In today’s Summer School post, our research and policy staff team up to help you understand how to use one of NLIHC’s top advocacy tools: the Congressional District Profiles.

The Congressional District Profiles (CDPs) are a critical piece of the advocacy puzzle. The CDPs can put real data in Representatives’ and Senators’ hands, and can be a real help to their staff searching for information in preparation for speeches and press releases. And, they can be the backbone of your advocacy for the need to preserve and expand affordable housing in your congressional district.

You may wonder when to best contact your congressperson, and through what means. NLIHC sends out Call to Action emails when there are pressing issues on Capitol Hill. You can sign up for these at our website.  Each Call to Action provides you with background information and a recommended method of outreach and talking points. Once you contact your legislator, you can use the information in your district’s Congressional District Profile to tell the story of affordable housing needs in your community.

Of course, you don’t need a Call to Action to develop a relationship with the housing staff in your House and Senate offices. Sharing the data alone is a great place from which to build your relationship.

For example, if you are a resident of the 8th district in Maryland, you can encourage your Representative, Mr. Chris Van Hollen, to support funding for the National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF) by highlighting the 12,424 renter households in his district that face a housing cost burden. Their unaffordable cost burden stems from spending more than a third of what they earn on housing. According to the CDP for the district, 89% of all renter households earning under $20,000 face such a burden. Each of these low income households would be eligible for assistance under the NHTF, which Congress authorized in 2008 but has not funded.

The CDPs also provide data on the gap between rents and wages in the geographic areas that fall into each District. A minimum wage worker in Mr. Van Hollen’s district would have to work 155 hours each week to afford the Fair Market Rent on modest rental homes in his district. Since the NHTF would target its resources to this exact extremely low income population, it is an ideal solution to the 8th District of Maryland’s affordable housing shortages.

Much more can also be gleaned from the Congressional District Profile for MD-08, including the fact that there are 395 units without complete plumbing. That makes these homes eligible for the unwanted distinction of being in HUD’s worst case housing needs count, which increased between 2007 and 2009 by 20%.

Because Mr. Van Hollen is the top Democrat on the House Committee on the Budget, he is also interested in the state of housing in Maryland as a whole and spending on housing programs nationally. From the CDPs, we can see that, for every 100 extremely low income renter households in the state, there are only 41 affordable and available rental units. That’s a shortage of almost 100,000 homes for extremely low income households. When households are unable to find an affordable unit, they are forced to pay more than they can afford (reducing their ability to save or plan for emergencies), double up with other family members or rent substandard housing. And that’s why we need the NHTF.

Conveying the number of cost burdened, struggling households in your District is an important part of the message you send to your Representative. You can close your visit by reiterating how your Representative can help those in need of affordable housing – by supporting the National Housing Trust Fund and other efforts to preserve or expand affordable housing.

How will you use the CDPs for advocacy? Let us know in the comments!