Family Housing Fund

Report date
October 2019

What has been most instrumental to your progress?

Learning through our outreach and research efforts. This work includes ongoing efforts by our community-based partners to engage affected renters to understand their experience with applications for vacant rental housing and related tenant screening and selection systems, and to identify fair and accurate indicators of an applicant’s ability to succeed as a tenant. This work also includes ongoing efforts to engage rental owners and operators – from large private companies to “mom and pop” landlords to nonprofit housing providers to public housing authorities – around their goals in the tenant screening and selection process, how they have arrived at their current screening practices and policies, and exploring their interest in market-based evidence or other tools to inform more accurate practices and results.
Educating stakeholders on current tenant screening and selection systems. Through our outreach and research and relationship-building efforts, we find that very few stakeholders – including well-established rental housing owners and operators, housing policy professionals, and advocates for low-income renter households – have a clear and complete vantage on current systems, policies, and practices related to tenant screening and selection. Our ongoing efforts to share what we are learning have served to affirm our findings, to identify new stakeholders to engage, and to identify new lines of inquiry to pursue with our outreach and research efforts. These conversations have also served to build relationships with and the interest of stakeholders to assist in developing potential solutions and driving positive change.
Relationship-building to develop potential solutions and support for change. One crucial example of this work grew from our outreach to and interviews with private rental housing owners and operators. These interviews served as a window into each company or landlord’s experiences and perspectives with tenant screening and selection and their broader goals and philosophy around rental housing management. We used the interviews to gather data and to start to identify patterns and contrasts across owners. This work helped us to understand both the common themes and the wide variation in tenant screening and selection practices, especially within private industry. We were also able to identify some owners who shared our interest in producing market-based evidence that could inform more accurate practices and policy. These include owners who had previously attempted such research on their own, in order to improve their ability to identify and manage risk associated with certain applicant and tenant backgrounds, and to accept more applicants while limiting their exposure to unsuccessful tenancies and related losses.

Key lessons learned

As described above, we learned that developing a common understanding of a complex system is challenging and will require a broad outreach effort over time.

We also learned that developing a common vision for how change should occur is more difficult, especially when there is still such varied and limited awareness of how the current system works, and given the historic enmity between “tenant interests” and “landlord interests” on such sensitive matters of policy in the Twin Cities region.

These contrasting viewpoints and visions for change were on display at a recent public hearing on a Minneapolis ordinance that will limit landlords’ use of tenant screening practices. The hearing was reminiscent of a 2017 hearing on a Minneapolis ordinance that limited landlords’ ability to reject applicants using Section 8 vouchers, with very similar “battle lines” drawn and rhetoric on display.

The work of our project remains broader in focus and potential impact than a city ordinance, but these experiences speak to the ongoing and significant challenges at the heart of our work. Getting to a common vision for how change will occur feels possible but remains a work in progress.

Reflections on inclusive, collaborative or resourceful problem-solving

Our inclusive approach – of engaging all stakeholders starting with impacted tenants and emphasizing the engagement of a diverse cross-section of private “professional,” private “mom and pop,” nonprofit, and public rental owners and operators – has been crucial to developing a complete and holistic understanding of tenant screening and selection systems.

Of equal importance has been our interest and early efforts to collaborate and build productive relationships with these stakeholders with the understanding that they are the users and stewards of the current system, and thus represent the most crucial actors in any future efforts to drive positive change.

As discussed above in #2, developing a common vision for how change should occur has been challenging and remains a work in progress.

Other key elements of Community Innovation


Understanding the problem

As explained above, our outreach and research and our efforts to educate stakeholders have confirmed the need, broad appetite for, and opportunities for positive change that we perceived at the time we developed our application to Bush.

If you could do it all over again...

We stated in our application that our project would test the working assumption that rental owners prefer evidence-based tenant screening and selection processes and accurate results. Our work has affirmed the viability of this assumption, but if we could go back in time, we would express stronger confidence in this original working assumption as well as confidence that we could build upon this interest to organize the sort of private market study described above under #3.