Lately, more and more municipalities across Canada adopt and support RentSmart education as part of their efforts in promoting housing stability. Chatham-Kent, City of Windsor and City of Calgary are just a few examples. In this post, we’d like to begin highlighting some of these municipalities and how RentSmart has worked for them to share best practices and inspire other communities dealing with similar issues. We’ll begin by sharing the story of Chatham-Kent. We’ve interviewed Cathy Young, a Community Navigator who delivers the courses with her co-facilitator, Lori Dilliot and talked about what makes the program successful, some facilitation tips, educator connection and landlord support.
From our records we can see that you’ve run about 30 RentSmart courses so far! That’s amazing! We would love to know the story of how RentSmart started and grew in the community.
In 2017, Chatham-Kent Employment & Social Services became one of the first Municipalities in Ontario to begin offering RentSmart tenant education to Housing First program participants and to individuals receiving financial and housing stability services through the Chatham-Kent Shelter Solutions program. Several municipal social services employees became trained as RentSmart facilitators. Two of the RentSmart trained employees – Lori Dilliott and myself, are Community Navigators who work in the Chatham Kent Public Library branches and deliver RentSmart courses to 11 different communities within the Municipality of Chatham-Kent. The Navigators plan dates, arrange and book learning spaces as well as co-ordinate between each other to ensure classes run smoothly.
Can you tell us a little about how you run the RentSmart program currently? What organizations are involved, how frequently courses are running?
Currently, we run a RentSmart Certificate class once a month and advertise these dates quarterly. In our role as Community Navigators, we are continuously sharing information with community agencies and service providers, which allows for us to reach individuals throughout the community, inviting them to join in one of these classes. In addition, we initially sent out surveys asking agencies if they were interested in perhaps running a Certificate class for an already established group associated with their service. To date, we have held closed group classes to individuals involved with Community Living Chatham and Wallaceburg, Adult Language and Learning, St. Clair College, Chatham – School Within a College (SWAC) and Homes4Youth.
During Module 3 – Rights, Responsibilities and Expectations, a paralegal from the Chatham-Kent Legal Clinic joins the class to assist the facilitator, to uncover the material and to answer any questions and concerns from participants in regard to their own past and present tenancies. This method of tag-team facilitating, has been of great value to our participants and allows them to meet and become comfortable with the paralegal who would potentially assist them in the future, with any tenancy issues that may arise. In fact, appointments to meet with the paralegal have been set up after class, for individuals to receive the help and advice they need.
While covering material in Module 5 – Communicating Effectively, another visitor joins the group, to shed light on renting from the perspective of a landlord. Gordon, the president of the CK Landlord Association visits the group to stress how important communication and relationships are to successful tenancies. His association’s members have all been trained in a RentSmart Landlord session: http://chathamapartments.ca/landlords/ckla-member-benefits/
The majority of our readers are fellow RentSmart Educators and they’d love to know how you use the curriculum and materials. Have you had to do specific adaptations of the curriculum or activities for your groups? What has worked for you? Is there anything you’d like to change about the curriculum?
As there are two Community Navigators who facilitate these classes, each has become “masters” of three specific modules. This allows for refining our presentations and activities that we feel best suit a particular group. For the most part, the same activities are used in each class, but for specific groups who have requested accommodations, the activities have been adjusted to meet these specific needs (eg. Newcomers to Canada or individuals with intellectual disabilities). Classes have ranged in size from 1 to 21. With small groups of up to 6, we’ve noticed that participants tend to spend more time sharing experiences with each other and less time on group activities, while the larger groups are more likely to stick to the planned activities and group work. The curriculum, PowerPoints and manuals are all quite valuable and utilized equally to cover all of the curricular material. Another interesting observation we had was that MOST adults do NOT enjoy the role-playing activities so these activities are offered to participants as an option or we skip them over completely. Other than that, there is not a thing we would change with the curriculum.
Can you give tips on how you engage your participants and tackle challenging dynamics during the course?
As with any adult training or educational program, the key to engaging participants is flexibility and planning. When participants become disengaged, perhaps it is time for a break, an anecdotal story or a new activity – this all requires the facilitator to be attentive to the individuals in the class. Another strategy to ensure engagement is in planning extra activities which allow for the facilitator to quickly make the decision to change or omit an activity if the mood/energy in the class does not match what was initially planned.
Managing the challenging dynamics that sometimes occur within a class boils down to modeling and encouraging a respectful learning environment. Being attentive to the needs and personalities of participants allows for the facilitator to steer activities and conversations in a positive direction. It is encouraged that the group begins the training with creating a collaborative list of “class rules” to start their learning off on a positive note.
For those educators that are just planning to run their first course, what advice would you give them?
Based on our experience we recommend those who are just planning to run their first course to become familiarized with the Residential Tenancy Act and housing statistics within their community. It’s also very useful to connect with legal aid in your area that assists tenants with housing issues – perhaps inviting them from the beginning to take part in the training as a guest. Equally important is connecting with the housing program providers in the area to learn about what is offered in terms of community resources for renters and to tap into any potential pockets of learners. When facilitating our first class, we found co-facilitation was the best choice, to handle administrative paperwork for the first time, assist with running activities and to provide overall support in delivering course curriculum which subsequently helped build our confidence as instructors.
We work closely with the Chatham-Kent Landlord Association and this partnership is the first of its kind in Canada. As of March 2019, the Landlord Association has adopted RentSmart Landlord education for its members and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Employment & Social Services to work together to deliver, market, and promote the RentSmart Tenant & Landlord education programs: the Municipality delivers tenant education and the Association delivers landlord education. Key strategic priorities include increasing successful tenancies, fostering landlord and tenant relationships, and, decreasing evictions.
How do you keep the connection and engagement between educators?
There are a number of things we do to keep connected and engaged as RentSmart Educators. After every Basics or Certificate class we like to debrief as co-facilitators. We also meet with our local team quarterly to discuss broader housing initiatives as well as collaborate on any necessary changes we could make. We also find it important to participate in all RentSmart webinars or educator collaborate phone calls as well as continually update our knowledge on any changes pertaining to the RTA and share any new information amongst educators.
If you are interested in sharing the story of RentSmart in your community and being featured in our blog and newsletter, please contact Aygul.