Springfield landlord known for giving second chances named a 'Housing Champion'
Nathan 'Cal' Gray admits he's not like most landlords. He's been in the business more than 25 years and has nearly 100 properties in Springfield.
And Gray does things his own way.
"I'm a little different. I see my tenants personally. I know them all pretty well on an individual basis. And I treat them just like I would my kids," Gray said, chuckling. "I don't ever charge a late fee."
"I don't ever charge them any backside cost or anything like that because I feel you should make enough on your rent," he continued, "and you shouldn't penalize the people that are there because they can't pay on time. It's just a personal belief."
Gray operates his property management company with help from his son and a couple of employees.
"We try to keep everything in-house," Gray said. "When someone calls, we try to get over there right then. And if we can't, then we schedule it within a day or two. We, generally speaking, take care of our maintenance problems.
"When I pull up to a house, if there's trash around I pick it up. When I pull up to a house and the grass needs cut, I tell my worker to cut it, because I don't want to have to deal with the city regarding any trash problems or grass problems. I have found it's better just to go ahead and cut it myself."
If he has to evict a tenant, Gray offers to help them move their belongings.
"Otherwise I have to set it out on the street and then come back and pick it up again," he explained. "I, generally speaking, do everything I can to work with the tenants. ... I try to be sympathetic. Sometimes they just don't care."
Unlike many other landlords, Gray said he doesn't turn people away because of past evictions or felonies.
"Anything like that happens, that kicks that block of people out of 80, probably 90 percent of the rentals that are available in the city," Gray said. "And those are things that I don't concern myself with."
"A lot of these people are really good people," he said. "They just need a second chance."
Asked if this way of doing business is working, Gray laughed again.
"I make between $65,000 and $70,000 a month," he said. "All my properties stay full. People want to rent from me and that is a good feeling. I am 100 percent full all the time and that is just the way I've always run my business."
If you're thinking Gray's property management style sounds a little unconventional in today's "landlord's market" you are not alone.
The Community Partnership of the Ozarks' Housing Collaborative recently presented Gray with a Housing Champion Award.
The award was presented to seven community members and organizations that go "above and beyond in their work helping tenants and improving housing in our community."
Justin Lockhart, Director of Community Collaboratives with Community Partnership of the Ozarks, said Gray's focus on building relationships with his tenants was "amazing."
"He invests a little bit more time and is a little more willing to give some chances," Lockhart said. "But in turn, he has a better relationship with his tenants, and there's a good chance he is going to have tenants that stay longer."
Gray was nominated by Community Partnership of the Ozarks and their One Door program. Todd Estes, Cares Act Shelter Diversion Specialist with Community Partnership of the Ozarks and One Door, wrote the nomination.
Estes described Gray as "a wonderful landlord for many of our clients needing good quality, affordable rental housing. He continually works with payments, utilities included, deposits and other factors that come up as barriers to our clients. He is constantly working on his properties to improve them and make them available to our clients in a timely manner. Cal is absolutely a joy to work with and extremely professional with each transaction."
Lori, one of Gray's tenants, also contributed to Gray's nomination.
“I think Cal is a tremendously wonderful person," wrote Lori, whose last name was not included on the nomination. "He's been very helpful, he helped me get into the property at a time when I was down, going through a divorce, my car had gotten stolen and I was really just feeling lost and like it was just the end of everything."
"He helped me so much by letting me get into that apartment and worked with me on it and he's been so kind and helped fix things. He's one of the nicest people I think I've ever met," Lori wrote. "I have a car again and I'm back working and instead of being stuck down low and feeling bad about myself, I'm picking it back up and moving on with life. I never could have done that without Cal’s help, so I'm ecstatic that he is winning this award and I just don't think it could have gone to a better person.”
'I'd just as soon be a pig'
Gray has been in the transportation business for more than 40 years and is currently the Vice President of Sales for Traffic Tech, a large third-party logistics company. Gray founded the company, but sold it about 10 years ago. He stayed on to manage the big accounts.
Being a landlord is his part-time gig.
All but two of Gray's 97 properties are houses — single family living units, mostly two- to four-bedroom homes.
