Rent Well: Second Step Provides Support and Education for Renters Who Are Rebuilding Their Lives

§ April 2nd, 2012 § Filed under Housing, Programs § No Comments

For the past several years, everywhere you turned in the media, the story has been the same – the poor economy is impacting nearly everyone across the U.S. Here in Washington State, the unemployment rate skyrocketed to more than 10 percent in 2010 and has now settled a little, hovering around 8.5 percent. That means that across our state, thousands of people are still unemployed or underemployed and struggling to make ends meet.

“Wow! Even though I’ve been renting for many years, you just taught me a bunch of stuff I never knew.” 

For many people, housing represents their largest expenditure each month. With costs rising and wages falling, it can be difficult to find a safe, affordable place to live. That’s why Second Step Housing has partnered with the Vancouver Housing Authority (VHA) to provide training and support to renters who are struggling to rebuild their lives.

The Rent Well program that Second Step offers is an education program for renters that is funded by the VHA. The class strives to help participants be accepted by a responsible landlord into safe, decent, affordable housing and to be able to maintain their housing for as long as they want to live there. As part of the Section 8 process, all potential renters are required to take the Rent Well class.

“I bought my kids some things and then bought myself some blouses. After attending the first Rent Well class, I decided to return the blouses and get my money back. I realized the blouses were “wants,” not “needs,” and I feel inspired to make different choices with my money.”

 

“I really respect the VHA’s requiring their potential clients to take the class so that people get much needed knowledge and empowerment in addition to rent assistance,” said Victoria Clevenger, Tenant Education Program Facilitator at Second Step Housing. “As you know, the old adage is that it’s better to teach someone to fish than to give them a fish. The VHA has noticed that fewer of the Section 8 vouchers they give out are being returned because the person couldn’t find someone to rent to them. Though some of the people in the class have been long-time renters, they all report that they didn’t realize there was so much they didn’t know. Hopefully the class will also help more landlords be willing to accept Section 8 because they know that people have had to complete a class as part of their eligibility to get the voucher.”

The Rent Well curriculum helps participants understand the landlord’s perspective, and the responsibilities and rights of both landlords and tenants. The course coaches each participant to create a “Housing Portfolio,” a set of documents that can help the applicant provide the landlord with a more complete and accurate picture of who they are now, even if there might be mistakes in their past. The Housing Portfolio contains a cover letter that explains what will be found during a screening, the circumstances of any missteps in a person’s history, how they have taken responsibility to ensure such mistakes won’t happen again, and why they will be a good tenant now.

“I lost my job and have been couch-surfing, which is a pain for me and for my relatives. I finally found a part-time job, but I’m afraid to apply to rent because I fear being rejected. Now I have some hope.”

Participants complete a rental application, so they have all the accurate information they need, including income verification and identification. Participants also gather supporting documents including letters of reference, certificates from any treatment or anger management programs, copies of bills paid on time, to supplement their rental applications. The curriculum also provides other practical information about energy conservation, credit, mold, lead poisoning, bedbugs, conflict resolution, and fire safety.

After teaching the program for nearly a decade, Victoria is keenly aware of the benefits that Rent Well education brings and is hopeful about each participant’s future. “I see graduates of the program feeling much more confident, hopeful and prepared to find a good housing situation and to be able to be long-term good tenants,” said Victoria. “I hear about positive shifts they’ve made in how they manage their money. They demonstrate that they understand the landlord’s perspective better, their rights and responsibilities more, and know some additional resources to go to for help, if they need them.”

Because of Clark County funding cuts, the Rent Well program is available in a limited capacity. The housing authority completely funds the program for VHA Section 8 or Public Housing clients. The program is offered to others in the community as well, but it is not funded. In previous years the program was provided for any low-income person, and educated hundreds of renters each year.

Additional community support for the Rent Well program would allow Second Step Housing to again serve the many people who have suffered as a result of the economy and have evictions, poor credit and other barriers that make it difficult for them to find stable, decent housing. This program benefits not only the renters and their children, but also landlords and the community at large. It’s very difficult for people to contribute their gifts and skills to the community if they don’t have a safe affordable place to live.

Despite the funding struggles, Victoria is committed to the success of the Rent Well Program and each participant. “I care deeply about helping people make choices that will benefit their and the community’s health and wellbeing in as many ways possible.”

To make a donation of support to Second Step Housing and the Rent Well Program, visit secondstephousing.org and look for the orange “Donate” button at the upper right.

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