Welcome to our forum for highlighting innovative initiatives from state and local housing and homeless coalitions advocating to increase housing opportunities. The goal of Advocacy Skillshare is to advance cross-pollination of ideas, tactics and strategies that effectively advance housing and homeless advocacy. Have a good experience or idea to share with Advocacy Skillshare? Send it to Michael Anderson.
In an effort to build political will among elected officials to increase funding for affordable housing and related energy efficiency programs, advocates in Virginia conducted a public opinion poll that demonstrated the overwhelming support of Virginia voters for the Virginia Housing Trust Fund. Particular support was for programs that address homelessness and allow seniors to age in place, as well as investments in energy efficiency that reduce utility expenses. The Campaign for Housing and Civic Engagement (CHACE), a statewide network of housing advocates spearheaded by the Virginia Housing Alliance and the Virginia Poverty Law Center, revealed the results of the poll as part of an education initiative for state elected officials and candidates for state office in September, 2017.
CHACE contracted with the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University to conduct a poll of 509 registered voters who were interviewed between September 3rd and September 10th, 2017. Questions revolved around the Campaign’s three policy priorities: increasing funding for the Virginia Housing Trust Fund, expanding energy efficiency programs, and ensuring support services are available for individuals exiting homelessness. The margin of error for the poll is +/- 4.3%.
The poll’s findings demonstrate that, by a wide margin, Virginians want a full spectrum of housing opportunities for all their neighbors. 82% of voters strongly believe that people who work in their community should be able to find a home there. 56% of voters agree that housing affordability is vital to their community’s economic success. 58% of voters also believe that ending homelessness is an important government priority.
78% of those surveyed said they were supportive of the Virginia Housing Trust Fund, a program that works to preserve and create new affordable rental housing in the state and to alleviate homelessness across the Commonwealth. Respondents overwhelmingly supported the continued use of the Housing Trust Fund to address homelessness (80%) and supported the use of the fund for “aging in place” modifications that help Virginians remain in their homes as they get older (87%).
Voters were also very supportive of mechanisms to expand residential energy efficiency programs, which help families save money and reduce overall demand for new energy. 89% of Virginians favor holding energy companies accountable by requiring them to meet energy saving goals for their customers. Over half (61%) of those surveyed are also willing to pay a 50 cent surcharge on their utility bill to help fund weatherization and energy efficiency programs.
CHACE is a statewide campaign to raise awareness of housing issues, launched in 2017 in coordination with the Housing Week of Action, a nationwide effort sponsored by Our Homes, Our Voices, an initiative of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. CHACE’s mission is to inform voters, elected officials, and candidates at all levels of government on the importance of quality homes for Virginians at all income levels.
Never in the history of Washington State had the legislature not passed a Capital budget within a session. Yet, in January 2018, the Washington State Capital Budget had been stalled since July 2017. To raise visibility about the need to pass the Budget, members of the Washington Low-Income Housing Alliance (WLIHA) and the Resident Action Project (RAP) flooded the state capital on Jan. 11 wearing bright yellow hard-hats and carrying shovels (key chain size). WLIHA staff and RAP leaders distributed the shovels to every lawmaker in Olympia in an effort to drive home how many shovel-ready projects were threatened if lawmakers did not pass the Capital Budget with a strong investment in the Housing Trust Fund.
RAP and WLIHA members distributed shovels to Republicans and Democrats, and the hard hats and shovels were met with appreciation from both sides of the aisle. “The lawmakers’ aides were thankful that we were there because of all of the hard work we did for affordable housing budgets,” RAP Steering Committee Member Lisa Sawyer said. “All of the aides said that the shovels were a great idea.”
The need to pass the Capital Budget was particularly pressing given that Washington has a tremendous affordable housing crisis. RAP members planned and implemented “8 weeks of action”, culminating with the Shovel & Hard Hat action, that pushed for the Capital Budget passing and funding for the Housing Trust Fund. The following week, in part because of the advocacy by RAP members and WLIHA staff, lawmakers passed the Capital Budget with a $106.7 million investment in the Housing Trust Fund. In fact, the advocacy action led to a direct shift in the legislative conversation, prompting one senator to raise the subject of at-risk Housing Trust Fund projects in committee.
“It was a powerful day because the shovels showed how much we needed the Capital Budget for more affordable housing, and we definitely need affordable housing in Washington,” Sawyer said.
To learn more about the Resident Action Project, click here.
