Symphony Ramson plays on the floor of the new apartment she and her dad will live in for a year

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Richard Ramson hasn’t had a place to call home in six years. The 40-year-old father has long been housing insecure, oscillating between four different city shelters and his loved ones’ couches.

But as of last week, Ramson now has a two-bedroom of his own. He signed a year-long lease last week — one that compelled a rent payment of exactly $0 each month. That’s thanks to a new partnership between a private rental company and the homelessness magazine One Step Away.

Ram, as the South Philly native prefers to be called, has been vending for OSA for eight years. He’s the first to benefit from the new housing program — he and his daughter Symphony moved in last Tuesday.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Ram told Billy Penn as explored his new digs. “To have my own place, I’m thankful and I’m grateful.”

Richard Ramson and his daughter, Symphony, in their new apartment Credit: Courtesy Bergen Rental Communities

Earlier this year, suburban apartment company Berger Rental Communities reached out to OSA with an offer. Management had a few units to spare at The Westbury Apartments in Willow Grove, and they wanted to lend them to people who were experiencing homelessness.

The Philly-based publication jumped in head first. Together, the two entities launched a program they’re calling Hope & Door.

It works like this: Every year, the rental company will provide four free apartments for OSA vendors who need them. When the year lease wraps up, the residents will be expected to be able to start paying their own way. Then, four new vendors will get to take advantage and move into their own rent-free lodging.

It takes work to get into the program. You’ve got to fill out a pretty extensive application, and then interview with Berger officials. They’re looking mostly for families — and especially for people who seem like with a year of assistance, they’ll be able to get back on their feet.

“Basically, we’re looking to find people who have been established, and then somehow found themselves homeless,” said Allison Wainwright, executive assistant at Berger Rental Communities. “We want to be able to help someone establish themselves again.”

At last count, there were more than 1,000 people experiencing homelessness on Philly’s streets. Wainwright hopes that this program can be a model, showing other private companies how to provide a sustainable solution to homelessness.

For Ram, the whole thing is humbling. He’s been experiencing homelessness on and off since he was 10 years old — and it got worse when he turned 18 and aged out of the Department of Human Services system.

He said having a place of his own, stocked with a starter assortment of free food and outfitted with furniture and toys for his daughter, is “surreal.”

Richard Ramson appreciates his full cupboard Credit: Courtesy Bergen Rental Communities

Right off the bat, Ram’s got a couple goals: Get his driver’s license, spruce up his resume and practice his true passion — making jewelry.

“When you have housing, you have stability,” Ram said. “I’ve been asking for this. I’ve been praying for this. Now that it’s here I have to step up.”

Michaela Winberg is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She covers LGBTQ people and culture, public spaces, and transportation and mobility. She also sometimes produces radio and web features...