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.
The goal of the Housing Sabbath (which takes place the weekend before EBHO’s Affordable Housing Week, and most recently occurred May 5th through May 7th of 2017) is to bring the topic of affordable housing into the worship space. ICU believes that the unique resources of the faith community, both material and spiritual, are vital tools to be used in social transformation work, especially housing justice. As such, they bring together resident leaders of affordable housing and local faith leaders with EBHO staff and board members to educate denominations on the opportunities and responsibilities of communities of faith. The primary function of the Housing Sabbath, however, is to serve as a call to action. This action can be something as simple as participating in events during the upcoming Affordable Housing Week, but may lead to the cultivation of life-long housing advocates.
For ICU, it is important to realize that the Housing Sabbath is just one part of their larger work. Rather than being an end in and of itself, the Housing Sabbath is a means to engaging people in the year-long organizing and activism efforts needed in the fight for housing justice. As faith communities continue to utilize their vast property, material, and spiritual resources, they have the capacity to mobilize congregations to make positive changes in their community.
Learning should not stop once the school day ends. By the 6th grade, children in middle-income families by income are estimated to have spent an additional 6,000 hours learning compared with families with the lowest incomes. Of these 6,000 hours, an estimated 4,140 occur in after-school and summer programming. Many non-profit housing providers are working to close this deficit with Out of School Time (OST) learning opportunities designed to solidify the connection between where children live and where they learn. To consolidate and elevate best practices among these providers, the Housing Development Consortium of Seattle-King County (HDC), with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, initiated the Housing and Education Project (HEP) and recently issued a report on the project’s Exploration Phase.
HEP advances Out of School Time learning opportunities for residents of affordable housing in Seattle
HEP brought together designated representatives from six non-profit housing provider organizations to identify opportunities and challenges related to Out of School Time education programming, and to explore the implementation of regionalized models to better support housing provider efforts to meet the educational needs of child and youth tenants. Beginning in June 2016, HEP participants met nine times as a group to develop the Exploratory Phase Report.
The report touches on a variety of issues related to OST programming. Among these are summary findings on currently offered programming (characteristics of programming, school district relationships, common funding sources, etc.) and summary recommendations for future programming. In addition, it provides a recommended model for achieving systems change, details the essential features of any future system, explores factors impacting program support, identifies barriers to change, and provides guidance for expanding and strengthening networks.
For children, education is a powerful predictor of future success. Many housing providers, such as those involved with HEP, recognize the opportunity we have to help improve predictors of success such as family engagement and absenteeism. The Exploratory Phase Report is a valuable tool to any organization looking to increase its out-of-school education capacity.
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.
Last year, Housing Virginia began studying the relationship between housing, health, and community in the Williamsburg, Virginia region. These efforts, made possible by the Williamsburg Health Foundation, are part of its mission to connect housing needs with other important socioeconomic issues.
When possible, Housing Virginia uses local-level geographic data to show such issues “up close and personal,” and to illustrate the need for targeted, specific solutions. In this case, demonstrating linkages between housing and health will provide community advocates, providers, and decision makers the information needed to implement “preventative medicine” that improves living conditions for everyone in the community.
Physical condition of the home: Accessibility, lead exposure, inadequate cooling or heating.
Quality of community: Public spaces for physical activity, walkability, access to healthy food.
Housing affordability: Cost burden, threat of foreclosure or eviction, housing insecurity.
These concepts help to frame Housing Virginia’s research and final recommendations.
Housing Virginia’s analysis encompasses the City of Williamsburg, James City County, and York County. These localities have experienced surging population growth over the past decade, especially among the senior population. The number of persons over 65 increased by 78% from 2000 to 2014. One in five seniors live alone, and four in five live in single-family detached homes. Helping seniors “age in place” – and not letting them become “stuck in place” – will be an important priority in the near future.
While the region has a lower poverty rate and a smaller share of housing cost burdened households than the state average, these socioeconomic problems are not evenly distributed. For example, the poverty rate in Williamsburg (20.5%) is over double that of both James City (8.5%) and York counties (6.2%). Six out of the region’s 28 census tracts have poverty rates above 15%. Not surprisingly, these areas correspond closely with housing cost burden.
The Williamsburg region is, on average, just as healthy or healthier than Virginia as a whole. But for a significant portion of the population, quality healthcare remains out of reach. Over 11,000 adults in the region could not afford a doctor’s visit in 2013, and nearly 10,000 residents live in “low-income, low-food access” census tracts – more commonly known as food deserts. The region’s average life expectancy is 80.6 years, but ranges from 74 to 86 depending on neighborhood.
As this scatterplot shows, life expectancy declines as the prevalence of housing cost burden increases.
The disparity in life expectancy is highly pronounced in the distribution of the region’s affordable housing. Nearly 80% of the 483 households using housing vouchers are in neighborhoods with life expectancy below 80 years. Over three in five of the 1,300 families living in Low-Income Housing Tax Credit or public housing units are in areas with below-average life expectancies.
What can local leaders do to improve the health of all citizens – and not just those who already have the means to afford a good home and decent care? To make homes safer, localities can invest in weatherization and home accessibility modifications for low-income seniors. To create healthy spaces, planners can prioritize walkability and encourage affordable housing in amenity-rich areas. And to reduce housing insecurity, localities can create trust funds and back supportive housing programs.
There are many other programs and strategies available, and the correct “prescription” should be the result of due diligence by local policymakers. But perhaps most importantly, stakeholders should recognize that these problems are all related, and work collaboratively to make efficient use of limited resources.
In March, Housing Virginia presented these findings and a series of preliminary recommendations to the Williamsburg Health Foundation Board of Trustees. Our final report, which will be released in the next few weeks, will precede a series of community meetings in the Williamsburg region. There, local officials and practitioners will have the opportunity to examine this research, discuss where the greatest needs exist, and develop collective solutions to solve these complex issues.
By Jonathan Knopf, Senior Associate, Research + Programs, Housing Virginia.
Housing Virginia is a broad based, statewide partnership of public and private organizations and committed individuals. We believe that all Virginians should have access to high quality, affordable housing in suitable locations. Housing Virginia exists to address the large-scale housing issues that we face by: Informing discussions with current, reliable data and information about housing affordability; Connecting the dots about the consequences of having unmet housing needs; Unlocking housing opportunities by creating an unparalleled pipeline of housing news and information.