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 outreach@nlihc.org, outreachintern2@nlihc.org, or jsaucedo@nlihc.org. We’d also encourage folks to check out our recent UFH webinar, Back to School—Campus Activism and the United for Homes Campaign.

When Academics Meets Real-Life

By Lindsey Otto, Communications & Graphic Design Intern

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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.

My Rewards as an NLIHC Summer Intern

By Bianca Guerrero, NLIHC Field and Communications Intern

My goal this summer was to learn what the affordable housing crisis looks like across the United States and to see what communities and organizations are doing to address it. After three months interning with the Tenant Protection Unit, a New York State agency that protects rent-regulated residents, I knew I wanted to continue working on housing issues. Dipping my feet in advocacy and organizing on a national level after graduating from college seemed like a good next step and an internship with NLIHC offered just that.

Working at an organization that centers around extremely low income communities have been very rewarding, especially in a political climate that jeopardizing very poor communities’ wellbeing. As a communications intern, I got a firm grasp on what the organization is fighting for. I saw our values and messaging spread during, for example, press calls with Rep. Keith Ellison when NLIHC’s 2017 Out of Reach report was released. Incorporating data from our reports in tweets about HUD hearings on the Trump budget and the #OurHomesOurVoices campaign familiarized me with just how pressing the crisis is. I learned that organizing is truly a team effort. Pulling state-specific outlets from media lists, tracking reporter contacts, and reaching out to civic engagement platforms for the communications team was critical to making sure the National Week of Action was a success.

The field team gave me understanding of what it means to organize. Researching issues and writing articles for Memo to Members to highlight the work and success of our state partners in Minnesota, Vermont, Illinois, and Georgia taught me what obstacles other communities were facing, the solutions they devised to address them, and the work it took to achieve said solutions. Diving into the Advocates Guide’s information on housing programs gave me a sense of what resources are at stake in the Trump and Congressional budgets. Cleaning up membership lists, updating contact information, and checking our website links were also part of my internship. The field team always made clear why this less glamorous work was critical to improving its advocacy efforts.

I feel very grateful for the opportunity to work at NLIHC. This experience has equipped me to continue working on affordable housing issues back home in New York City and has also helped me become a better team player. Lisa, Sarah, James, and Joey have served as great examples. I always felt comfortable asking questions and voicing concerns or support for ideas. Their instructions and goals were always clear and they let me know my work was important. NLIHC’s location in Washington, D.C. was great because it gave me access to webinars and information sessions hosted by the Center for American Progress, National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, and Urban Institute. I was able to learn what other organizations are doing to further the fight against homelessness and to protect the LGBTQ community, women, and others in this issue area. I do feel like I accomplished my goal of learning what the affordable housing crisis looks like across the country and what folks are doing to end it. I’m excited to take what I’ve learned back home!


Bianca Guerrero graduated in May from Columbia University as a political science major. Next year she will be an Urban Fellow with New York City government. She is passionate about cities, and more specifically the experiences of low income immigrant communities in urban housing.

Where Gentrification Was Held at Bay—Can It Last?

By Don Falk Chief Executive Officer, Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation

The San Francisco housing market strains credulity. The median home price has reached $1.5 million.[1] In order to afford a two bedroom apartment at the median rent, a family must earn a whopping $216,000 annually.[2]

If families with six-figure incomes cannot afford to live in San Francisco, then how can low income residents make it here? In many cases, they can’t. They have been squeezed out and have moved to other cities or the exurbs.  Or worse, have ended up on the streets. San Francisco is becoming a city for the wealthy.

Yet it doesn’t have to be this way. San Francisco’s Tenderloin is a neighborhood that many low-income people still call home. This central city neighborhood, which abuts Toney Union Square, has remained a haven for low-income people for more than 100 years — even as other neighborhoods in San Francisco have gentrified, displacing the poor and more recently, the middle class.

Today, one-third of the housing units in the Tenderloin are preserved in perpetuity as affordable housing, mostly owned by nonprofits. No other neighborhood in the San Francisco, and few anywhere in the country, comes even close.

