Renters currently make up more than 36 million households—more than one-third of all the households in the United States. In Fond du Lac County, 28% of total occupied housing units available are occupied by renters. More people are finding themselves in need of information to help them successfully navigate the renting process and develop better landlord/tenant relationships.
In 2007/2008 the Rent Smart curriculum was updated and re-introduced to meet the growing number of individuals in the rental market. In Fond du Lac County, the Rent Smart tenant education program is being offered to address this growing need by Family Living Educator Michelle Tidemann. Rent Smart provides practical information to help people find and keep a decent place to live. Rent Smart is a partnership with FDL Housing Authority, Redevelopment Planning office-City of Fond du Lac, FDL Landlord Association and UW-Extension.
Participants in the Rent Smart program experience eleven different topics of instruction over a series of two three-hour workshops, taught every other month by the partnership Tidemann leads. So far in 2012, 88 individuals have participated. Participants receive a certificate for completing Rent Smart. The Fond du Lac City/County Housing Authority and Fond du Lac Landlords Association recognize this certificate as a positive reference with their housing applications.
Additional work has been done by conducting Rent Smart curriculum training for other Extension Educators in the state as well as agency representatives. In October, three of the state Rent Smart team members (Kristi Cutts, Chris Kniep and Tidemann) conducted curriculum training, with 24 agency representatives present. About half of the group works for the WI Corrections system, a growing audience for this material, as the pre-release program required of inmates has a housing component. Evaluation follow-up with previous curriculum training participants was completed at the end of 2011. The comprehensive evaluation was conducted with an evaluation specialist conducting phone interviews. Sixty-five (65) interviews were conducted from the list of 122 training participants. Forty (40), 62%, reported having used “Rent Smart” and 25 (38%) reported having not. Of those using “Rent Smart,” 18 were UW-Extension colleagues and 22 worked for other agencies and organizations.
Recently the state UWEX Rent Smart team, which Tidemann serves on, was honored with the NEAFCS national housing education award in Columbus, Ohio. Our Showcase of Excellence has generated additional interest in the program and the state Rent Smart team of four UW-Extension Family Living Educators is gearing up to develop a comparable Landlord Education program, as that has been identified as a need by partners serving on housing coalitions.