What’s next for city council runner-up Tanner Bennett?

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BYU undergrad and city council candidate Tanner Bennett participates in the City-wide Council Candidate Forum at the Provo Library on Aug. 30, 2023. His campaign uniquely represented student interests and has inspired his new rental advocacy group. (Photo courtesy of Tanner Bennett)

Tanner Bennett is not going to let his finish as runner-up in Provo’s City Council primaries race slow him down.

The 24-year-old BYU senior, who ran a radical $0 campaign for the Citywide II seat, garnered 1,496 votes. Bennett said he believes 60%-70% came from Provo’s Silent Majority – BYU students.

“It exceeded, and then some, the way I was expecting it to go, to be honest,” he said.

When he first announced his candidacy, Bennett said campaign veterans told him not to count on college students to turn up at elections. He held to his original campaign vision, however, and generated some significant buzz among young adults in the area.

“We doubled down on students, and they showed up,” he said. “There were some poll workers who were there … saying, ‘We’ve never seen this many young people come to a local election.’”

Bennett had a sense for BYU student’s latent political potential when he began his campaign. Now that he’s activated a voting block, he doesn’t want to let it go to waste.

“We’re the hottest date to the dance right now,” he said. “As runner-up, they’re pretty interested in talking to me … as far as what policies will get our attention and our votes (for the final election).”

Beyond municipal government, Bennett is also using his social media following to build Renters Advocacy Network, which he describes as Provo Housing Authority’s “hip younger brother.”

Bennett envisions RAN as a non-profit that will use donated funds to give legal support to renters.

@renters.advocacy.network

What is your insane slumlord story? Drop it in the comments, or shoot us a DM! We’re ready and excited to take on our crappy landlords 💪 #provo #provoutah #provocity #downtownprovo #provohousing #utah #utahcounty #utahvalley #byu #byuhousing #byustudents #byusa #provocitycouncil

♬ original sound – R.A.N.

Provo City is not concerned about code enforcement, Bennett explained, because they think BYU is handling it — even though BYU withdrew from student housing issues two years ago.

“I think BYU-approved housing destroyed Provo’s rental market,” he said. “Its withdrawal has left a huge gap in rentals in Provo … for ensuring there’s compliance and code enforcement.”

Now, students are left with an “out-of-control” rental market, colored by scarcity and quality issues, he said.

In the wake of the election results, he and his campaign team are pivoting to help local renters. This contingency plan was in place from early on, he said.

“I think it’s for the best,” campaign manager Jared Sampson said of Tanner’s runner-up status. “Having a seat on city council is definitely a tool to do good with, but it’s not the only tool.”

Sampson, a BYU marketing alumnus, stumbled across Bennett on Reddit and knew he wanted to be involved. He offered his services and a 50-cent poster — the campaign’s only expenditure.

Together, Sampson and content manager Cristian Torres used social channels to get Bennett’s message to a local audience. Even after the primaries, their following continues to grow.

“We’re still bringing in hundreds of followers every single day,” Sampson said. “More than half of our following lives in our geographic area.”

Sampson said he plans to continue helping Bennett with RAN for three months before moving to a different project.

BYU math education student and creator of Provo Local Foodie Tim Jafek also worked on the social side of the campaign. He said he plans to stick with Bennett’s new initiative as well.

“His campaign just made sense to me,” Jafek said. “This is a no-brainer campaign.”

At the beginning of the summer, Bennett’s campaign staff included himself, a camera and his dog Toby. By summer’s end, he had around 25 people on his team. 

BYU public relations senior Angela Larson was one of the 25 to jump on board, coordinating media releases.

“His story basically writes itself,” Larson said. “Even though he didn’t end up getting the council seat, what he managed to accomplish was really amazing.”

Bennett said he continues to advocate for affordable Provo housing. For a BYU student working a part-time campus job ($12 hourly, 20 hours weekly), Bennett defines “affordable” as $250-$300 in monthly rent. 

Potential solutions to the issue include building high-density units to compete with current mid-century housing options close to campus, upping the number of ancillary dwelling units in Provo and establishing a minimum square foot requirement per resident, which would allow more renters to live in family-sized homes, Bennett said.

Bennett said his city council campaign adopted a “spaghetti on the wall” method — trying anything that would stick. This can-do, what-if spirit persists in RAN.

For more information about RAN, visit this page. For details about Provo’s Nov. 21 general election, click here.

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