By Divya Shiv, Voter Engagement Organizer, Washington Housing Alliance Action Fund
“The cross train demonstrated to me first-hand the power groups can have when they combine their talents and resources,” wrote Thomas Wright RUN resident leader from CHP in San Francisco.
CCC’s Housing Trust Fund Project along with the lead organizers for California’s Resident United Network (RUN) and Washington’s Resident Action Project (RAP) led a four-day training for twenty top leaders from the respective resident organizing networks in Federal Way, Washington. The training had two main objectives: first, reflect on and build leadership qualities and secondly, skill building sessions on meeting facilitation, voter registration, tabling, phone banking, door knocking, and art, culture and organizing.
RUN and RAP leaders at the cross train
RUN is a project of Housing California; RAP is a project of Washington Housing Alliance Action Fund; and both projects are a partnership with the HTFProject. These two state organizations are committed to building and bolstering a housing justice movement through organizing residents who live in affordable homes, those experiencing housing instability or homelessness as well as non-profit developers and service staff into a powerful network that can bring the changes needed to state policy and implementation.
One of the HTFProject’s roles with RUN and RAP has been leadership development through by creating curriculum and providing opportunities for leaders to grow and thrive. RUN and RAP have held trainings, popular education sessions as well as skill building opportunities such as meeting facilitation, lobbying, and voter registration. At the outset of developing training for the resident organizing groups has been to provide a deep leadership and skills enhancement opportunities for resident leaders and staff. This year, RUN and RAP both had important dates on their fall calendars making this perfect opportunity to put the early idea into action. The idea of doing a cross train with the two groups was hatched.
Taking a page out of other organizing traditions, the HTFProject developed a four day, in-depth training with the goal to help leaders deepen both their hard and soft skills on leadership. One exercise was on leadership styles such as Visionary, Strategic, Ethical, Task or Process leaders (thanks to Wellstone Action). Participants talked about what style they resonated the most with and the one that was a challenge. We discussed how all of the styles are needed for a strong team, and how awareness of each other’s styles facilitates understanding and communication amongst the team. Another morning we did an anti-oppression exercise that focused on how we all have privilege and oppression on a spectrum depending on the “ism” that we are considering. From there we dove into developing policies with a lens of “anti-oppression”. Many time policies are created that benefit the majority but harm a marginalized group. Leaders have to be aware of that as they develop affordable housing policy.
RAP leaders register voters, recruit for RAP
In the afternoons, RUN and RAP members practiced hard skills of voter registration, through tabling and door knocking and then put their new skills immediately in action first tabling at King County libraries, and then knocking on more than 1200 doors in south Seattle and Bellevue affordable housing developments. One of the development that was door-knocked was adjacent to the Microsoft campus. Many of the residents there were quite worried about rent increases and displacement. They were super excited to be connected to RAP. In the evening, we ran a phone bank making more than 300 calls to recruit attendees from RAP’s summer listening sessions and other partners to the RAP’s inaugural statewide Summit that will help decide the policies and direction for RAP in 2018. In all three activities, RAP and RUN members recruited people to attend RAP’s upcoming Summit, registered voters and collected voter pledge cards.
The training ended with a reflection on art and culture in organizing with leaders coming up with creative ideas to use art and cultural as well as how to engage artists in our movement. True to putting ideas to practice, the group self-selected three art activities: writing, visual art and music. This powerful section allowed participants to use their talents and think about creating space for healing, reflection and fun in our organizing. The week concluded with a spontaneous dance party from the music cohort. They did a re-worked version of Kool in the Gang’s Celebration entitled “Housing Justice Now /Liberation,” followed by every person doing “Vision Stand” (that is their vision for RUN or RAP and affordable housing justice) that brought the house down—tears, cheers, hugs and laughter. Folks left the cross train tired but energized. The first request was “we need more cross trains! At least two a year.”
The activities and skill building were significant, but as important was the camaraderie between the two groups. The shared feeling of the groups was that together we are building a movement. At the conclusion of the training, the intent to stay connected was clear: RAP leaders want to hear more the upcoming RUN regional meetings and leadership retreat. The RUN folks are anxious to hear how their work for turn-out to the inaugural RAP statewide Summit helped attendance. This result is one of those immeasurable results as can be seen in responses from the cross train participants:
As Rosie Ulloa, staff from City Heights CDC in San Diego said, “It was very valuable for me to be able to interface with other leaders doing the same work in other areas and regions. I think what was most powerful is being driven around by a [Washington] leader who was homeless [yet] a fierce advocate for [people experiencing] homelessness….How powerful this meeting was for me.”
