How One Community Land Trust is Strengthening Its Community

By: Christina Olson, Programs Director at Kulshan Community Land Trust

At Kulshan Community Land Trust (KulshanCLT), we strengthen our community in Washington State by holding land in trust for permanently affordable homeownership and by offering financial services to low-income people. Our program improves the lives, well-being, and economic self-sufficiency of low- to moderate-income households by meeting the basic need of a home using the community land trust strategy. We also help low-income renters through our housing counseling programs and by freeing up rentals by assisting others in becoming homeowners.

The median value of homes in the past decade has increased by 96% while family incomes have increased by only 23%, according to the City of Bellingham. KulshanCLT has grown to meet the challenge of providing access to homes people can afford to buy in our community that are also close to jobs and services. By the end of 2018, KulshanCLT had acquired a total of 129 properties in the trust and served 194 homebuyers including 65 resales.


The average KulshanCLT home, upon initial purchase, has been affordable to a household earning 65% of AMI for their household size. Five resale homes in 2018 saw a 4% gain in affordability. Twenty-five homeowners (19% of our portfolio) have solar electric systems installed on their homes, providing the current and future homeowners electricity that is both affordable and sustainable.

As home prices have rapidly outpaced available down payment assistance in recent years, our program has had to adapt to include new construction to increase our supply of affordable homes. Habitat for Humanity has become an essential partner, enabling us to stretch our assistance with their donated labor and materials.

Though the political environment is becoming more aware of the housing crisis and there is some indication that more funding will become available, we will continue to advocate for additional resources for low-income housing at the state and local levels and to strive for more ease of permitting and higher density zoning to provide as many permanently affordable homes as possible.

Among organizations who were nominated for this year’s NLIHC Organizing Awards, some were nominated for best practices and services in their community. Kulshan Community Land Trust (KulshanCLT) was among these. Check out previous years’ blogs from Organizing Award winners and nominees.

To learn more about Kulshan Community Land Trust’s work, please visit:


This post is part of a series featuring blogs from NLIHC Organizing Awards winners and top nominees. 

Residents take affordable housing fight to the ballot box – and win

By Roberto Jiménez, Mutual Housing California CEO

In 2018, Mutual Housing California organizers took on a year-long voter participation effort with residents of our affordable housing communities as part of a larger movement to secure more local and statewide funding for affordable housing through 2018 ballot measures. Working alongside organizers, activist residents helped lay the groundwork for a potential history-changing affordable housing movement.

Our voter participation effort led to a 14 percent increase in voter registration from 669 to 700 residents. Newly energized, many of these residents hit the streets and worked the phones to make over 44,000 voter contacts in the primary and general elections. In addition, over 100 of our residents completed leadership trainings in 2018 to further support advocacy efforts for affordable housing and other issues such as job opportunities, criminal justice and education.

This combined with other movements across the state resulted in monumental achievements. Two of California’s three major statewide housing-related ballot measures won, producing $6 billion in new funding for affordable housing. These were the first housing bonds approved by California voters in more than a decade. An unprecedented city measure in Sacramento also moved forward that will generate $50 million in new revenues every year for affordable housing, job development and other programs, to be determined by the City Council, with input from a newly-created community advisory commission.

Passage of the state and local housing measures in 2018 only represent a down payment in terms of solving our state and our region’s massive man-made housing shortage. There are approximately 7.5 million people living in poverty in California and a shortage of nearly 1.5 million affordable homes and apartments. In Sacramento and Yolo counties, there are approximately 284,000 people living in poverty. The success we’ve seen in the past year only motivates us to dig deeper, organize better, and fight harder. Our organizing efforts supported these wins and will help ensure that low-income people have a voice when the housing funds are distributed.

Mutual Housing California is the winner of the 2019 State and Local Organizing Award. The National Low Income Housing Coalition’s Organizing Awards recognize outstanding achievement in organizing activities that further NLIHC’s mission: Achieving socially just public policy that ensures people with the lowest incomes in the United States have affordable and decent homes. Check out previous years’ blogs from Organizing Award winners and nominees.

To learn more about Mutual Housing California’s work, please visit:


This post is part of a series featuring blogs from NLIHC Organizing Awards winners and top nominees. 

