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Community Voices Articles

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

Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition Creates Voices of Home!

Community Voices

Voices of Home is an on-line story sharing project of the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition which aims to:

  • Empower those living in affordable housing to be leaders, through listening to and sharing resident stories,
  • Break down stigmas that may be held by the general public regarding those receiving or in need of housing assistance through community engagement and conversation,
  • Build community by engaging residents in a project outside their immediate living situation and supporting each other through the story-telling process, and
  • Bridge conversations between residents, policy makers, and community by changing the power dynamic so residents’ voices are heard and accounted for.

Voices of Home consists of interviews with residents living in housing with various public subsidies. The interviews are seen as a tool which the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition and its member organizations can use to advocate for policies benefiting affordable housing and efforts to end homelessness.  The interviews are accessible on the Coalition’s blog and on radio and the stories have already reached a wide audience.

vermontvoices1The theme is “home” and each interview provides unique and personal insights into why home is fundamental to our well-being.  The stories shared through the interviews are embellished with statewide facts usually associated with policy making. VAHC intends to expand on this project through other mediums and community outreach, including a moving art show. To learn more about the project, visit their website here.

This is a clip from the interview with French Brandon, a resident of the Burlington Housing Authority’s Decker Towers in Burlington, VT. In this clip, French discusses the way that home shaped his early childhood, and uses vivid details to paint a brilliant picture of his vermontvoices2life. When talking about home, French opines:  “Home has been a very peculiar notion for me all my life. It’s sort of like something I’ve always sought after but never quite gotten to, like an ever receding will of the wisp, if you will. Or maybe a kind of perfection that one doesn’t ever achieve.”

Take this opportunity to subscribe to the Voices of Home email list in order to receive updates about the latest interviews. To learn more about Voices of Home, contact Corrine Marie Yonce: 803-660-9484.

By Mary Brooks, Senior Advisor, Center for Community Change–Housing Trust Fund Project

Alabama Arise Brings Moral Urgency, Community Voices to Housing Trust Fund Campaign

Community Voices, Stronger Coalitions

Having a diverse set of community organizations and representatives voicing support for public investment in affordable housing is a source of strength for any housing trust fund campaign, state or local.  When elected leaders, decision makers and the media hear from a wide range of stakeholders and community perspectives, advocates have an opportunity to shift the conversation for creating or expanding a housing trust fund from a narrow single-issue to a broad community concern. Particularly powerful are the perspectives of the faith community and community based organizations, who bring moral and personal urgency to the debate.

The campaign to dedicate revenue to the Alabama Housing Trust Fund (AHTF) got a boost in September when Alabama Arise selected the Trust Fund as a priority issue for the 2017 state legislative session. Alabama Arise is a statewide nonprofit, nonpartisan coalition of 150 congregations and community groups and hundreds of individuals united in their belief that low-income people are suffering because of state policy decisions.

#FundtheAHTF: Majadi Baruti and fellow Arise members indicate their support for legislation dedicating revenue to the Alabama Housing Trust Fund.

#FundtheAHTF: Majadi Baruti and fellow Arise members indicate their support for legislation dedicating revenue to the Alabama Housing Trust Fund.

Arise members voted to maintain the Alabama Housing Trust Fund as a legislative priority along with an adequate state budget, tax reform, “ban the box” policy, death penalty reform, minimum wage, payday/title lending reform and public transportation policy.  The 2017 Issue Priorities guide describes Arise’s position on the need to dedicate revenue to the Alabama Housing Trust Fund:

Everyone needs a place to call home. But too many hard-working Alabamians can’t find safe, affordable housing. The state Housing Trust Fund (HTF) was created in 2012 to build, rehabilitate and maintain housing for low-income families. Permanent HTF funding would create jobs and make home a reality for thousands of families, veterans, and people with disabilities in Alabama. Arise will seek dedicated state support for the HTF to expand affordable housing options, especially in rural areas.

As a priority issue, Arise will lobby for dedicated funding for the Trust Fund in Montgomery as well as activate their membership across the state to support revenue legislation.  “Having Arise by our side in the legislative hallways is critical to our success and we are thrilled that the Arise membership selected the AHTF as a legislative priority for 2017,” stated Ashley Kerr of the Low Income Housing Coalition of Alabama, the organization leading the dedicated revenue campaign.

That Arise is a champion for the AHTF is nothing new. Arise members made the creation of a state housing trust fund a top priority throughout the multi-year campaign that culminated in victory in 2012, and have been core supporters for the push for dedicated revenue in the 2014, 15 and 16 sessions.  Arise was also a founding member of the Low Income Housing Coalition of Alabama in 2007.

Arise’s Carol Gundlach explains: ‘Arise believes that everyone deserves an opportunity to get ahead. Investing in the Housing Trust Fund would help ensure that thousands of Alabama families have a solid foundation on which to build a better life and a brighter future for their children and grandchildren.”

To read more about Alabama Arise 2017 legislative priorities, click here or go to http://www.arisecitizens.org/

By Michael Anderson, Director, Center for Community Change—Housing Trust Fund Project