By Charlie Spaeth, Chair – Rental Housing Association Foundation Board
Sometimes somebody does something to renew your faith in human nature… and it really feels good. Fran Erhardt, a longtime RHA member, called the office to ask who she could talk to about making a donation. She had just read the article in last month’s UPDATE about RHA raising funds for the “Showers” capital campaign for the Elizabeth Gregory Home homeless women’s shelter in the University District.
“I didn’t have to think about it very long. This is just something I need to be a part of.
It’s the right thing for RHA, and me, to do.” Fran donated $2,000. One member—ten percent of our $20,000 goal. And we have 5,200 members….
The first thing I did was call and thank her. Then I asked if she would share a bit about herself with other members. She agreed. While RHA members are a diverse bunch we have a lot in common: drive, the ability to shoulder risk, faith that our hard work will eventually pay off, rental housing horror stories, smarts, frugality, but also—because of what we do—an understanding of people…compassion. So here’s a story about one RHA member—Fran Erhardt—who has all those things.
“Actually,” she told me, “I had a connection with the Elizabeth Gregory Home (EGH) a few years ago. I happened to own and manage a small building near the EGH day center (where the showers are going). A number of years ago EGH leased a floor in my building as a residence for women they are working to help at the day center. Everything went well. We never had a problem.”
Had she ever felt uncomfortable around women from the shelter. “Uncomfortable? No. Some of the women probably made bad choices, probably all of them had a lot of bad luck. But I always thought, well, if a few things in my life had worked out differently I might be here too.”
Fran’s parents emigrated from Holland after the war. She grew up on a dairy farm near LaConnor with six brothers and sisters, attended Seattle Pacific University in the early eighties and majored in accounting. “I got interested in real estate when I took a real estate financial analysis class. Our professor made us find buildings for sale, contact the broker, do a rent study, analyze the numbers, learn about notes and contracts and all sorts of things. He was great.”
How did she get from there to owning a boarding house? “Well, my husband (now deceased) and I had a couple of rental houses in Edmonds. Then we heard about a small apartment building in the University District so we sold the houses and bought the building. I was working as an accountant for a construction contractor then and noticed that the owners of the company kept buying apartment buildings. So I asked a lot of questions and got a lot of help from them. This was the nineties and opportunities to acquire buildings in the U-District kept showing up. We managed everything ourselves. That’s how you figure out the market you in what it takes to make things work.”
I asked if her first-hand experience with EGH had anything to do with why she made her donation to the ‘showers’ project.
“Yes. There are two reasons. First, EGH helps a lot of women for not much money. They get the women counseling and connected with social services, jobs, other people who can help. And they do that with so little money. I used to be a CPA. They give a great return on investment. Dollar for dollar, they’re just really efficient at helping women get started again.”
And your other reason? “Being a landlord isn’t easy, but if you stick it out and the rental market eventually rewards you—and it has been rewarding, especially lately—I feel I have a responsibility to those who haven’t been as lucky as I’ve been. I have a responsibility.”
“And I lied. I have a third reason. I’m selfish. It makes me feel good.”
Thank you, Fran Erhardt, for helping RHA move closer to our $20,000 goal for the Elizabeth Gregory Home ‘Showers’ campaign.