New website aims to give renters more energy-efficient options

9 months 2 weeks 2 days ago February 18, 2016 Feb 18, 2016 Thursday, February 18 2016 Thursday, February 18, 2016 9:19:00 PM CST in News
By: Emma Balkenbush, KOMU 8 Reporter

COLUMBIA -Renters looking for a place usually have a list of requirements. Good location, comes with a garage, close to work or school.

Now, they can make sure their next home is more energy-efficient, thanks to a website.

Rent Rocket started in 2013 by Barbara Buffaloe, the city's sustainability manager, and several other city's staff members.

Buffaloe said she was at a meeting with other city staff when the idea for Rent Rocket came up. 

"We're university towns grappling with the same issue of 'how do we help renters choose to find a sustainable housing option?'" Buffaloe said. 

Buffaloe, along with sustainability managers from Ann Arbor, MI, Evanston, IL, and Bloomington, IN began to develop the site in 2013.

Of the 14 cities participating, Columbia is the only one that is automatically given electricity and water data because the city owns its utility company. Meaning, renters in Columbia automatically have utility data to compare when looking for a place to rent. 

The Urban Sustainability Directors Network and Global Philanthropy Partnership granted the 14 cities an innovation fund in 2013 to begin development on the site. Buffaloe said she hopes renters will be able to use the website to get a better idea of what they will be paying. 

"We're hoping that the website can help them make a decision between two similar places," Buffaloe said.

Scott Schnelle, Energylink Project Manager, said he thinks Rent Rocket will be useful for renters in Columbia. 

"They might have been able to trick new renters coming in every year into renting their property and now nobody wants to touch it because they see the utilities are higher than the rent," Schnelle said. 

Buffaloe said she hopes the website will create a market demand for energy-efficient rentals. 

"Right now we hear that students aren't interested in energy efficiency and we think that they are," Buffaloe said. 

She said the website is also a tool for landlords, who can upload pictures and their contact information. 

"If they wanted to advertise their spaces, they could upload the information on energy-use data or amentities like what their recycling options are or local access to transit," Buffaloe said. 

Schnelle said he thinks the website will help push landlords to invest more time in their properties, which will also help them keep tenants. 

"I think it's a win-win for them when they do these improvements even if they're not paying that utility bill," Schnelle said. 

Buffaloe said the website will be available to not only college-aged renters, but all renters in Columbia, which has a 51.7 percent rental population. 

"The hope is that it will help all people choose a smart place to rent," Buffaloe said. 

The group of developers finished the end of the grant in January and are now waiting for renters and landlords to add more information to the website. 

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