Working Alongside Tenants of Subsidized Housing to Improve Living Conditions

By Zoë Middleton, Texas Housers, Houston and Southeast Texas Co-Director

At Texas Housers, we support low-income Texans’ efforts to achieve the American dream of a decent, affordable home in a quality neighborhood. We began 2018 by hiring an organizer for our new initiative called “12 Moms.” Our goal was to recruit and work alongside 12 women with children living in subsidized housing to speak out about the conditions of federally-subsidized housing and to tell their stories to promote the importance of housing assistance. Over the course of the year, this goal was greatly exceeded. 12 Moms is now an active group of 120 tenants living in subsidized housing advocating for improved quality of living in subsidized properties.

The initiative focused on two apartment complexes where we knew conditions were particularly dangerous and posed significant risk to tenants. These conditions include mold, decaying walls, and pests that negatively affect residents’ health. Federally-subsidized homes also tend to be located in high-crime neighborhoods that are segregated away from decent schools or safe places to play.

12 moms12 moms_nlihc_212 Moms educates women with children about how they can advocate for change. Our goal is to draw attention to these issues and demand that HUD and the City of Houston treat people fairly and respect their health and well-being enough to support safe, decent, and sanitary homes for low-income people across the city.

Though 12 Moms is a local effort, it may also have a national impact. Tenants have testified at city council meetings, met with HUD officials, and several tenants are plaintiffs in two lawsuits against the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regarding substandard living conditions. We will continue to invest in tenant leaders and work alongside them to make their voices heard in promoting a more equitable Houston by demanding safe and decent subsidized housing.

Texas Housers is the winner of the 2019 Resident Organizing Award. The National Low Income Housing Coalition’s Organizing Awards recognize outstanding achievement in organizing activities that further NLIHC’s mission: Achieving socially just public policy that ensures people with the lowest incomes in the United States have affordable and decent homes. Check out previous years’ blogs from Organizing Award winners and nominees.

To learn more about Texas Housers’ work, please visit:


This post is part of a series featuring blogs from NLIHC Organizing Awards winners and top nominees. 

How Metro Raised $652.8 Million in a 2018 Affordable Housing Bond Measure

By Jes Larson, Metro Regional Affairs Manager

Nearly every community in greater Portland has been facing unprecedented increases in housing costs, housing insecurity, and displacement in recent years. To address this, Metro – greater Portland’s regional government – successfully placed an affordable housing bond measure on the 2018 ballot resulting in $652.8 million in new affordable housing resources.

The measure was born out of several years of work on the Equitable Housing Initiative, an effort we led to find innovative approaches that result in more safe, stable, and affordable homes. The framework for the measure includes policies and practices to lead with racial equity, eliminating barriers in accessing affordable housing, anti-displacement strategies, and a requirement for sustained community engagement activities that focus on reaching communities of color and other historically marginalized and low-income groups.



Collaborative community engagement with a diverse group of stakeholders was the keystone of the measure. A racial equity lens was used and the community was included in the development of the framework. We held meetings with all three counties and 24 cities within its region and conducted broad public outreach along with our partners, with a total of over 50 engagement activities completed region-wide. Additionally, over three dozen community organizations were involved in developing the measure alongside us.

The housing measure was referred by Metro with full chamber support in June 2018. Local officials testified in support, and residents shared their stories of how it will impact their lives. Six months later, voters approved the housing measure securing 59% of the vote. Metro has not historically played a primary role in financing or developing affordable housing, so we are working with 7 local jurisdictions in the region to who will lead the implementation. This is the first known multi-jurisdictional approach to address housing needs regionally.

These new resources will provide 3,900 permanently affordable homes serving over 12,000 residents. Just under half of the homes will be affordable to extremely low-income households, half are two-bedrooms or more, and no more than 10% of the funds will be used for homes above 60% of area median income (AMI) with the cap at 80% AMI. We continue to work with stakeholders to discuss strategies for addressing ongoing operating funds to keep rents deeply affordable and supportive services needed by some to maintain stable housing.

Greater Portland’s regional government “Metro” was a nominee for this year’s NLIHC Organizing Awards. Check out previous years’ blogs from Organizing Award winners and nominees. To learn more about Metro’s work, please visit:

The winner of the 2019 State and Local Organizing Award: Mutual Housing California and the winner of the 2019 Resident Organizing Award: Texas Housers, will receive their awards on March 28 at NLIHC 2019 Housing Policy Forum in Washington, DC.


