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Nonprofit tenant advocacy organization has helped renters save $15.4 million

HOME Line, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit tenant advocacy organization that has a hotline offering free legal advice to renters, recently set out to collect more information about the results of its work.

Fortunately, the organization had kept tabs on things going back to 1992.

HOME Line housing attorney Samuel Spaid worked with a University of Minnesota statistician, Craig Rolling, to analyze data from a sampling of only about 10 percent of callers, who most frequently described difficulties related to home repairs, evictions, security deposits, foreclosures, and breaking leases. The hotline gets about 11,000 calls a year. 

They learned the organization had helped many more people save money and avoid eviction than they had previously imagined. "We were massively under-reporting the impact of services," says Spaid. "It changed the way we look at what we're doing."   

They presented their findings at a housing forum last month from the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs at the University of Minnesota. 

Through a mathematical formula that accounted for calls similar to the sample population, they discovered that through the years HOME Line has been instrumental in landing $5.4 million in security deposit money and $10 million in rent abatements while preventing 8,700 evictions. The old figures hardly came close; the organization previously reported $500,000 saved in security deposits and $740,000 in rent abatements and 2,851 prevented evictions.

For renters in buildings that were being foreclosed on--a growing problem--the number-crunching indicates that tenants who stayed put after the 6-month redemption period collectively saved $4.19 million from 2006 to 2010.  

Many renters don't know that they can linger in a building undergoing foreclosure, often for up to nine months, Spaid explains. During that time, renters usually pay little or no rent. "The fact that they were able to recoup some losses was surprising," he says.    

Eighty percent of tenants who followed through on HOME Line's suggestions got repairs made. In fact, half of the people who merely sent landlords a form letter got some money back. Those who didn't take their advice got no money back.   

Overall, renters have saved $15.4 million by following through on HOME Line's advice, compared to the $1.2 million it put out there before. 

The information puts the organization in a good position for giving advice going forward. "We're able to tell what likely outcomes are and say, 'this is what someone should do and why,'" he says.

Source: Samuel Spaid, Housing Attorney at HOME Line
Writer: Anna Pratt

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