Renting apartments to felons and those who have been evicted from homes elsewhere has allowed one company to grow quickly since coming to Tucson three years ago.
In its most recent move, Second Chance Rentals took over four apartment complexes near North Oracle and West Grant roads. The new properties will bring Second Chance’s total to more than 600 units in Tucson since expanding from Phoenix in 2015, according to founder and owner Les Boynton, 68.
Second Chance rents mostly studio and one-bedroom apartments that range from $500 to $700 per month.
Most residents who live in Second Chance apartments live from paycheck to paycheck.
Since expanding so rapidly in Tucson, and combined with the Second Chance properties in Phoenix, Boynton says he has rented to around 40,000 people and has a goal of 1 million during his lifetime.
Tenant to employee
Christina DiOrio was one of Second Chance’s first tenants in Tucson, moving into one of 52 units at Palo Verde Terrace on the north side in 2015 after months of difficulty finding housing or work, despite her business degree.
DiOrio’s husband has a nonviolent felony on his record and the couple spent months homeless, living in hotels. After visiting family in Tucson, DiOrio found Second Chance and moved in. She then had to quit her job to become the full-time caretaker of her husband’s uncle, who suffered from mental illness and blindness. When he died in 2017, DiOrio was unsure of what to do next.
“I was nervous because I was at risk of getting kicked out, I was scared and I didn’t know what was going to happen,” DiOrio said. “That’s when Les gave me the job.”
DiOrio is now the manager of the new block that includes Flores Apartments, Ventura Apartments, Mesquite Meadows and one property still being remodeled, Paul’s Hideaway. Each complex ranges from 14 to 19 units.
As property manager and intake specialist for Tucson, DiOrio works to help people like herself find housing.
“People just need that one chance,” DiOrio said. “I can relate to them, my story is similar to the people that I talk to and I try to provide hope for them. It makes them feel comfortable because they know I’m not going to have any judgment.”
After meeting with DiOrio, new resident Adelina Sinohui wanted to move in right away.
Sinohui had lived in her previous apartment for four years and was evicted after she was late on one month’s rent. She was living on a fixed income, with an eviction on her record, and staying in a hotel. She saw a Second Chance flier at a bus stop and decided to call.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but I was surprised when they gave me an apartment. They saved me and worked with me. Without Second Chance, I wouldn’t have shelter over my head and a warm bed to sleep in,” Sinohui said.
Renting to the evicted and convicted is an uncommon business, and Second Chance’s growth is largely because of its lack of competition, Boynton said.
“It is completely unique to them, those are the only folks I know of that do that,” said Mike Chapman, senior vice president of NAI Horizon, a commercial real estate company.
“We have found a niche in the market and now we have unlimited clients,” said Boynton. “I had to rein in my marketing because I can’t find housing for everyone.”
Until now, Tucson has been a perfect place to grow because of its abundance of small housing complexes with vacancies, according to Chapman.
However, the market has changed since 2015 and it likely will be harder to find cheap properties, Chapman said. As the Phoenix market has become more expensive, many investors have moved to Tucson, causing an increase in demand that has pushed up the price of multifamily housing complexes.
Boynton hopes to continue growing Second Chance to reach about 2,500 units in about two years. After that, he hopes to expand even further, first to Las Vegas and then to Albuquerque.
“There is a need in every community in every state,” Boynton said.
The biggest hurdle is the stigma that his tenants face, according to Boynton. Not only is it difficult for people with criminal histories to find work, but also to find crucial resources like housing.
“When you have an eviction on your record, there isn’t a company that will rent to you,” Sinohui said.
Along with convicts and evictees, Second Chance has recently started accepting tenants with government-funded housing vouchers, further expanding its client base. Boynton keeps a database of all of his clients looking for housing and can’t fulfill the demand.
Second Chance rents apartments under the company’s name and sublets them to its clients. The company never rents to people convicted of arson, murder, sex offenses, those who have active warrants or ongoing drug charges, according to Boynton.
Even so, neighbors and day-care centers added more locks and fences to their properties when Second Chance moved in, according to Maureen Hazlett, the president of the Amphi Neighborhood Association. The neighborhood contains three Second Chance properties, but there have been no safety issues reported to her.
“I don’t think anybody in the neighborhood has anything negative to say,” Hazlett said. “The neighbors treat them just like anyone else.”
The Tucson Police Department did not respond to multiple phone calls from the Arizona Daily Star. A Feb. 21 records request for crime statistics in the neighborhoods around Second Chance properties had not been filled by press time.
Neighbors’ fears unwarranted
Amanda Kilbey, a teacher at Kids Forever Daycare on East Prince Road, the closest day care to three Second Chance properties, said initial worries were unwarranted, as there have been no problems.
Vida Nueva apartments, one of the three Second Chance properties in the Amphi neighborhood, is directly between Prince Elementary School and Amphitheater High School. Residents at the properties have not caused any concerns for the schools, according to Amy Sharpe, the director of community relations for the Amphitheater School District.
“I don’t perceive it as terrible,” said Jane Evans, the neighborhood association spokeswoman for the Keeling Neighborhood, which contains one Second Chance property. “I haven’t heard of any problems from it in our neighborhood.”
Safety is a priority at all the Second Chance properties, according to Boynton, and DiOrio has recently added a new fence and secure locks to the Flores Apartments.
“I want to feel safe at work,” said DiOrio, “so I make it safe here.”
During the first year of renting from Second Chance, tenants are enrolled in a specialized program to help them find a job, food, clothing and furniture.
The program also includes bi-weekly check-ins to make sure there are no drugs or damage to the apartments and that tenants aren’t a danger to themselves or others.
If someone causes a problem, they are immediately removed. Second Chance is not beholden to normal eviction notices because of its unique rental agreements.
“If you break the rules with us, your living situation can be changed in five minutes,” Boynton said. “We give people an ungodly amount of chances, but if you push the envelope, we won’t have it.”