• Center for Community Change

Building our own Leadership: Deepen Leadership to Build a Housing Movement

“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.”  

By Katy Heins, Senior Organizer