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.
April 6th marked a victory for community groups of East Austin as the People’s Plan was endorsed by the City of Austin’s Anti-Displacement Task Force. With a 12-1 vote, the Task Force recommended six anti-gentrification resolutions to the City Council. Irrespective of the Council’s forthcoming decision on these recommendations, the People’s Plan exemplifies the importance of an actionable agenda.
The People’s Plan calls for comprehensive resolutions that specifically address the production and preservation of low-income housing and strategies to mitigate gentrification and displacement. The creation of a Low-Income Housing Trust Fund (LIHTF) tops off the Plan by calling for the allocation of $16 million for the LIHTF. These funds will be used for the construction and subsidization of housing for households making 60% or less of area median income (AMI) which was $46,680 for a 4-person household in FY2016.
East Austin community leaders, including Dr. Fred McGhee, a housing expert and head of the Save Montoplis Negro School Coalition, gather in front of the Montopolis Negro School to propose an anti-displacement program, a six-point People’s Plan, to the city to stop gentrification and the removal of people of color from the east side of Austin. Source: RALPH BARRERA / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
The Plan also includes right-to-stay and right-to-return programs for East Austin. This policy mirrors that of Portland, Oregon’s “right-to-remain or return” policy, which focuses on bringing back former residents to a recently gentrified area and prioritizes available affordable housing for those that had been displaced or at risk of displacement. These resolutions have the potential to ease and amend the issues caused by decades of racist policies that spurred the uprooting of long-time residents who deserve the right to remain and reclaim their community.
The 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign inspired the action behind the People’s Plan. In 1968, as part of the Campaign, Dr. King emphasized the need to demand “better jobs, better homes, and better education” to “make it very clear that [Poor People] are sick and tired of waiting for a better life.” The People’s Plan does just that with an intentional focus on preserving and producing affordable housing, right-to-stay and right-to-return ordinances, and tighter enforcement of environmental quality reviews.
People Organized in Defense of Earth and her Resources (PODER) is one of the organizations that helped draft the People’s Plan. Susana Almanza, the Director of PODER, noted that the Plan addresses the need to tackle displacement and affordable housing with immediacy instead of depending on CodeNEXT, the City’s new initiative that is set to revise the Land Development Code for the first time in 30 years.
Fred McGhee of Preserve Rosewood, a coalition of concerned citizens and volunteers fighting for the preservation of Rosewood Courts, was also integral to the creation of the People’s Plan. The Plan, according to McGhee, “is a first step and an interim measure…to establish more permanent, equitable housing solution(s) for low-income Austinites.” McGhee goes on to say that the People’s Plan will require significant political will and monetary support because “we must realize that equity isn’t free, it costs money.”
The Plan is a critical step in combatting race-specific displacement, rapid gentrification, and insufficient supply of affordable housing affecting East Austin. From 2000-2010, the 78702 zip code’s African American and Latinx population decreased by 66% and 33%, respectively, while the White population increased by 442% percent. Within this same period, according to Those Who Stayed: The Impact of Gentrification on Longstanding Residents of East Austin,a 2018 report by University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis (IUPRA), Austin was the only major growing city in the country that experienced an absolute numerical decline in African Americans. This is an alarming fact considering this area was once deemed the Negro District, a direct outcome of Jim Crow era policies that allowed Austin’s city plan to restrict where African Americans could access housing, schools, and public services.
With respect to the gentrification of East Austin, researchers noted that the loss of children in the neighborhood was a poignant indicator of the changing demographics of Austin’s Eastern Crescent. During the 2000-2010 period, the region saw its share of young children decrease from 30% to 12%. In a survey conducted by the University of Texas at Austin, which built on the 2014 IUPRA report on Austin’s declining African American population, 56% of respondents attributed leaving Austin because of housing unaffordability, and 24% departed in search for “better schools.”
The increase in the cost of living in East Austin coupled by the need to find higher-quality public education for children reveals how gentrification initially impacts and displaces low-to-moderate income families with young children. It is clear that the loss of children and families has negatively affected the feelings of a close-knit community and the historical connection to the land that once prevailed among East Austinites.
Nevertheless, the People’s Plan is crucial to counteracting the changes spurred by unequitable development and reversing decades of divestment and residential segregation primarily affecting communities of color. The academic work done by IUPRA and the grassroots community organizations demonstrates the opportunity for cross sector collaboration between advocacy groups and research institutions to develop actionable, data-driven solutions geared towards restorative housing policies.
For more information about the People’s Plan, you may contact Susana Almanza of PODER at email@example.com.
By Maria Cristina Chicuen, Emerson National Hunger Fellow
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.”