Spotlight on Over-the-Rhine Community Housing, NLIHC’s 2017 Organizing Award Nominee

By Mary Burke Rivers, Over-the-Rhine Community Housing executive director 

otrch 1Over-the-Rhine Community Housing (OTRCH) , the owner and manager of a low income housing site in the gentrifying Over-the-Rhine section of Cincinnati, was nominated for NLIHC’s 2017 Organizing Award for their impressive organizing and mobilization efforts, preventing the demolition of a neighborhood park and community public space.

OTRCH has a history of mobilizing the Cincinnati community. Since the 2006 merger of two local housing justice organizations, they have developed over 300 units of affordable housing, have managed over 400 units, and have saved 45 historical buildings from demolition. Over-the-Rhine is a diverse community that has experienced a dramatic loss of affordable housing while also experiencing a dramatic increase in up-scale housing. Neighborhood residents felt excluded from attempts at progress in the area and wanted stability.

In early 2015, OTRCH, its neighborhood Community Council and other residents learned of a plan working its way through the city to sell off 84,000 square feet of public land to a private developer for the purposes of constructing  21 high-end single family homes, in the otherwise dense, low income and mostly black and brown neighborhood. The plan included the demolition of current community assets—a public park and basketball courts where neighborhood kids play, and a community garden maintained by a neighborhood-based nonprofit—with no public input process with residents who would be deeply affected. OTRCH’s Children’s Creative Corner, the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition and Peaslee Neighborhood Center’s Agents of Change program together created their Keep Our Courts/Do Development Differently (KOC/DDD) campaign to convince city officials to abandon their proposed privatization and development plan, and to institute notions of equity and justice in future development efforts.

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The campaign earned the support of other organizations and movements, including the city’s chapter of Black Lives Matter. Activities of the campaign included public education and mobilization components; a neighborhood cookout, kid’s basketball tournament and block party at the public park and proposed development site; lobby visits with numerous public officials; and testimony before the city council by advocates, residents, and children who would be impacted by the demolition of their neighborhood park. KOC/DDD was successful in pressuring the City of Cincinnati to re-examine the terms of its exclusive development contract with the private, for-profit developer; as a result, the developer opted not to renew this contract. The city is now working to improve community input processes for more inclusive community preservation and development proposals in the future.

To learn more about OTRCH’s community mobilization and work on resident-centered developmental proposals, visit http://otrch.org and http://peasleecenter.org/agents-of-change/

Continuing the Fight on the Local Level: Views from NLIHC Organizing Award Recipients

By NPH Executive Director Amie Fishman and EBHO Executive Director Gloria Bruce 

Preface: The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) awarded its annual Organizing Award to the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California (NPH) and the East Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO) during its “2017 Housing Policy Forum: Advancing Solutions in a Changing Landscape” on April 3.

NPH and EBHO are honored to be recognized by NLIHC for our longstanding roles and partnerships initiating, supporting, and driving success for affordable housing investment policy via a number of local revenue measures in the San Francisco Bay Area this past fall.

We took on this work because we knew acting locally mattered. What we didn’t know at the time, but has become increasingly and devastatingly clear since Election Day, is just how vital local action on affordable housing would become. The following is our perspective on why it’s important to continue defending affordable housing policies on the national level, but we should also stay vigilant to drive progress locally.

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In 2011, California’s governor and legislature dissolved our state’s redevelopment agencies, cutting $1 billion annually in funding for housing for low-wage workers, seniors, people with disabilities and veterans. Coupled with federal cuts, some California counties experienced a reduction of 89% in affordable housing investment – all while housing needs continued to grow.

Advocates recognized that we needed to take control back into local hands. Working with elected and community leaders, NPH and EBHO worked to find local and regional opportunities to create affordable housing investments. Then, we looked within to identify unique opportunities to galvanize our affordable housing community, including building and mobilizing a robust resident engagement program.

Building up to the November 2016 election, our organizations worked with leaders, partners, members, residents, and community members to initiate, support, and win a number of local affordable housing funding measures to invest in the affordable housing opportunities and options our communities needed. Including our work on Measure A (Santa Clara County), Measure A1 (Alameda County), Measure K (San Mateo County), Measures KK and JJ (Oakland), and Measure U1 (Berkeley), we secured more than $2 billion new, urgently needed revenue to create affordable housing opportunities in our communities this past fall.

