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Understanding how people think and feel about affordable housing is key to developing an effective communication strategy. Since the late 1990’s, there has been a significant amount of public opinion research done by affordable housing advocates across the United States.  Using focus groups, public opinion polls and professional analysis, this research provides a tremendous resource for current and future advocacy.

This section outlines the most consistent findings from public opinion research conducted in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Illinois, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, as well as national research and analysis from the Campaign for Affordable Housing, NeighborWorks, and Fannie Mae.

  • There is a general but latent support for affordable housing among the public.  People get the importance of home, but do not often think about affordable housing unless they have a personal connection. In most markets that have been polled, affordable housing does not rank among the top three public concerns.  The challenge for advocates is activating the latent support:
  • People respond much more positively to the term ‘home’ than to ‘housing’ or ‘units.’  ‘Home’ invokes something understood as universally important and fundamental: A place of security, comfort, relaxation, family and friends. ‘Housing’ and ‘units’ register as abstract, institutional and foreign.
  • Framing affordable housing in terms of the values of opportunity, reward for work, responsibility to care for less fortunate, and fairness generate consistent public support.  Since the economic downturn, the values of security, stability also strongly resonate positively with the public.
  • People generally support programs that help seniors, young families with children, and people with disabilities. It is important when communicating about affordable housing to be specific about who is being housed. Putting a human face on those who need housing assistance moves people.  People respond much less favorably when we use blanket terms like low-income people.
  • Public support drops for affordable housing when the issue concerns citing housing in direct proximity to those being surveyed.  Pervasive myths about reduced property values and increased crime, issues of race and class, as well as general resistance to neighborhood change, all fuel the flames of NIMBY arguments.
  • Connecting housing to broader issues of community concerns such as education, health, childhood development, transportation, and available workforce raises the public support for funding affordable housing.  Helping people see the relationship between having a stable, safe place to call home and other important issues broadens your potential audience of supporters.
  • Describing the affordable housing problem as a short coming in the housing market instead of as a service to the poor raises public support. Identifying the systemic nature of the housing crisis helps overcome frames that associate the need for affordable housing to a lack of personal responsibility.

Public opinion survey results and analysis:

Housing Works RI (2010): Affordable Housing in Rhode Island
North Carolina Housing Coalition (2009): What to Say About Affordable Housing
Minnesota Housing Partnership (2008): Building Public Will: Background Research & Analysis
University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute (2005): Housing Poll
Neighborhood Partnerships-Oregon (2004): Portland Metro Housing Poll
The Campaign for Affordable Housing-National (2004): What We Know About Public Attitudes on Affordable Housing
Vermont Housing Awareness Campaign (2002):  Housing Awareness Public Survey Results

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