As our mission statement makes clear, the National Low Income Housing Coalition is an organization that advocates

untitled by lostghostrobot on flickr

for public policy change. So while we work to convince lawmakers and the public that affordable housing must be built and preserved, we do not provide housing ourselves.

Even so, like many other housing advocacy organizations every day we receive many calls, emails and letters from people looking for solutions to their housing problems. And why not? It’s in our name, after all.

Over the years, we’ve developed a policy for providing “direct assistance” to people in need. Instead of turning people away, or conversely, trying to maintain information about low income housing and other resources in every jurisdiction in the country, we take a different approach.

We suggest that those who contact us call their Member of Congress and ask to speak with a constituent services representative. We emphasize that constituents have the right to request and receive such services, and help them find the contact information for their Member of Congress. This way, those who call us looking for help have a better chance of finding it, while also learning to communicate with the offices of their elected officials, which is important for any advocate to do.

NLIHC doesn’t leave congressional staffers stranded, either. In July, we hosted two briefings on Capitol Hill to help staffers learn more about HUD housing assistance programs, and about assisting their constituents with problems related to foreclosure. Briefings like this help staffers be better prepared to assist their constituents when housing problems inevitably arise.

That, unfortunately, is the reality. The calls we receive are an unavoidable symptom of the reality of housing in the United States. When there are 4 million extremely low income households for whom decent housing is not affordable or available, and when housing assistance programs reach only 1 in 4 of those who need them, there will inevitably be people in need. Expansion of housing programs and funding the National Housing Trust Fund could end this need. Until that happens, NLIHC staff will be answering the call.