So, how did the Tenderloin do it? And, is it too late for other neighborhoods — in San Francisco or elsewhere—to slow gentrification, like the Tenderloin?

Let’s pick up the story in 1980. The Tenderloin, historically populated by working class and low-income residents, and with the highest number and proportion of Single Room Occupancy Hotels (SROs) in the city, was under siege. With the support of the administration of San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, three national hotel chains saw an opportunity to build in the Tenderloin. Civic leaders had long seen an opportunity to expand Union Square south and west into the Tenderloin.

But to the distress of the hotels, community activists in the Tenderloin banded together — among them, residents of a fledgling organization, Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (TNDC), founded in 1981.These neighborhood activists forced the hotels to contribute significant funding to build low-income housing units and to sponsor a $4 million federal grant to buy and renovate four Tenderloin SROs for low-income residents.  These were unprecedented concessions at the time, representing arguably the first “community benefit agreement” in the country.

Throughout the 1980s, TNDC and other neighborhood organizations fought a series of land-use battles to stem the gentrification of the Tenderloin. Their persistence, strategic alliances and ingenuity won extraordinary measures: rezoning the Tenderloin as residential and discouraging the conversion of SRO hotels from residential to tourist uses. Their work ultimately removed hundreds of millions of dollars of real estate from the private market to create permanently affordable housing.

TNDC was in the center of that fight, not only as activists, but also as property owners.  TNDC resolved that the best way to ensure affordability forever, immune to changing political winds and capricious zoning policy, was to buy as much property as it could, as fast as it could.

Today, TNDC houses more than 4,000 San Franciscans in 40 buildings across the city, two-thirds in the Tenderloin. It is reminiscent of the American melting pot—10% African-American, 20% Latino, 35% Asian, 6% multi-racial and 29% white. Nearly half of the Tenderloin’s residents over the age of 5 were born in foreign countries; the majority of residents speak languages other than English. Three thousand young people call this neighborhood home, and nearly one-third of its residents are seniors. The Tenderloin represents the kind of diversity San Franciscans want to retain.

Amid San Francisco’s increasing wealth, the Tenderloin remained a predominantly low income neighborhood because of the foresight and commitment of neighborhood activists, public officials and nonprofit organizations who aggressively acquired property continuously over 35 years. As real estate values have skyrocketed and public funding shrunk, it has become much more difficult for nonprofits to secure public funding to acquire property to build or convert into affordable housing. And even today, the Tenderloin itself remains vulnerable to gentrification: its privately-owned housing, comprising 2/3rd of the neighborhood’s stock and the City’s most affordable market-rate housing, is subject to those same economic forces.

It will be challenging for many neighborhoods to replicate this experience. In the face of escalating real estate prices and a retreating Federal government, activists must find new policies and new resources to create permanently affordable housing. While the private real estate market and mechanisms like rent control and eviction protections play essential roles, subsidized housing controlled by the public via nonprofit ownership or other means assures truly long-term affordability.

With political will and a vision of the future that spans decades, it can be done, here in San Francisco and in other cities. Community development organizations, activists and citizens alike will need to continue to pressure city halls, states and the federal government to dedicate funds for affordable housing. Land is forever, so our strategic time horizon must be commensurately long. The Tenderloin has provided the roadmap.


Don Falk is CEO of TNDC. TNDC recently published an organizational history detailing the battle to prevent gentrification and displacement in the Tenderloin. http://www.tndc.org/tndc-at-35-book/

[1] https://www.paragon-re.com/trend/june-2017-crazy-hot-san-francisco-market-again

[2] https://smartasset.com/mortgage/the-income-needed-to-pay-rent-in-the-largest-cities, 2016

Growing Up With and Without Housing Assistance: The Backstory Behind Rachel Robinson’s Advocacy

By Rachel Robinson, Neighbors United for Progress Social Media Director & Housing Advocate Advisor

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When you live in low income housing or communities, sometimes you get lucky but sometimes you don’t. Growing up poor, my family moved from neighborhood to neighborhood, from hotel to motel like it was normal. My siblings and I felt like Child Protective Services (CPS) were our friend when we knew they were not. My neighborhoods had a lot of drama, gun and other violence, and drug activity. We resorted to handling issues in the ‘hood or within the projects because police would most likely treat us like suspects. These and other conditions of my experiences with low income housing are why I became a housing advocate.

