now? We're in a lag period before government funding will kick in. Many of our renters are workers at restaurants in theme parks. When you cut tips and hours off, a big portion of their money vanishes. You also hear statistics about how few Americans have savings. I want to release pressure off renters right now by helping with up to 25% of their rent. That's a few trips to the grocery store. This is America. We're supposed to help each other. 

How does the application work? If tenants call and have a problem, we have a link on our website. They fill it out. We verify the information. On April 12, we'll review the applications and credit the accounts for 25% of rent. We'll do that every month until the funds run out, and we'll keep raising money and donations.  

What's Atrium hearing from tenants so far? Before COVID-19, our delinquency was 0.77% and mostly due to outstanding fees. I have more than 3,000 residents and had one eviction prior to this happening. Right now, we're doing OK. The real problem is May and June. If we had 10-15% delinquency, it would be tough. I'm nervous about people who moved here from outside Orlando. I don't want them to leave and go back home. We have talented people here, and we want to keep them. But the longer this goes on, they're going to be forced to move back home. 

How does COVID-19 affect Central Florida's apartment market? You'll see a pretty dramatic reduction in rental rates. If there are fewer people, and more supply with new units, it's a math problem that's not in the favor of landlords. It'll really affect Class A rents, but may impact all classes. Many of the younger renters haven't been through this. They weren't saving, and they're living in really nice places. I went through 2008 crisis. I will be deathly afraid of a recession my whole life because of how terrible 2008 was. But I think this will have a big impact on younger people for years to come.  

What's your advice to other people who want to help right now? Anybody who can do something to help should be doing it. It's not hard to come up with something. All these acts of kindness will have a lasting effect. 

Article by Jack Witthaus |

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