Thursday, July 2, 2015

Rent with or without digital inclusion

Any resemblance between the blog post below and actual communication with RantWoman's landlord is purely accidental. As in RantWoman USUALLY at least strives to be politer in person, but recent changes in rent collection policy are giving RantWoman interesting #privacy and #digitalinclusion headaches.

Dear landlord specializing in low-income tenants.

Thank you so much for the notices plastered all over the walls on the first of this month asking people effective immediately to begin mailing their checks to a distant out of state address. RantWoman is not a lawyer but nevertheless thinks forcing people to mail rent payments to a distant out of state address is the sort of change in conditions that under Seattle Landlord Tenant Law should at least require 20 days notice. In any case, EVERYONE will need patience during this transition.

RantWoman notes that this notice arrived on the heels of another notice urging people to begin making rent payments online. The notice urged people to take the piece of paper to their banks to begin this service. RantWoman has now lost her paper copy of the notice and will offer an another excursion to Planet RantWoman shortly. First, though, RantWoman needs to ask:

--Are you serious? Do you have any clue what percentage of your tenants do not have bank accounts and pay their rent with money orders?

--RantWoman is aware that some social security recipients have the option of a bank account for a lower fee to receive their payments direct deposit. RantWoman thanks a neighbor for info about his household's experience. Money in the account is only accessible by a debit card. Neighbor says for his household this winds up being cheaper than check fees and overdraft charges. People who need to mail payments do cash withdrawals and buy money orders and then put those in the mail. The bank used is based in S. Carolina and has no branches in our area.  In other words, no taking the online rent payments notice to a local bank and setting up an online transaction. RantWoman actually thinks that ability to do online payments through this bank would be a really good next step to add! Word!
   Dear landlord, since a large percentage of your tenants may have this kind of bank account,  any other ideas here?

--Dear Landlord, do you have any concept of what percentage of your tenants can or cannot access bank websites to do this transaction online????

--Yes, RantWoman knows from her own practices that one can set up automatic transactions and supposedly never think about it again. RantWoman has a pretty high degree of confidence in online money management but she herself still REFUSES to set up automated transactions for most of her monthly payments. RantWoman knows another person who does online banking, a screen reader user to boot. This person does not do automated transactions either. RantWoman recognizes that others' mileage may vary about this point.

--RantWoman as a denizen of a Community Technology Center, for this conversation affectionately referred to as the Friendly Neighborhood Center for Extreme Computing. RantWoman has a pretty good idea which of her neighbors have computers at home and which much higher percentage would be stampeding in to the Friendly Neighborhood Center if they were doing online transactions to make their rent payments. There is NO such stampede and RantWoman actually wants to offer some #privacy cautions about the idea of online banking in a public computer center.

Reality: having computers and the internet close to where one lives and having a community of helpful peers who need and use information similar to the kinds of info one uses is HUGE for many people. People start with basics like using a mouse, a browser, email. They find resources online. They accidentally and on purpose wind up doing job readiness activities. They get connected with other resources and all kinds of good results can cascade from initial steps. People get a lot done even where there is possibility of neighbors with prying eyes.

And other people struggle. It is hard for them to remember what the mouse does, They have trouble remembering their passwords. They form interesting and hard to evaluate ideas about their information getting shared or misused. But RantWoman listens to enough oddities just with email and social media to want to be VERY cautious about encouraging some customers to try online banking. Not to mention that RantWoman also wants the volunteer staff to be informed about reasonable privacy practices and extremely modest efforts to help people maintain privacy while doing financial transactions.

RantWoman is pretty awesome about a lot of things but RantWoman and the crack Friendly Neighborhood Center team plus the peer support at the computer centers in other communities cannot pull off this kind of training instantaneously. So maybe, should we TALK about options to make this work?

In the meantime, RantWoman thanks you for more reason to hang out in the air conditioning and keep cool. Thank you for your attention.



PS. RantWoman is scratching her head about one point: people who get their government gbenefits on a debit card, should THEORETICALLY have an option to call in a debit transaction without having to go through the cash and money order steps. RantWoman is going to have to handle her own transactions and talk some more to her neighbors...

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