It’s Time to Broaden the Affordable Housing Movement


By Mike Koprowski, Campaign Director for Opportunity Starts at Home 

A safe, decent, affordable home is a foundation of opportunity, but it’s out of reach for far too many.  The evidence is quite clear that we are witnessing a severe housing affordability crisis in America, and its consequences are spilling over into many other sectors such as education, health care, civil rights, homelessness, and economic mobility.  As acclaimed sociologist, Matthew Desmond, explains: “It is hard to argue that housing is not a fundamental human need.  Decent, affordable housing should be a basic right for everybody in this country.  The reason is simple: without stable shelter, everything else falls apart.”    

I’ve recently taken on the role of National Campaign Director of Opportunity Starts at Home, a new multi-sector housing campaign to meet the housing needs of the nation’s low-income people.  The National Low Income Housing Coalition launched this campaign together with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Children’s HealthWatch, Make Room, and the National Alliance to End Homelessness, and with a steering committee of partners including the Children’s Defense Fund, Community Catalyst, Food Research and Action Center, NAACP, National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Association of Community Health Centers, National Education Association, and UnidosUS. 

The driving idea behind this campaign is that a diverse range of stakeholders from various sectors will be necessary to make affordable housing a national priority and to effectuate federal policies that protect and expand affordable housing.  The federal government already plays a significant role in addressing the housing needs of low-income families, but it is not nearly strong enough considering the magnitude of the problem.  Today, only 1 out of 4 eligible households receive the help they need.  Contrary to the myths and false stereotypes, only 6% of households receiving housing aid are “work able” but not employed.  The problem is that wages are much too low to afford a decent rental home without financial help.  In fact, there are only 12 counties in America where a full-time worker on minimum wage can afford a one-bedroom rental.

The time to act is now: the housing affordability problem has reached disastrous levels; federal housing assistance is chronically under-funded and faces unprecedented threats in the current political climate; housing advocates are increasingly realizing that they can’t do this work alone; many other sectors are increasingly realizing that housing is inextricably linked to their own priorities and goals; and the research continues to mount that housing is fundamental to nearly every social and economic outcome that matters to our country.

Perhaps surprisingly, I personally arrived at these conclusions through my experiences in the education sector – specifically, as the Chief of Transformation and Innovation for the Dallas Independent School District.  There, I became convinced that many of the challenges we face in the education field – low college readiness, yawning achievement gaps, inequitable funding – actually have their roots in housing-related issues.  Like most major cities, Dallas is experiencing a growing affordable housing problem and has long experienced crushing levels of residential segregation, which we know lies at the core of educational inequity.

Through my time on the ground in Dallas, I became convinced that, as scholar Richard Rothstein said, “School reform cannot succeed without housing reform.”  I remain an enthusiastic supporter of many important education efforts, such as raising academic standards, increasing funding for high-poverty schools, investing in professional development and better teacher pay, and focusing on early childhood development.  But still more is needed.  As former Massachusetts Secretary of Education, Paul Reville, said: “Even when optimized with high expectations, strong curriculum, and expert instruction, today’s schools have not proven powerful enough by themselves to compensate for the disadvantages associated with poverty.”

Research consistently shows that achievement differences between students are more attributable to out-of-school factors than in-school factors.  After all, children spend the vast majority of their time in and around their homes.  We know that poor children in affordable housing do better on tests than poor children in unaffordable housing – if rent doesn’t eat up parents’ hard-earned paychecks, they can more easily invest in their child’s development.  We know that poor children who constantly change schools due to housing instability struggle academically and suffer later as adults.  And we know that affordable housing options located in “high-opportunity areas” can lead to mixed-income neighborhoods, which, in turn, can lead to mixed-income schools that consistently produce strong academic and social outcomes for affluent and low-income students alike.

If you look at my résumé, you might see someone who “switched” from the education field to the housing field.  But I reject this notion.  For me, the fight for affordable housing is also very much a fight to advance student success.  It’s time to re-think the artificial organizational silos we’ve created.  The complexities of modern-day challenges require us to be more fluid, to look beyond our respective lanes, to acknowledge our interdependencies, and to implement solutions together.  These issues are too complicated and difficult for one sector to solve alone.  Education advocates ARE housing advocates – and the same could be said for health care advocates, civil rights advocates, veterans advocates, anti-poverty advocates, and many more.

That’s a big reason why I joined this multi-sector housing campaign.  I am enormously grateful for the chance to lead the Opportunity Starts at Home campaign, and I look forward to working with our stakeholders to ensure that low-income people have access to safe, decent, affordable housing in neighborhoods where everyone has equitable opportunities to thrive.