His homes rent for $500-$700 a month. And by all accounts, that's just about the cheapest one can find for a house in Springfield.
"The reality is right now you can't find a house in Springfield (in that range)," he said. "They are just nonexistent. And that is the market that I'm in, and that is the market I've continued to stay in. Everybody asks me why you do that. And I'm like, 'Well, it's really a market that needs to be addressed."
Gray spoke to the News-Leader at 9:30 a.m. on a recent weekday. By that time, he'd already fielded at least eight calls from people looking to rent a home, plus calls from a couple different agencies and case managers in town hoping he'd rent to one of their clients.
He just doesn't have any available to rent.
"If I had 100 more, I could rent 100 more," Gray said. "But one of the things I learned about being in business is always say this: Pigs live on and hogs get slaughtered. I'd just as soon be a pig.
"How I run my rental business, I really care. It's not just all about the money," he said. "It's about doing something you feel good about. I don't mind getting up to go to work. I love what I do. When you love what you do, you're normally pretty good at it."
Other Housing Champion recipients:
Becky Selle was nominated by The Kitchen Inc. According to her nomination, Selle "ensures that there is cost effective housing in the community by building and managing low-cost housing projects. Becky works to ensure that her tenants and Kitchen Inc. clients are treated fair ... (S)he has been a proud partner and always been a proponent for having case management connected to low-cost housing to ensure the best results for the clients."
Brandon Jones with Calvary Properties was nominated by Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri. From Megan Hanson: “(Jones) is always willing to listen to what is going on with the clients and work with them to get things accomplished — rent payments, getting out of leases to not have an eviction on their record, fixing damages to the home that were caused by clients. He is an understanding landlord who wants to give people second chances to get into his units and continues to give chances while they are in his units."
The City of Springfield's Department of Planning and Development was nominated for making universal design a priority when working with developers to make housing available to the widest range of tenants in our community.
“The HOME Team greatly appreciates the City of Springfield’s exceptional service to its residents by continually being engaged with the community and recognizing and embracing the need for quality housing that is truly accessible to everyone. We deeply value their continued partnership as we work together to expand housing options in our community,” said Jason Elmore, SWMO HOME Team chair.
Crista Hogan was nominated by the Housing Collaborative for her work with landlord education. "Not only is Crista Hogan a wonderful landlord to her tenants, but during COVID-19 Crista partnered with Community Partnership to offer three different landlord trainings on the eviction moratorium," her nomination read.
Hogan also coordinated a training on medical marijuana specifically for landlords.
“Crista is a true asset to our community. She is always willing to help in any way that she can. Her work on these landlord trainings displays her willingness and ability to jump in immediately and help to provide education and insight on critical topics," wrote Justin Lockhart, with CPO, in Hogan's nomination.
Hallmark Property Inc. was nominated for its new pilot program, Nicholas Court Apartments. According to the nomination, the property company "chose to think outside the box with a new concept of housing focusing on the needs of people with lower income and/or disabilities."
The apartments offer a unit set aside for an on-site caregiver who provides home and community-based services for the occupants of four accessible/affordable referral units. Hallmark set aside funds for assistive technology and contracted transportation allowing those residents the ability to be as independent as possible. They accommodate potential residents with the application/lease process as well as building strong relationships with the residents, the nomination read.
“Nicholas Court is an amazing accomplishment that eliminates many of the barriers that people with disabilities face when trying to find housing. This couldn’t happen however without a company whose vision is set on inclusion and focused on equal housing for all members of the community," Steve Wright, Transitions Manager with empower: abilities, said in the nomination.
Y Gardens has worked with Community Partnership’s Homeless Youth Task Force over the last several months to help provide apartments for youth who have been in foster care. Last fall, the community was able to start offering rental assistance to youth with foster care experience through the Foster Youth to Independence Housing Vouchers.
“The housing vouchers provide rental assistance and partner agencies provide supportive services, but we knew that locating safe, decent, and affordable housing for youth with minimal rental history was going to be a challenge. Y Gardens has helped meet this need,” Amanda Stadler, Continuum of Care Coordinator with Community Partnership of the Ozarks, said in the nomination.