NPH worked with resident leaders across Santa Clara, San Mateo, and Alameda County to develop a voter registration and education program for affordable housing residents, including speaker trainings, distributing more than 11,000 voter materials in seven languages to affordable housing residents, and organizing member staff and residents to support campaigns directly through phone banking and precinct walking.

Amie phone banking

EBHO resident leaders from affordable housing communities in Oakland made more than fifty presentations across the city and worked tirelessly to reach neighbors, friends, faith communities, and other local groups with the message to vote yes for affordable housing.

EBHO Gloria

Providing strategy, developing strong coalitions, fundraising, and organizing our communities proved well worth our efforts and an important step in driving solutions. We’re obviously proud of our work and honored by NLIHC’s recognition. But with more cuts coming from the federal level, it’s no time to rest on our laurels. Our commitment to advance inclusion, racial and economic equity in our communities is more important than ever.

Anyone following NLIHC is certainly aware of the new federal policies, proposals, and considerations that will impact our affordable housing work. Affordable housing advocates’ concerns include, but certainly, are not limited to:

  • The confirmation of Ben Carson as HUD Secretary. Carson has made on-record statements demonstrating his support for rolling back housing protections and policies;
  • President Trump’s executive orders. One of Trump’s first actions as president was to roll back an FHA mortgage loan policy that was intended to support young and moderate-income Americans seeking to become homeowners;
  • Uncertainty over tax reform under the Republican Congress, including disruptions to the tax credit market;
  • The “skinny budget” proposal which would cut more than $6 billion from HUD’s budget, down 13% from last year’s bare-bones budget — and down 15% from the funding level for FY17, resulting in more than 200,000 families, seniors, and people with disabilities who benefit from housing assistance becoming at immediate risk of homelessness;
  • The proposal to eliminate a number of important programs, including Community Development Block Grants and HOME Investment Partnerships, as well as dramatically reduce funding to other core programs that our communities rely on.

Any one of these bullets would cause concern. All together? It’s not an overstatement to recognize the direction of the federal administration as a direct attack on our ability to create thriving, inclusive and equitable neighborhoods.

We’re thankful to have national partners like NLIHC working hard to fight back against these cuts and harmful proposals, and to press HUD Secretary Ben Carson on commitments to HUD’s mission. We believe that local and regional organizations must support these efforts and do what we can do to bring voices from all over the country to support their strategies.

But, given the sheer enormity of current situations, it will take more than our status quo. It’s more important than ever that we push on our local and state leaders to defend our communities and find new solutions.

For those of us in blue states, it’s not enough for our local leaders to decry the federal administration’s actions – they must commit to take the actions they can to defend our most vulnerable communities, fight for affordable housing, and preserve our values.

Here in California, advocates are looking to local and state leadership to help defend our most vulnerable communities, fight for affordable housing, and protect our neighbors. To echo Assembly member David Chiu (D-San Francisco), we know that California’s housing crisis existed before the Trump administration took office – but there is no doubt that this Presidency is exacerbating and inflaming the problem.

California, and especially the Bay Area, has long been known to lead ‘worst of’ lists when it comes to housing affordability and opportunities. But we’re proud of the work our communities have been doing to step up and emerge as leaders in finding solutions too. Affordable housing advocates are coming together to work closely and strategically in one voice, in a way like never before to make sure our leaders do their part in supporting the needs of our neighbors and the values of our communities.

For those of us in more conservative states, remind your elected officials that affordable housing is not a partisan issue: In fact, polling from Ipsos Public Affairs showed that more than 3 out of every 4 voters were more likely to support a candidate who made affordable housing a priority in government. In fact, a strong majority of Republican, Democrat, and Independent voters alike want to make affordable housing a core component of their party’s platforms.

Especially at this national moment, those of us working in cities and states across the nation need to push on decision makers to find local solutions to advance housing justice. Voters have demonstrated their unity behind affordable housing. Now, we should push on our local and state leaders to keep up the urgency and keep building on the movement. While we can’t give up on fighting at a national level, it’s more important than ever to look at local, regional, and state leaders in order to drive progress.

2017 Organizing Award Nominees Series

Neighbors United for Progress Empowers Austin Residents

By Sarah Jemison, Housing Advocacy Organizer

NUP Picture

Neighbors United for Progress (NUP), a resident-driven community leadership development project, has been nominated for this year’s 2017 Organizer Award for their adept community engagement in Austin, Texas.

