In August, the Center for Community Change Action (CCCA) released a report on economic justice messaging research, Towards a Good Jobs Agenda: Economic Justice Messaging Research, which has important lessons and implications for messaging strategies to advance public investment in affordable housing. The report outlines analysis and the research it took to identify and develop messages to grow Center for Community Change (CCC)’s national campaign for economic justice, Putting Families First: Good Jobs for All. The report includes messages to frame the most effective ways to talk about poverty and income inequality in America–messages intended to galvanize a base, isolate opposition, and most importantly, resonate with working families.
The research, conducted with the assistance of cognitive linguists and messaging experts Anat Shenker-Osorio and Celinda Lake in conjunction with CCC, began in 2013 with linguistic analysis of current advocacy, opposition, media and popular culture discourse about wealth and poverty. The analysis informed focus groups, listening sessions, interviews and online surveys, all intentionally weighted to over-sample African Americans, Latinos, people under 30, and people at or below 200% of the Federal poverty line.
The Towards A Good Job report lays out several principles for advocates to make messages more resonant that can be applied to housing and homeless advocacy:
People relate much more to lived experience than to abstractions. As an example, the report recommends that instead of talking about raising the minimum wage, advocates should say people need to get paid enough to sustain a family, make ends meet, and send their kids off to a bright future. Thinking in terms of housing, a single mom struggling to pay rent is much more likely to identify as someone who is ‘doing the best to make ends meet’ rather than ‘a family at-risk of homelessness.’ Talking about a child worried about where he is going to sleep at night or trying to do homework on a motel end table is more powerful than quoting statistics about the number of children experiencing homelessness.
Use metaphors of barriers and balance to describe the current economic environment. Commonly used metaphors like the ‘wage gap’ for many people triggers images of a huge, impassable chasm. Metaphors that invoke barriers, something that can be removed or circumnavigated, trigger images of a problem that can be solved and are therefore much more effective when trying to convince people that a solution is possible. Another helpful metaphor is balance, or more precisely describing the economy as ‘out of balance’ as opposed to ‘top down’. Like removing a barrier, regaining balance is something people can concretely imagine. Both barrier and balance metaphors can be easily applied to describing why people are unable to afford housing and the lack of housing affordable available to those at the lowest incomes.
Name the ends, not the means. The report recommends highlighting the reasons regular people want a better economy such as providing a good future for their kids, being able to retire at a reasonable age, etc., rather than focusing on a specific policy or program. In terms of affordable housing and homelessness, this translates into talking about the personal importance of what a home means for a person’s family, future and sense of well-being.
Click here for the Towards a Good Jobs Agenda: Economic Justice Messaging Research report.
Click here to learn more about Putting Families First: Good Jobs for All.
By Michael Anderson, Director, Center for Community Change—Housing Trust Fund Project
In June, the MacArthur Foundation released its third annual national survey of housing attitudes. Like the surveys from 2013 and 2014, the major headline of the 2015 How Housing Matters Survey is that a significant majority of Americans believe the housing crisis that began seven years ago is not over. The survey was conducted by Hart Research Associates, and included interviews with 1401 adults, including landlines and cell phones, between April 27 and May 5, 2015. Click here to read the full survey report.
Despite some improvement in the public view of the housing situation nationally from the prior How Housing Matters surveys, the MacArthur Foundation’s press release on the report states “the enduring sense of the housing market under pressure is reflected in the public feeling more worried and concerned than hopeful and confident about what the future holds for the country.” More than just a perception, the survey shows that lack of affordable housing is directly impacting people’s life choices. 55% of survey respondents reported having had to make at least one sacrifice or trade off in the past three years in order to cover their rent or mortgage:
21% had to get an additional job or work more
17% stopped saving for retirement
14% accumulated credit card debt, and
12% cut back on healthy nutritious foods.
Looking more closely at who reported making at least one of these sacrifices, several inequities stand out: A significantly disproportionate number of Hispanics (68%), African Americans (62%), Millennials (67%), renters (75%) and city dwellers (64%) are making tough life choices in order to afford a place to live. Hart Research produced specific reports on African Americans and Hispanics and Millennial attitudes related to housing.
What stood out as new information in the 2015 survey, and perhaps the most important for housing and homeless advocates to digest and understand, is that while the public wants and expects the government to do more to address the chronic lack of affordable housing, the public has little conception of what the government could do to make a difference, meaning that they are unable to imagine a concrete role for the government. Eight in 10 Americans believe that housing affordability is a problem, with 60% characterizing it as a serious problem—this belief transcends age, educational attainment, income, and political party affiliation. While half of all adults express the desire for their federal elected officials to treat housing affordability as a high priority, and more than half would like to see their state and local elected leaders treat housing affordability as a high priority, only 39% of people believe the federal government has a role addressing housing affordability. When Hart Research dug into this seeming incongruity, what they discovered is that the public lacks a clear vision of the role of the federal government and the kinds of policies it could enact that would substantially improve housing affordability in their communities.
