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. 

Disaster Housing Recovery Updates -Monday, December 3, 2018



  • All six senators from California, North Carolina, and Florida and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced the “Hurricanes Florence and Michael and California Wildfire Tax Relief Act” (S. 3648) on November 16. The proposal would provide tax relief for survivors of the recent disasters by allowing those impacted to more easily claim the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credits, expanding Opportunity Zones, and implementing other assistance measures.

2018 Disasters

California Wildfires


  • Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke visited the Camp Fire site again on Monday, stating that the associated costs would likely be in the billions of dollars.
  • Federal and state financial regulatory agencies issued an interagency statement with information on practices for financial institutions and their customers affected by the California wildfires. The statement included an announcement that financial institutions may receive Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) consideration for “community development loans, investments, or services that revitalize or stabilize federally designated disaster areas.”

State Response

  • The California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) is working with owners of mobile homes and manufactured homes that were damaged in the fires to ensure they have proper documents. Survivors with damaged or destroyed manufactured homes should call 1.833.421.5990 (TDD: 1.800.735.2929) or email:

Local Perspectives and Resources

  • Despite poor air quality from the Woolsey and Hill fires, thousands of farmworkers continued to workin the strawberry fields of Southern California. Many of these workers do not speak English – some only speak Aztecan languages – and are unable to communicate with their supervisors or understand safety warnings. Even when Ventura County closed schools and declared a health emergency, people were photographed still picking in the fields. Some companies did not distribute masks, and many workers complained they had difficulty breathing and had headaches and eye and throat irritation even after they were out of the fields. These low-wage workers cannot afford to miss a day of income or risk losing their jobs.
  • The site provides helpful information for survivors of the wildfires, including the locations of new shelter options.
  • Free legal assistance is available to survivors of the California wildfires in Butte, Ventura, and Los Angeles Counties. The Butte County free legal aid hotline is: 1-800-345-9491. The Ventura and Los Angeles County free legal aid hotline is: 1-877-301-4448.
  • Attorneys at The Larsen Law Firm are providing free legal advice to residents of Butte County and surrounding communities who have lost loved ones, suffered property damage, or incurred other costs related to the Northern California Camp Fire that began on November 8. The firm also created a resource guide with links to free housing resources as well as government and nonprofit disaster assistance application information.

Hurricane Michael



  • Okaloosa and Walton counties are now eligible for the Public Assistance program. Eligibility for Franklin, Holmes, Jefferson, Leon, Madison, Taylor, Wakulla, and Washington Counties has been expanded from only Emergency Protective Measures and Debris Removal to all categories of Public Assistance.
  • Bay County residents with properties that might be suitable for housing FEMA trailers are encouraged to share that information through this online form.

State and Local

  • The deadline for Disaster Unemployment Assistance has been extended to December 7.

Local Perspectives and Resources

  • Travel trailers have finally arrived in Marianna, FL, for inspections before being set up for use by survivors. As FEMA slowly delivers these trailers to those left homeless by Hurricane Michael, survivors are sleeping in tent cities in Panama City. CBS News reports that more than 95,000 survivors have applied for FEMA assistance, but only about 25,000 have been approved for some form of housing assistance. Many low-income residents across the Panhandle have been left to wonder what relief, if any, they will receive that can help them rebuild their lives.
  • PBS News Hour reports that FEMA has approved 1,700 households for trailers, but had delivered only 40 in the six weeks since Hurricane Michael struck. Another 18,000 have been approved for rental assistance, but survivors are often unable to find an available home to rent since so much of the housing stock is damaged or destroyed. Survivors and officials continue to stress that housing remains the biggest issue following the storm.
  • Survivors with a felony face additional barriers to finding affordable housing, making their search for shelter following Hurricane Michael even more difficult.
  • Low-income residents with disabilities and medical needs in Florida are struggling to access health care in the wake of Hurricane Michael.
  • The last shelter in Bay County closed on November 30. At its peak, the shelter housed at least 700 people. As of November 28, 82 people remained, some of whom were previously homeless, and case workers were working to ensure all survivors had housing before the shelter closed.
  • Doorways of Northwest Florida may be able to assist Bay and Jackson county residents who were homeless before or are currently homeless as a result of Hurricane Michael. They currently have a temporary office at the Florida Department of Health (597 W. 11th St., Panama City) open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9:30am – 4:30pm. Survivors can also schedule an appointment by phone or email, although the organization currently has limited service.


  • Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed HB 1EX, which will provide $270 million in emergency funding for state and local governments in areas most heavily impacted by Hurricane Michael.

Hurricane Florence

North Carolina


  • Guilford and McDowell Counties are now eligible for Public Assistance.
  • FEMA released a fact sheet with information on how survivors of Hurricane Florence who received initial rental assistance may be eligible for continued support from FEMA. FEMA also issued a public notice announcing its intent to provide Individual Assistant (AI) funding for emergency housing that may impact a floodplain or wetland or be located in a floodplain. The notice also includes activities impacting historic preservation.

