The Tucson RENT Project: engaging volunteer attorneys and students in delivering tenant education workshops
When i4J and SU2J conceptualized the RENT Project in 2018, Pima County residents experienced over 13,000 evictions per year (over 1,000 per month). Evictions are tragic for families and communities. Once evictions happen, stable housing becomes further out of reach. In Spring 2019, the Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice awarded a seed grant to the Innovation for Justice Program (i4J) at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law and Step Up to Justice (SU2J), a non-profit pro bono law center, to design and launch the RENT Project, community-based tenant education workshops designed to fill tenants’ knowledge gaps about their rights and responsibilities as tenants, and prevent evictions.
The RENT Project engages volunteer attorneys and students in delivering tenant education workshops embedded in social service organizations. The RENT Project curriculum presented at these workshops was co-designed with community stakeholders, including tenants, property owners, attorneys, judges, court staff, and social service providers, to fill knowledge gaps in the tenant community and deliver tenant education where and when tenants want it. The Tucson RENT project offered 18 workshops from its launch in August 2019 until March 2020, when workshops were strategically postponed due to COVID-19.
Since the RENT Project launched, we have continued to engage the community in identifying emerging and unmet community needs and the best strategies to meet those needs. The three major changes that we made to the RENT Project’s deliverables include: (1) adding a new section to the curriculum that addresses rights and responsibilities of tenants who experience domestic violence; (2) translating the curriculum and all additional resources into Spanish; and (3) rapidly responding to COVID-19 disruptions by creating a video version of the curriculum, moving all materials online, and creating COVID-19-specific tenant resources.
While i4J and SU2J look forward to resuming tenant education workshops when it is safe to do so, we will continue to leverage our knowledge, expertise, and community relationships to find innovative ways to empower renters and keep people housed. RENT Project’s strategies provide a permanent, systematic solution to the eviction crisis not only in Pima Country but potentially nationwide. The RENT Project provides a sustainable and replicable model to improve tenant competencies and community engagement toward protecting vulnerable populations from social, economic, environmental, and generational hazards of eviction and homelessness.
The report provides an overview of the need for tenant education in Pima County, how the RENT Project was designed and adapted to meet community needs, and how it operates in the field.