Finding an apartment or house to rent in the tight Twin Cities housing market can be difficult even under the best circumstances. For individuals receiving government rental assistance, finding a landlord who accepts government vouchers makes the housing search that much harder.
This spring, students in HSG 4461: Housing Development and Management collaborated with the Scott County Community Development Agency (CDA) to promote government voucher programs to landlords as part of the Resilient Communities Project (RCP).
Focused on connecting University faculty and students with Minnesota communities, RCP champions resilient communities. “Collaborating with RCP gives students the chance to apply course learning objectives to real-life situations and to see the benefit their work has on a community,” said Professor Becky Yust (Housing), the course instructor and a frequent RCP faculty partner.
During the project, students focused primarily on promoting the Housing Choice Voucher Program to Scott County landlords. The voucher program provides low-income families with a rent voucher that can be used to help pay for housing, but only with participating landlords. “There are probably two main barriers to landlord participation in voucher programs,” explained Yust. “One barrier is dealing with a government program that requires compliance and documentation, even though the request for documentation occurs typically only once a year, and participation in the program can guarantee rental income for the landlord. A second barrier is an implicit bias against individuals who rely on government support to meet their needs,” she continued.
Over the course of the semester, students developed a website mock-up to provide management resources for participating landlords as well as a self-assessment checklist for landlords to explore before formally applying to the program. The students also developed flyers for renters that use clear visuals and pictures to communicate their rights and responsibilities. The flyer text is minimal and there is a space to include translation into other languages. “It offers a big benefit to landlords to have educational materials about maintenance available for tenants,” said Scott County Assistant Housing Director Molly Link. “The coolest thing is that these materials are culturally sensitive and work across multiple languages.”
“Residents are often hesitant to contact the landlord about a maintenance issue for fear of eviction,” added Yust. This can lead to renters neglecting to report necessary maintenance needs, which can develop into major repairs if left unaddressed. When renters understand their rights, they are more confident working with their landlord to properly maintain the property.
At the end of the partnership, Scott County’s CDA was left with more resources to help promote the voucher program, which will make it easier for low-income renters to find affordable homes. “The students really listened to what our concerns were. The ideas they came up with were ones we wouldn’t have thought of ourselves,” said Scott County Housing Specialist Kim Meierbachtol. For their part, housing students were given a hands-on experience working in the field and two of the participants, Anna Harvatine and Mara Hitt (both Housing and Community Development Minors), received RCP’s Best Student Poster award.
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