Learn more about the Opportunity Starts at Home campaign at:

One Boston Family Gets New Opportunities Thanks to the RAFT Program

By Kat Feliciano, Metro Housing|Boston


KAT photo

Kat Feliciano, Housing Supports Operations Administrator at Metro Housing | Boston

People often ask me to describe the typical family that we assist. In truth, no families are alike. Circumstance, personalities, challenges, disabilities, job prospects – all of these lead to very different stories.

After experiencing homelessness and living in her car with her two children, Sharon was grateful to have finally found a place to live in late 2017. That feeling of gratefulness would not last, however. The owner of the building that Sharon and her family were staying failed inspection for code violations. The landlord was given multiple chances to bring the apartment to code but failed to do so. Rather than making the necessary repairs, he told Sharon she needed to move out. 

With Christmas approaching, Sharon struggled to find a safe and decent place to live and was fearful that she would be spending the holiday in her car. When she visited our offices in mid-December, I knew I had to act quickly because she was just weeks away from being evicted.

When families are about to be evicted from their homes, or when they are behind on rent or electricity or heat, or when they need help to move to a place near family to help care for a sick family member – while their stories are different – there is one solution they have in common.

Since 2013, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has funded a homelessness prevention program called RAFT (Residential Assistance for Families in Transition). Metro Housing|Boston administers the program for 29 communities in eastern Massachusetts. In 2017, we helped 1,474 families – some like Sharon’s – stay securely in their homes.

I filed an emergency RAFT application and Sharon was approved. I was able to get her moved into a better apartment with her and children before Christmas with an apartment that was habitable for her and didn’t put her at a health risk.  The RAFT funding was able to cover the first and last month rent, plus security deposit.

The help that Sharon and her family needed is among the most common among families since the program’s beginning – first and last month’s rent and security deposits – behind rental arrearages. Statistics suggest that Sharon won’t need RAFT assistance again – fewer than 4% of families who received RAFT last year had received assistance the previous year.

Who qualifies for RAFT?

To qualify, your income should be at or less than 50 percent of the area median income ($46,550 for a family of three in Boston) and have a dependent child under the age of 21 or are pregnant and the head of household.

Reasons can include:

  • Eviction. Have received a court summons or are already involved in the court process.
  • Foreclosure. Notice from mortgage lender stating their intent to foreclose.
  • Doubled-up at a friend or family member’s house and have been asked to leave.
  • Violence or abuse in the household.
  • Utilities are at risk of being shut off or have been shut off.

I was very happy that I was able to get such a quick turnaround for a family that thought they were never going to be able to move because they couldn’t afford first and last month rent plus security, even while saving every last penny.

Read More About Metro Housing|Boston’s Homelessness Prevention Program at:

A Student Message on United for Homes

By Isaiah Fleming-Klink, NLIHC Field Intern

Isaiah Fleming-Klink

Since 2011 the United for Homes (UFH) campaign has been building support for a policy solution that addresses the housing and homelessness crises in America through mortgage interest deduction (MID) reform. Thus far, we have the support of over 2,300 national, state, and local organizations as well as government officials. Moreover, we have the support of thousands of individuals from all over the country, including from all 435 Congressional districts. As we continue to build support from these dedicated advocates of the campaign, we hope to engage with a new source of endorsers: young, college students.

As established and emerging leaders, thinkers, and advocates across the country, we believe engaging with college students is an important avenue for growth in the UFH campaign. More than that, we see endorsing the UFH campaign as another channel for educating and empowering leaders in college to take action on issues surrounding housing, homelessness, and poverty both nationally and in their local communities. Younger voices with fresh ideas and perspectives will inevitably strengthen our work as advocates for housing equality.

As NLIHC’s field intern and a current student at Georgetown University, I’ve been excited to encourage fellow students to join the UFH campaign.  So far, we have the endorsements of several key organizations at my school: the Georgetown University Student Association (GUSA) Executive, College Democrats (pending), GUSA Senate (pending), Black Student Alliance, and Georgetown University Women of Color. We’re in the process of reaching out to other schools and organizations in the DMV area—including George Washington University, American University, Howard University, Catholic University, and the University of Maryland—and plan to start branching out nationally in the coming weeks.

If you or someone you know is involved in an organization on a college or university campus across the country that might be interested in endorsing the UFH campaign, please reach out to us at,, or We’d also encourage folks to check out our recent UFH webinar, Back to School—Campus Activism and the United for Homes Campaign.

Housing Forum Raises Valid Concerns Through Thoughtful Discussion

By Kate M. Kelly

Housing Forum Takeaway: A Home is the Center of Life and Must be Part of New Jersey’s Story

On Thursday, October 12, 2017, a Public Policy Forum on eviction in NJ with Princeton sociologist Dr. Matthew Desmond, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Evicted, and U.S. Senator Cory Booker (NJ-D) was held at Drew University in Madison, NJ. The forum was held at The Concert Hall on Drew’s campus. Over 300 people attended the event and it received television and newspaper coverage.