State and Local

  • North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper met with members of the North Carolina congressional delegation, HUD Secretary Ben Carson, and White House Homeland Security Advisor Rear Admiral Doug Fears to ask for additional federal assistance. In an interview about his visit, Governor Cooper identified housing as a key component of his requested assistance. He has asked Secretary Carson to allow survivors to use Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds to pay for Small Business Administration (SBA) loans.

Local Perspectives and Resources

  • A second wave of displaced North Carolina residents are finding themselves newly homeless due to new eviction notices issued by at least six apartment complexes in New Hanover County. At least four of the complexes ordered to vacate are low-income housing complexes: The Glen, The Reserve, Jervay Apartments, and Market North.
  • Low-income residents displaced from their homes because of damage from Hurricane Florence are struggling to use their rental assistance to find temporary housing. The assistance amount is set, and many survivors cannot afford to pay the difference.
  • Many people in Pender County still need temporary housing before winter. Because several communities in the county are in the middle of a flood zone, FEMA has stated that placing trailers there would be too dangerous. While many have relocated, others have been staying in tents or campers next to their destroyed homes. FEMA has approved trailers for some households but is still working to make sure they are properly hooked up to utilities and placed in safe locations.

South Carolina

  • Governor Henry McMaster sent a letter on November 16 to South Carolina’s congressional delegation with a revised estimate of $607 million in federal funding for recovery efforts, including $108 million in CDBG-DR.

2017 Disasters

Federal Response

  • FEMA announced that it will host CADGeoCon 2019 on March 21-22 in Puerto Rico. The event is a two-day conference for members of the geospatial community who responded to challenges unique to the Caribbean in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Those interested in presenting should submit a one-page abstract of the proposed presentation and other materials by December 15, 2018.

State Action

  • The Texas General Land Office released on November 19 the second amendment to the $5.024 billion state Action Plan for Hurricane Harvey. This amendment incorporates the additional $652 million (allocated to Texas from the disaster supplemental passed in February) into the state action plan, including an extra $236 million for the Homeowner Assistance Program and $200 million for the Affordable Rental Program. The amendment is open for public comment through December 19.
  • The CDBG-DR Draft Action Plan (English versionSpanish version) for the 2017 California wildfires was published on November 12. The comment period for the draft will close at midnight on December 12. Round 2 of public meetings to discuss the Draft Action Plan for Disaster Recovery will take place from November 26 through December 5. For specific dates and times of the public meetings, click here(Spanish version).
  • Hurricane Irma Housing Repair and Replacement Program Guidelines for Single Family Housing Properties are posted in EnglishSpanish, and Creole on the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DOE) website. The program guidelines for Rental Properties are listed as pending. Technical Questions and Answers regarding the implementation of CDBG-DR program funds are posted on the website as well.
  • The Puerto Rico Department of Housing submitted the substantial amendment to the Disaster Recovery Action Plan to HUD for final approval on November 18. The submission included public comments and responses.
  • Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló sent a letter to congressional leadership on November 19 asking for additional federal assistance for Hurricane Maria recovery efforts, including continued emergency funding for Medicaid, the Nutrition Assistance Program and emergency work like debris removal and building demolition. Governor Rosselló also asked that the entire island be designated as an Opportunity Zone, stating that some “critical areas where economic development is essential” do not currently qualify. The Opportunity Zones are a new tax-benefit-for-investment designation under the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.”

Local Perspectives and Resources

  • Officials in Houston, TX aim to get more than $1 billion in federal Hurricane Harvey recovery assistance contracts in place and reimbursement checks issued by Christmas.
  • According to the CEO of the Houston Coalition for the Homeless, about 18% of unsheltered people in Houston said they were homeless because of Hurricane Harvey.
  • Officials in Puerto Rico expect initial CDBG-DR funds to be distributed to municipalities in January or February of next year.
  • An article in the New York Times revealed that FEMA contractors in Puerto Rico are charging steep markups and overhead on repairs for the Tu Hogar Renace program, limiting the repairs that homeowners in Puerto Rico can receive. Puerto Rico Department of Housing’s records show that FEMA paid $3,700 each for generators that cost contractors $800 apiece to purchase. The records also reveal that FEMA paid $666 for each bathroom sink, but contractors purchased them for $260. FEMA also paid $4 per square foot for roof repairs, instead of the contractor price of $1.64 per square foot.
  • The Hurricane Harvey Registry – a venture of Rice University, Environmental Defense Fund and health departments in the city of Houston and Harris, Fort Bend and Montgomery Counties – calls for residents to provide information about how Hurricane Harvey affected their health for the first in a series of public reports to be published early 2019. Residents have until December 21 to complete the survey.
  • Houston area restaurants and businesses that rely on low-wage workers are struggling to meet their staffing needs due to a lack of safe, affordable housing 15 months after Hurricane Harvey.
  • Marvin Odum, the former Shell Oil president who volunteered as Houston’s Hurricane Harvey recovery czar, will be stepping down from the position he occupied since 2016. He will be replaced by Steve Costello, an engineer and former councilman.

Read previous Disaster Housing Recovery updates at