The implication for housing and homeless advocates is that we need to do more to engage and educate the public on the role of government policy and programs to create and preserve affordable homes, especially the importance and impact of public investment. Considering that the strategy of most housing and homeless advocates for creating change focuses activities and resources directly on decision makers and the media, engaging and educating the broader public will require a shift in strategy, as well as how to align and build advocacy capacity. There is a particular opportunity to start the public education process with the communities most impacted by the housing crisis by engaging them in advocating for systemic solutions through government investment
By Michael Anderson, Director, Center for Community Change—Housing Trust Fund Project
Justice Matters (an affiliate of the DART Network—Direct Action and Training Center) in Lawrence, Kansas shared a thoughtful convincing video at their May 7, 2015 Nehemiah Action in front of 1,700 members and participating City Council representatives. The video was shown again at a subsequent City Hall Meeting in an on-going effort to secure dedicated funding for the City’s housing trust fund.
The 9-minute video is hosted by Randy Weinkauf, Pastor of the Immanuel Lutheran Church. This very captive conversation begins with how many families search for safe affordable homes in Lawrence—each subsequent speaker from affordable housing advocates, service providers, and developers adds increasing numbers to the list.
Justice Matters Nehemiah Action on May 7, 2015 at the Lied Center on the campus of Kansas University.
The conversation turns to what happens when not enough is done, briefly focusing on emergency housing needs and waiting lists. The video highlights what can be gained when the decision is made to invest in affordable homes. Key steps needed to make the Lawrence housing trust fund an effective and responsible answer are outlined. Pastor Weinkauf underscores the revenue options available for the housing trust fund; highlights that $6.50 can be leveraged from every $1.00 invested in affordable homes; and compares the importance of investing in the housing trust fund to other community investments, including the $11.59 million for the Rock Chalk Recreation Center. The video concludes by calling for an elimination of the waiting list for transitional housing by 2019, responsible stewardship for the housing trust fund with an operative Advisory Board, and a commitment to creating and preserving permanent dispersed affordable homes in Lawrence.
The video is part of an ongoing campaign of Justice Matters and other advocates, including Tenants to Homeowners, in calling for dedicated funding for the Lawrence Housing Trust Fund.
Mary Brooks, Senior Advisor, Center for Community Change–Housing Trust Fund Project
Using photos, videos and twitter storms advocates across the country have been using innovative social media ideas to educate and advocate for affordable homes. Below are a few highlights from states using different tactics to promote their campaigns.
The campaign for a permanent revenue source kicked off in Alabama with the Low Income Housing Coalition of Alabama (LIHCA) using Twitter to create a buzz across the state for the upcoming legislative session. Starting 30 days out from the start of the session they are posting “Home Is….” photos daily. This past year they had members take pictures of themselves holding a sign finishing the phrase “Home is.” These powerful pictures make the case that home is a value to Alabamians.
LIHCA sent this notice to all their members, “You many notice some familiar faces on Twitter – we are posting a “Home Is” photo per day. Please retweet! Let’s get Alabama talking about what home means to its citizens!” You can follow their campaign on Twitter here.
Similarly Housing Virginia launched a “Video of the Week” series on social media this month. You can check out the Housing Virginia Facebook page every Monday for a new “Video of the Week” relating to affordable housing. These short videos include clips from their Housing StoryWorks collection, a series that highlights the personal stories of people not only working for affordable housing, but also in local and state government, health care, permanent supportive housing, as well as residents living in affordable home projects.
They will also use the “Video of the Week” to launch a short animated video series that explains what affordable housing is and who needs it in Virginia. Stay tuned for these new videos on Facebook and Twitter.
On February 3rd the Washington Low-Income Housing Alliance had their 2nd Social Media Day of Action for #HHAD2015 or also known as the Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Days. The goal of the day was to get Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day information and registration links to appear on as many people’s social media feeds as possible on that day. They used hashtag #HHAD2015 as their rallying cry. Their two main outlets were Twitter and Facebook. The ultimate hope was to increase registrations for Advocacy Day and create a buzz about their issues.
The Alliance recruited members through a fun video game description that allowed social media newbies to the most advanced users participate in the campaign. Advocates have reported that this is an easy, hands-on, and effective way to learn about Twitter and to get started on social media and advocacy. Joaquin Uy, The Alliance’s Communications Specialist, wrote, “One of our long-running strategies is that if we are the organization teaching people how to use Twitter, then the likelihood that they’ll use Twitter for advocacy increases. We’ve already seen this bear out in 4 advocates this year.”
Additionally, their action was heard beyond members. Even though state legislators weren’t the direct target they got responses from 2 state legislators (1 on FB and 1 on Twitter). Also, a reporter who doesn’t usually cover the Alliance’s issues emailed them asking what was going on.
Since this is the second year doing this social media action, Joaquin was able to analyze the impact of their work. The numbers were a little down this year from last year. “A big lesson learned is that it is still important to augment anything on social media with good old get on the phone and confirm with people/tweeters,” wrote Uy.