In the past year, NUP has hosted 3 affordable housing forums engaging participants and informing them of their rights as residents. They also represent the interests of low income families at monthly Austin City Council Meetings, capitalizing on relationships with council members in order to best advocate for residents’ interests.

NUP’s work is extensive and aligns with NLIHC’s goals in a variety of ways. As noted in the nomination, “Through community conversations, bilingual housing workshops, training, and building relationships with city, state and national advocacy organizations and policymakers, NUP is furthering NLIHC’s mission to educate, organize, and advocate to ensure decent, affordable housing for everyone in the United States.”

To learn more about the NUP’s efforts to build the awareness and capacity of community members to navigate the issues and structures related to affordable housing, visit their Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/NUPATX/ and their website at www.nupatx.org.

2017 Organizing Award Nominees Series

Greater Newark HUD Tenants’ Coalition Seeks to Preserve, Expand Affordable Housing While Empowering Residents

By Sarah Jemison, Housing Advocacy Organizer

Newark Renters Blog Picture

The Greater Newark HUD Tenants’ Coalition (the Tenants’ Coalition), was nominated for the 2017 Organizing Award in recognition of the group’s commitment to empowering tenants and expanding access to affordable rental housing in Newark, New Jersey.

The Tenants’ Coalition members include public housing tenant organizations, tenants living in subsidized housing, public housing residents, other renters, and homeowners. Seventy-three percent of Newark residents rent their homes.  The Greater Newark HUD Tenants Coalition advocates for the needs of this broad population in addition to the specific needs of residents of federally assisted housing.

The Tenants’ Coalition works to maintain the city’s decreasing number of public and private federal subsidized homes, to preserve Newark’s strong rent control ordinance, and to create a strong inclusionary zoning ordinance. In 2016, the group successfully fought to preserve 166 units of affordable housing units in the City of Newark by relocating households to new apartments using U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Housing Choice (Section 8) vouchers. These relocated households had been living in affordable housing that was slated to be demolished.

The Tenants’ Coalition also raises support for residents of subsidized housing at public events.  Two examples of events include a June 2016 rally in support of repairs to public housing apartments and a September demonstration at Newark City Hall as a part of the National Renters Day of Action. At the September event, coalition members called for city leaders to protect their constituents against gentrification and displacement.

Finally, the Tenants’ Coalition works to educate and empower residents across the city, helping tenants understand their rights and fight eviction.

Writing in support of the Tenants’ Coalition’s nomination, Arnold Cohen, Senior Policy Coordinator at the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, an NLIHC State Partner, said, “Their work has meant concrete improvements in very low income tenants’ lives…they have worked with tenants to successively keep their buildings affordable by fighting rent increases and stopping owners from opting out of HUD subsidies.”

To learn more about Greater Newark HUD Tenants’ Coalition’s ongoing work to fight for tenants’ rights and to preserve low-income affordable housing, visit their Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/The-Greater-Newark-HUD-Tenants-Coalition-110719232320697/

2017 Organizing Award Nominees Series

Community Outreach Housing, Making Strides Towards Reducing Housing Poverty in Texas

By Sarah Jemison, Housing Advocacy Organizer

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Community Outreach Housing (COH) leaders, Tamra and Darrell Gardner, were nominated for this year’s 2017 Organizer Award because of their selfless and extensive work in bringing affordable and decent housing to the low income residents of Stephenville, Texas.

COH’s main goal is to provide stable and affordable homes to low income residents of Stephenville and organizers Tamra and Darrell are leading the way. The organization’s work centers on managing below market rate housing for low income residents of Stephenville, where the median family income is $34,501. COH maintains single family rental homes in mixed income neighborhoods zoned for high performing schools. Thus, residents of COH have access to quality education in less segregated neighborhoods. Currently, COH operates 17 rental homes and has plans to double that number in the near future, expanding critically lacking affordable housing to some of Stephenville’s most vulnerable residents.

In addition to their rental homes, COH also organizes service projects to improve the homes of community members in need, including seniors, veterans, students, and low income families. Recruiting volunteers and in-kind donations from local suppliers, COH was able to complete renovations on 7 homes during 2016, expanding decent and affordable housing in the community.

The community member who nominated Tamra and Darrell described them as “generous, humble and truly kind…giving back to the community instead of profiting themselves.” Their work expands access to quality, affordable housing while raising awareness for the need for further investment in the community.

To learn more about COH’s ongoing work to achieve expanded mixed-income housing in areas of opportunity, visit their website at: http://www.coh3436.org/