by Jacqueline Bauer and Matthew Naud

If you live in a large university town like Bloomington, Indiana, chances are many of your neighborhoods are dominated by student rentals. In most cases, students pay for utilities and landlords have little or no incentive to invest in energy efficiency. This economic barrier makes it very difficult to reduce GHGs in this sector. Of equal importance, these energy dollars leave the economy quickly, unlike the local investment in energy efficiency labor, equipment and ongoing savings.

In Bloomington (pop. 83,565), where 75% of the university’s 40,000+ students live off-campus, the impact is tremendous. Two-thirds of local housing units are rentals, making it exceedingly difficult to achieve community sustainability goals. Universities typically do not “own” their students off-campus emissions and leave this large source of GHG emissions for the local community to solve.

To help address this challenge, a group of 10 mostly university towns teamed together to explore an innovative and disruptive solution to show the full costs of housing: RentRocket.org. RentRocket aims to enable renters to see and compare not just basic amenities but also information like utility costs, accessibility to alternative modes of transit, and recycling options. The goal? To help student renters make smarter rental housing decisions that align with their values and fit their budgets.

The site also enables landlords to promote the energy saving and other improvements they have made to their properties and achieve a maximum return on those investments.

This team of cities now seeks university partners interested in further developing RentRocket.org and exploring other ways to reduce the impact of off-campus university housing. Specifically, we seek partners interested in exploring:

  • How to effectively share responsibility for the sustainability impacts of off-campus student housing between universities and their communities;
  • Ways of continuing to develop the RentRocket.org website and its associated dataset;
  • Ways to encourage other university communities to consider a similar approach.

Interested in learning more? Email bauerj@bloomington.in.gov.