The Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio (COHHIO), an NLIHC state coalition partner, recently launched the Rental Housing Information Network in Ohio (RHINO). Through RHINO, COHHIO aims to empower tenants to organize by supporting the work of local organizations serving tenants, and through direct work with tenants on specific issues. COHHIO hopes RHINO will increase the efficiency of their work and reduce the cost and time spent travelling across the state, while expanding their reach to tenant groups.
RHINO developed out of COHHIO’s perception of the need for tenant groups within their network to build meaningful working relationships with one another and share best practices. COHHIO also saw the need to create a venue to help organizations in their network begin thinking of the services they provide as social change activities that help to build the capacity of households and communities to advocate on their own behalf and get involved in decision making processes.
The foundation of RHINO is COHHIO’s existing partnerships with organizations serving tenants across the state. RHINO supports these organizations by sharing up-to-date information about tenant-related regulations, advocacy efforts, organizing strategies, and information on resources and local services that benefit their work with tenants. The program also provides technical assistance and coordination.
Partners are encouraged to use RHINO to connect with one another to seek help on a particular issue or share valuable information or experiences using four interlinked listservs for partners, providers, tenants and the Ohio Preservation Network. This month RHINO members began planning RHINO's first statewide meeting. Housing Opportunities Made Equal (Cincinnati), Cleveland Tenants Organization, Fair Housing Center (Toledo), Project House Call (Lancaster), Fair Housing Contact Service (Akron), and Zanesville Fair Housing are current RHINO partners. Tenants, health and social service providers, and housing advocates are also encouraged to become involved in RHINO activities.
The first of RHINO’s five program goals is to stabilize rental households in the state. Advocates believe that rental is the new standard for low and middle income households in the wake of the foreclosure crisis. The challenge for RHINO is to make rental housing stable and secure. RHINO seeks to help renters establish working relationships with landlords, reduce utility expenses that are controlled by the renter, create a healthy home environment by removing health hazards, and develop strategies to establish a safer community.
The second goal is to organize tenant communities. RHINO helps tenants understand that a united voice around common concerns has more power and a greater chance of creating change than one person working alone. An emerging issue among tenant communities is inability of tenants to choose their own telecommunications provider. Often, landlords develop a partnership with a particular telecommunications company, leaving tenants with no ability to choose a provider with lower rates or better services. RHINO staff is currently working with tenants to develop policies that will allow tenants living in multifamily properties to choose their telecommunications provider.
Preservation of affordable housing, the third goal of RHINO, is an issue COHHIO has worked on for the past few years. COHHIO is a part of a consortium, including the Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing and the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, which is dedicated to the preservation of approximately 14,000 units of federally subsidized affordable housing. COHHIO has been successful with incorporating tenant involvement on this issue and will continue their work with tenants through RHINO.
The fourth goal, advocating for tenant rights, is a citizen-based effort to help tenants and organizations serving tenants to get involved in local, state, and federal advocacy. RHINO's fifth goal is to ensure that tenants can choose the housing that they can afford. That means expanding housing choices through rental housing search engines like the Ohio Housing Locator and the Housing Cleveland websites; helping tenants understand the total cost of occupancy and challenging exclusionary policies at the property, city, county and state levels.
RHINO partners are urged to create new approaches to addressing the five goals and RHINO will continue to develop partnerships with organizations serving tenants and expand their work with tenant communities.
“RHINO is a laboratory for social innovation in working with tenants,” said Spencer Wells, Tenant Outreach Director for COHHIO. “We’re researching, testing, and sharing innovations across the state.”
To learn more about the RHINO project visit http://home.rhinohio.com.
For more information contact Spencer Wells, Tenant Outreach Director, COHHIO, firstname.lastname@example.org.