Living with my brothers and grandmother on the outskirts of Austin, Texas was a blessing. Oak Hill, the family-oriented neighborhood we called home, was beautiful, full of playgrounds, schools, and stores. The community had plenty of resources and families had back yards. Oak Hill was a low income community at its finest: the crime rate was low and use of drugs was rare there.

In the 1990s, my grandmother decided she wanted to move into public housing in Bouldin Creek, a neighborhood closer to the inner city. While we didn’t have much privacy due to monthly check-ins from the housing authority, we did have access to the city and to bus routes. Bouldin Creek turned out to be very different from Oak Hill: it was in one of the most violent neighborhoods in south Austin. Rapes, gang activity, drunk driving, and fights were common. However, there was a bright side: with our new address I was able to enroll in a prestigious school where I flourished as a competitive student.

Winter brought tough times for my family. My grandma couldn’t take care of us anymore due to losing her job, so my siblings and I went to live with my mom, who struggled with drug problems. She lived in an abandoned hotel without lights, water, or working toilets. Worried for my brothers, I did everything under the sun to make money to provide school clothes, hot food, and other necessities. My mother is beautiful and smart, but drugs took over her life. CPS interviewed us constantly but never removed us from our mother. While we did not want to be taken away, what we were going through was not right.

My mother eventually ended up in jail, so my family was separated and displaced once again. My aunt took me into her home in a trailer park that felt like the projects.  I attended the poorest and most embarrassing school I have ever been in: it had bugs, holes in the walls, and textbooks in dire condition. In the ninth grade, I ended up getting pregnant. Teen mom was added to the list of labels already applied to me:  black, woman, crack baby, welfare and food-stamp user, a prostitute. I felt like these titles would never change unless I changed them, so I did. I got an apartment, won custody of my child, and eventually graduated with two kids.

Later, I moved to Mason Manor, one of the most dangerous and violent projects in Texas. The living conditions weren’t great: there was a lot of rust, roaches, maintenance issues, faulty air conditioning, and a host of other problems. We lived there for three weeks before moving to live with family. Eventually, we moved into a market-rate apartment in another poor area. This apartment was infested with centipedes, roaches, bees, and other critters. While I didn’t want to live there, we stayed for two years.

We moved to a duplex run by a slumlord, where roaches were embedded into the closets, doors, and any opening or cracks. The windows lacked screens and didn’t lock; the driveway was in awful shape. The tub filled with backflow from the sewer and toilet, so some days we couldn’t take a bath. One day, the breaker caught fire and we lost power in half the house for about two months.

At 28 years old, I was homeless. My entire family of six was living in my suburban and on couches for nine months before finding help from the Foundation for the Homeless. They found a three-bedroom, one and a half bath home with utilities paid for and rent of $1,350 a month. It didn’t matter if we were in market-rate or public housing, we always felt like being low income was the issue. Sometimes we got lucky, sometimes we didn’t. The neighborhoods I lived in were usually drug infested and prone to violence. I was too scared to let my kids play outside and I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Our landlords rarely treated us with respect, convinced that they were giving us a hand out so we should pay our rent and be quiet.

At age 14, I learned that where I live is important. Escaping poverty would be hard, but I knew I had to try. I went to school and got a certification in Medical Billing & Coding.  I’m also a licensed hair stylist. Even so, people assume things because of my address in a low income neighborhood. I want more for my kids: I do not want them to live my childhood realities. They are why I am a housing advocate: I push for better affordable housing in hopes of changing their futures.


Rachel is now the social media director and housing advocate advisor of Neighbors United for Progress (NUP). NUP is a group of neighbors who came together to focus on the betterment of their community and to raise awareness in the areas of affordable housing, crime and safety, and youth development.

Read about NUP’s 2017 NLIHC Organizer Award nomination at: https://hfront.org/category/organizer-awards/