On October 16, 2017,, the USA Today owned papers including the Record and the Daily Record published an editorial on the housing forum “Drew forum on housing raises valid concerns.”

“Public forums like the one at Drew engage both the general public and students – our future leaders – in thoughtful discussion about a statewide crisis that must be resolved. More is needed.”

Dr. Desmond said, “The house is the center of life. It’s part of the America story.”

“It must be part of the New Jersey story as well.”

“As Michael Izzo reports, in 2016, there were 3,054 evictions out of 44,651 rentals in Morris County, meaning 7 percent of Morris County tenants were evicted. That wasn’t even the highest eviction rate in New Jersey.” In fact, Essex County had the eviction rate of 25%.

In his remarks, Dr. Desmond told the audience “We have the richest society with the worst poverty.”

This divide between the rich and poor is a growing issue in New Jersey.

“New Jersey is an expensive place to live for the middle class, which struggles with staggering property tax bills. The battle is harder for low-income families living paycheck to paycheck with no cushion for even small emergencies, as Booker said. And the Trump administration is not focusing on the needs of the poor.”

“The tax code rewards wealth, and we’re told that will help the poor, and that’s just lies,” U.S. Senator Cory Booker told the audience.

“The opportunity to address the affordable crisis exists at both the state and federal level.”

Monarch Housing agrees with editorial’s conclusions.

“Clearly, the federal government must do more in providing housing vouchers that allow low-income families to pay 30 percent of their income toward a home with the federal government picking up the difference. But on the state and local levels, we also must do more to reduce the cost of rental units.”

Sponsoring the forum were Monarch Housing, NJ Policy Perspective, the Housing and Community Development Network of NJ, the Anti-Poverty Network of NJ, the Supportive Housing Association of NJBridges Outreach, the Mental Health Association in NJ, the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris, Homeless Solutions and the Drew University Center for Civic Engagement.

The Public Policy Forum was underwritten by a grant from the Investors Foundation.
Follow the event on Twitter with the hashtag #EvictionNJForum

This article was originally published on October 19, 2017 at:

When Academics Meets Real-Life

By Lindsey Otto, Communications & Graphic Design Intern


From left to right: Katherine Randall, Research Intern; Aubrey Kearney, Policy Intern; and Lindsey Otto, Communications/Graphic Design Intern

When I started as the Communications/Graphic Design intern at NLIHC, I had no idea what to expect. Finishing my first year at the University of Arizona, I decided to jump right in and spend my summer getting some real world experience in my field of study. I am currently a Communications and Studio Art student and while I have many years of graphic design experience, I had barely dipped my toes into the world of communications. I am originally from northern Virginia so my search for summer positions started in D.C. When I came across NLIHC I thought, what better way to cultivate these skills than by working towards social justice in the heart of the nation’s capital? The more I researched the organization, the easier it was to see how absolutely dedicated they are to something that was worth fighting for (doesn’t everyone deserve a safe and affordable place to call home?). Needless to say, I was eager for the chance to see the concepts I’d learned in my courses come to life and I am so grateful for the opportunity that NLIHC gave me to do so.

I began my nine-week position in the midst of the 2017 Out of Reach launch, their largest annual research report. I was tasked with making various infographics from this research and the statistics I was provided with from the report, quite frankly, shocked me. I had little knowledge of the struggle that average Americans go through just to pay rent, let alone the magnitude of that struggle. It’s a heartbreaking reality for hardworking people all over the country. So while I had initially expected to learn about color swatches and media correspondence, I learned a lot about the crisis that persists in this country as well. Working at NLIHC has not only provided me with insight into potential career directions but also with a fresh perspective on the immense importance of being socially aware and active.

From the very beginning, I absorbed all I could about the nuances of communications and design. I was welcomed by a spirited office full of people passionate about what they do. Every day was something new, from creating promotional posters to updating various websites to scheduling social media posts. It is a dynamic atmosphere and what I’ve enjoyed most is working collaboratively with members of the team, specifically in preparation for the Our Homes, Our Voices campaign promoting the National Housing Week of Action. For this effort, I was able to create promotional posters, rally posters, graphics, and other images to promote the various events, which aided more organizations from across the country to jump on board with the campaign. It was incredibly exciting to see so many different people from so many different places come together (as well as reusing/retweeting my designs to do so!).

In sum, I am eager to delve back into my studies with such a valuable experience under my belt. NLIHC has equipped me with so many skills that I fully intend on carrying with me into my future pursuits. Yet as my internship quickly approaches its end, one of the most important things I’ve learned is that when a passion for people is met with a dedication to advocacy, monumental change is not too far behind.

Lindsey interned with NLIHC from late June to early August.