• Center for Community Change

Community Voices Articles

Report on Impact Community-Based Organizations on Increasing Voter Turnout

Community Voices

As the 2018 midterm election nears, researchers have some advice for nonprofits and for campaigns: to engage new, young voters, face-to-face communication works best. Engaging New Voters: The Impact of Nonprofit Voter Outreach on Client and Community Turnout is a report by Nonprofit VOTE that highlights the impact of nonprofit service providers and community-based organizations (CBOs) on increasing voter turnout among people of color, women, young people and people with low incomes. Given that nonprofits actively engage in direct contact with constituents, there is an opportunity to leverage this relationship and improve participation and mobilization within Get out the Vote (GOTV) efforts.

According to Brian Miller, Executive Director of Nonprofit VOTE, since “political campaigns have limited resources and time, they focus their communications on ‘likely’ voters, meaning young people get only a fraction of the communication other voters get. And without that outreach, young, potential voters don’t show up on Election Day and the whole cycle starts over again.”

Although communities served by non-profits and CBO’s are the most economically marginalized, these populations are the least likely to get contacted by a political campaign. As identified by the report, most nonprofit voters tended to be low-income, women, young, and people of color. There is an incredible opportunity at the hands of nonprofits considering that registering to vote, as well as pledging to vote at a nonprofit where one is a beneficiary of services, drastically impacts increases in voter turnout.

To achieve the intended GOTV impact, researchers recommend the following best practices that nonprofits and CBOs should follow:

  • Create staff buy-in at all levels
  • Seek strong partnerships with state agencies
  • Start advocacy and GOTV efforts early
  • Engage multiple venues and audiences

Nonprofit VOTE encourages nonprofits and CBOs to take advantage of their deep grassroots connections and connect a diverse, younger electorate to the polls.

To read the Engaging New Voters: The Impact of Nonprofit Voter Outreach on Client and Community Turnout report, follow this link.

To find more information about Nonprofit VOTE, follow this link.

By Maria Cristina Chicuen, Emerson National Hunger Fellow

East Austin’s People’s Plan is on its way to City Council

Community Voices

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 poder.austin@gmail.com.

By Maria Cristina Chicuen, Emerson National Hunger Fellow

The Building Communities Workshop Increases Equity in the Rio Grande Valley through Personalized, Affordable Housing Design

Community Voices

As real-estate prices continue to rise, affordable housing is an issue confronting communities throughout the country. Among these are the communities of the Rio Grande Valley, where a history of disenfranchisement, political oppression, predatory lending practices, and inequitable distribution of resources (often along racial lines) has resulted in concentrations of poverty, often in the form of colonias. For residents of the colonias (defined as isolated border communities “that may lack some of the most basic living necessities” such as potable water, electricity, and more) housing is often makeshift and unsafe. The buildingcommunityWORKSHOP ([bc]), a Texas-based, non-profit community design center, is looking to change this. [bc] aims to increase equity in the Rio Grande Valley by providing low-income residents with expandable, affordable housing designed with direct input from the prospective homeowner.

One of the programs [bc] is using to accomplish this is MiCASiTA. MiCASiTA is an initiative lead by the Community Development Corporation of Brownsville (CDCB), and supported by [bc] and the Texas State Affordable Housing Corporation (TSAHC), that empowers individuals through personalized design options for low-cost homes that are designed to grow along with the homeowner’s needs and savings.

The construction of a MiCASiTA house begins with a meeting between the prospective homeowner and program architects to design a home based on the homeowner’s needs and desires. A cheap, simplified version of the design, called a “starter home,” is built first. As the homeowner’s financial stability grows, the home grows along with it, with additions being added until the original design is completed. Throughout the process, CDCB supports homeowners with innovative financial solutions and counseling, ensuring that the homeowners are fully prepared for the responsibilities that come with home ownership.

MiCASiTA works along the principle that choice is empowering. Providing families with the opportunity to design their own homes allows the home to reflect their specific needs and desires, and gives them a greater stake in home ownership. Following the success of MiCASiTA and other related programs, [bc] is working to disseminate the principles of their design process to other affordable housing developers out of the belief that people everywhere deserve to have input into the design of their homes.


By Kyle Machicado, Emerson National Hunger Fellow



Collaboration Builds Community, Moves Issues

Community Voices, Raising Awareness

A creative collaboration between a housing justice organization and two arts organizations produced an event, Uninhabitable, held October 20, 2016 in New Orleans.  At the event, people told their stories of poor living conditions, challenging the norm about who’s to blame for poor housing conditions.   The event was sponsored by The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC), Bring Your Own Stories and Radical Arts & Healing Collective – Colectivo de Radicales Artes y Curación.

GNOFHAC posted on their Facebook page about the event: We laughed so we wouldn’t cry about the conditions so many renters live with in this great city. Lesson learned: We have to stop asking why people don’t leave bad rentals, because often they can’t. We have to start asking why landlords aren’t doing what they should be doing. Stay in touch so those trapped in bad deals with slumlords know they don’t have to stand alone.

Co-producing similar event is part of what Bring Your Own has been doing since it was founded in 2012. In 2016, they co-produced events on worker justice, jobs and healthcare.  Bring Your Own is a live storytelling pop-up series that takes intimate spaces within the New Orleans community. Each month, seven storytellers have seven minutes to respond to a theme. Stories are told live, unscripted, and true to the teller. Storytellers volunteer prior to the event and are judged by three audience members to determine a winner, whose story is guaranteed for radio production.  Winners subsequently choose the next month’s theme. Bring Your Own is a production of Laine Kaplan-Levenson.

GNOFHAC is a nonprofit civil rights organization established in 1995 to eradicate housing discrimination. GNOFHAC’s work throughout Louisiana includes education, investigation and enforcement activities. GNOFHAC is dedicated to fighting housing discrimination because it is an illegal and divisive force that perpetuates poverty, segregation, ignorance, fear and hatred.

According to their website the Radical Arts and Healing Collective (RAHC) “officially” started in January 2016. At co-founding core member Ann-Meredith’s Upper 9th Ward home, they broke bread and drank spicy hot chocolate to begin dreaming, scheming and visioning an intersectional, intergenerational, multiracial arts and healing centered community space rooted in New Orleans, intended to serve the greater Gulf South and beyond to promote transformative and healing justice as well as self-determination through art as a tool to interrupt and transform deep roots of injustice.

By working together, these three organizations were able to use the art of storytelling, a little competition in a creative space making the message and learning about the housing conditions in New Orleans more impactful.

Note:  GNOFHAC is part of a coalition, Healthy Homes Coalition, that has pushed for action on these issues.  They have successfully gotten an ordinance introduced by the New Orleans city council.  The Healthy Homes Ordinance is in process of being voted on at the writing of this piece.

For more information please contact Monika Gerhart-Hambrick, Director of Policy and Communications at GNOFHAC mgerhart@gnofairhousing.org