This post is part of a series featuring blogs from NLIHC Organizing Awards winners and top nominees. 

Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance: Good Housing is Needed for Good Health

By Emily Walsh community outreach director for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance

According to The National Center for Health in Public Housing, over 2 million residents live in public housing across the country.  Public housing was initially developed to offer safe, decent rental homes for the lowest income households – roughly 36% of public housing households include someone with disabilities; 37% are children, and 16% are seniors.  The average yearly household income of this population is $13,984, which is well below the federal poverty line.

Public housing was first put in place to help the poorest households by offering them rent they could actually afford, which, in turn, provides them with an opportunity to get back on their feet.  But inadequate federal funding and attention in recent years are seriously undermining the program’s intent. Since 2010, Congress has cut the budget for public housing repairs in half. Information from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities states that the sheer number of public housing units has decreased by over 250,000 since the mid-1990s.  As the Center explains, this significant drop is “mainly because housing agencies have demolished or otherwise removed units from stock, due to deterioration resulting from long-term underfunding and other factors.  Only a small share of the removed units have been replaced with new public housing.”

The consequences of this disinvestment don’t just impact the economic prospects of low-income households, but also their general health and wellbeing.  Studies worldwide have clearly shown that substandard housing – whether subsidized or not – can have profound negative effects on health.

Take, for instance, the established link between asbestos and mesothelioma.  The use of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) peaked between the 1930s and 1980s, though it was used for centuries before 1930 and still remains in small percentages in materials produced today.  Asbestos was once considered a miracle mineral of the early 20th century, renowned for its tensile strength, flame and heat retardant properties, and low cost.  It was used pervasively as a way to cut the costs of building and maintaining housing properties.  Unfortunately, asbestos is also well-known for being the sole cause of the dangerous cancer mesothelioma, as well as asbestosis and occasionally lung cancer.  Despite these terrible health impacts, asbestos was used liberally throughout these years and remains in many buildings to this day. Low-income housing properties are a prime suspect for still having ACMs present because US law doesn’t specifically prohibit the mineral, as long as it is kept in good repair.

Elderly people are most at risk for developing mesothelioma and other health ailments, due to their longer exposures to toxins and degrading immune systems.  Seniors make up a large percentage of public housing residents, making them a large worry for contracting mesothelioma or other diseases. Other health threats posed by substandard housing include lead poisoning, collapse or general infrastructure failure, mold, and poor air quality.

Everyone deserves to live in a home where their health isn’t consistently at risk, but that isn’t always the case. Residents of these properties can ask their landlords to get their buildings checked for toxins and structural issues since landlords have a legal duty to maintaining their properties in livable conditions.  However, many landlords are either unable to make these repairs or unwilling.  Additionally, a lack of government resources to support these upgrades makes these repairs even more difficult. Investing in the safe renovation of these communities would have a large positive impact on the residents and the community.

 In addition to physical health and well-being, it is not difficult to imagine the toll subpar living conditions could take on a person’s mental health as well.  According to a 2015 study by the MacArthur Foundation, which focused on 371 low-income families in the Bronx who lived in public housing or used a federal housing voucher, “poor housing conditions are associated with more depressive symptomology and hostility.”

Housing that is affordable, especially for the most vulnerable low-income households, is badly needed across the country.  But we must make the necessary investments to ensure that affordable housing is also safe, decent, and healthy to live in.  Research shows that carefully planned and well-maintained affordable housing can have a positive effect on the health outcomes of residents. That’s why housing and health partnerships have formed through the Opportunity Starts at Home campaign to advocate for more robust and equitable federal housing policies.

In the campaign’s newly released policy agenda called “Within Reach,”  the campaign calls for a substantial expansion of the supply of affordable housing, a substantial expansion of rental assistance, and the creation of a new national program that provides emergency assistance to households during a crisis. Through these powerful new multi-sector partnerships and an ambitious policy agenda, the campaign hopes to elevate housing affordability and its health implications to a national conversation.

Health care advocates are housing advocates.  We must make adequate investments to ensure that affordable housing is also healthy housing.

This blog was written by the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance for the Opportunity Starts at Home campaign of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.