RAP leader Mindy Woods spoke about the immediate relevance for her, “I absolutely LOVED the cross train because I learn so much from each person’s style, points of interest, approaches and effective communication! It made me be a better facilitator for the Summit for sure!”
“The cross training taught me more about what successful organizing looks like beyond California. I also realized more that affordable housing is a national crisis, and the opportunity to receive training from champions of affordable housing was invaluable. As someone who held his first regional meeting within weeks after the cross training, I was much more prepared to lead my own training than if I had not gone. 10/10 would do again,” wrote SCANPH organizer Michael Menjivar.
“The cross training of RAP & RUN transmitted the hope, passion and love each leader brings to the work we are doing for the homeless and housing crisis…The last session was powerful & fun and brought closure and healing. Leadership in our advocacy is not for the weak, having homeless leaders and residents in our training in the work we do is unique and powerful. I’ve strengthen my voice thanks to the cross training, inspired to keep working and leading for our friends without homes,” said RUN leader Miriam Rodriguez.
“The power and presence of these two emerging networks was poetry in movement! I learned an incredible amount from the expertise of the trainers, facilitators, and resident leadership. There is no replacement for ground training to elevate and excite power building and civic participation. A valuable and memorable experience. I hope this will be offered in the future. Thank you so very much,” said Constance Slider-Pierre, Director of Organizing & Community Engagement of Housing California.
Kristina Nielander, RAP Organizer, sums up the power of building leadership for a movement, “The opportunity to be together with RAP and RUN at the cross train made the potential of RAP in Washington state feel so real given the recent successes and wins of RUN. On top of the opportunity to build new skills together and do a ton of outreach and turnout support for the Summit, we got to learn from each other and be inspired by each other’s work, which ultimately helps us to keep fueling our movement.”
Fluctuating levels of funding have long been a challenge to the internal capacity and external impact of organizations in the public services sector. It is difficult to design and implement long-term programs when time and resources must be reallocated to completing grant applications or when a lost grant results in severely curtailed capacity or community impact. With the intention of changing this dynamic, in 2014 the Massachusetts legislature established the Community Investment Tax Credit (CITC). Established in part due to income inequality in the state (currently only five other states surpass Massachusetts in income inequality), the CITC is intended to provide a reliable source of funding to community development corporations (CDCs) that will in turn support the local community and combat inequality through organizing, advocacy, affordable housing, economic development, and other initiatives adapted to address local needs.
Administered by the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), the CITC stimulates private philanthropy by entitling donors to receive a 50% refundable state tax credit for donations of $1,000 or more made to participating CDCs (or one of two DHCD-designated community support organizations) and a federal tax deduction as allowed under federal law. This tax credit is available to any taxpayer, including corporations, non-profits, and individuals. To be eligible to participate in the program, a CDC must be selected through a competitive process administered by the DHCD. Organizations submit a comprehensive, multi-year Community Investment Plan (CIP) that is scored on a 100 point scale. Tax credits are then distributed according to the scoring of each organization’s CIP, with awards ranging from $50,000 to $150,000 in credits on an annual basis. These credits are good for three years, and after three years a CDC must submit a new CIP to continue to participate in the program (for more information one can watch this CITC informational video made by the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations (MACDC)).
Over 200 community developers congregate in the Massachusetts State House to advocate for extending and expanding the CITC. (credit: Joe Kreisberg, MACDC)
Over 200 community developers congregate in the Massachusetts State House to advocate for extending and expanding the CITC. (credit: Joe Kreisberg, MACDC)
Since its implementation in 2014, the CITC has been very successful in stimulating private philanthropy. To date it has generated $23 million in private investment, with a total economic impact of $1.2 billion in economic activity over the past two years. In addition, the CITC has proven capable of engaging a wide range of donors. In the first two years 1,316 of the participating donors were new donors, and over 90% of donors are either new donors or donors who doubled their prior year’s contribution. In 2014 and 2015, 66 percent of donors were individuals. Throughout 2015 and 2016 these donations have helped participating CITC groups build or preserve 2,916 homes, create or preserve 8,743 jobs, assist 1,420 small businesses, and serve 135,054 families with housing, jobs, or other services.
While it is still a relatively recent development, the Community Investment Tax Credit has already proven itself a powerful tool for supporting the efforts of local community organizations. The strength of the CITC lies in its ability to engage a wide variety of donors while keeping this money within the community and supporting local needs. This flexible and reliable source of funding allows organizations to refocus their resources from grant applications to community programming that makes a tangible impact. For more detailed information on the CITC, how it works, and its impact, visit the CITC page on the MACDC website.