NLIHC’s Advocacy Guide for the Election Season

nlihc-2016_issues-guideOver the next few months, affordable housing and community development organizations have an opportunity to influence a number of critical issues before Congress and to help break through the noise of the Presidential campaigns to make affordable housing an election issue.

This summer and fall, Congress will be in their home districts and states between August 1 and September 6 and again between October 10 and November 11.

To help advocates make full use of this time, NLIHC has created a Summer/Fall 2016 Advocacy Guide, outlining the five key ways organizations can take action between now and the November elections to advocate for the issues that are most important to their mission, the people they serve, and their community.

The Advocacy Guide covers ways organizations can help:

  • Increase federal spending on key federal housing programs;
  • Expand and improve the Low Income Housing Tax Credit;
  • Ensure that housing needs are addressed in criminal justice reform;
  • Support the Make Room campaign—an initiative to demand that Congress make affordable housing a top priority; and
  • Use NLIHC Voterization resources to engage voters and candidates.

For more information and best practices on how nonprofit organizations and individuals can lobby their elected officials, see Lobbying: Individual and 501(c)(3) Organizations in NLIHC’s 2016 Advocates’ Guide.

Together, these resources can help advocates make their voices heard and build strong relationships with their Members of Congress.

It’s time to unite!

The start of a new Congress. The beginning of the President’s second term. A nationwide effort to secure a new funding source for the National Housing Trust Fund.

What do these three things have in common? They’re the top reasons housing advocates from around the country need to be in Washington, D.C. March 17-20 for United for Action: the 2013 NLIHC Housing Policy Conference and Lobby Day.

The presidential election and the ongoing debate over debt and the deficit mean 2013 will bring extraordinary challenges—and opportunities—for housing advocates. Unite with advocates, providers, tenants and residents, and policy professionals from across the country to learn how we can work together to solve the housing challenges of the lowest income Americans.

Online registration is now open, so you can immediately take advantage of early registration discounts and secure your seat at the table today.

This is a crucial time for housing advocates to take action. We hope our conference inspires you to challenge yourself to consider new solutions, develop new partnerships and hold your elected leaders accountable for solving America’s most pressing housing problems. You will come away from these few days in D.C. with renewed energy and practical tools to make positive change in your country, and your community, during the year ahead.

Will we see you in D.C.?

Meet Our Interns: Mary Donoghue

The National Low Income Housing Coalition is fortunate to have great interns every semester and summer. Our fall interns have been with us for a few weeks and are excited to share their experiences at the Coalition with you. Think interning with the Coalition might be for you? You’re in luck! We’re now accepting applicants for spring 2013 internships.

I’ve been interested in housing for as long as I can remember. Growing up in Chicago’s northern suburbs, there were, and continue to be, intense fights over affordable housing every few years. Seeing so many people opposed to any sort of affordable housing always puzzled me. In 2008 I moved to Washington, D.C. to attend American University, and quickly tuned in to arguments about the city’s recent demographic changes, the mayor’s policies and new developments that were popping up all across the city. A lot of the arguments had to do with rising costs, displacement and other housing issues.

Intrigued by these debates, I started to take classes on community development, geography, social policy and more. I declared a major in sociology and American studies, and eventually wrote my undergraduate thesis on gentrification in D.C. After spending my final semester completing that project, I knew I wanted to take part in further research on housing, policy, poverty and how they intersect. The only problem? I didn’t have much experience, especially with quantitative research. Up to that point, my focus was on activism and community organizing, both on and off campus.

While looking for a job over the summer, I came across a post on for internships with the National Low Income Housing Coalition. After reading more about NLIHC, I knew I needed to apply to be a research intern. I knew that, if I got the internship, the research I did would go toward promoting socially just policy.  At the start of my internship, I was immediately involved in an important project: updating an NLIHC report cataloguing state-funded rental assistance programs. For this project I contacted program officials across the country to find out more about their programs and then interviewed administrators by phone and email.

In addition to this project, I participate in the everyday activities of NLIHC in many ways. I help answer questions and data requests from state partners, and I write articles about current research for the weekly newsletter, Memo to Members, a task that the total research nerd in me loves. At NLIHC, I’ve been able to hone both my qualitative and quantitative research skills, which will serve me well in the future, as I plan to start graduate school in the fall. Perhaps most importantly, working with NLIHC constantly reaffirms my belief that decent, affordable housing is fundamental to other aspects of life: health, safety, well-being, employment, education access and more.

My internship is still in progress, but so far, being a research intern these past few months has really been a great experience. The research team and the rest of the staff at NLIHC are supportive and always willing to answers the questions I inevitably have about both housing policy and research methods. To those seeking internships: if you are at all interested in housing, social justice, research or any combination of those subjects, definitely apply to NLIHC. In addition to developing valuable research skills, you will learn more about the intricacies of affordable housing, have the chance to attend meetings and events all around town and of course, you’ll get to work with some great people!

Meet Our Interns: Thaddaeus Elliott

The National Low Income Housing Coalition is fortunate to have great interns every semester and summer. Over the next several weeks, each of our summer interns will share their experiences at the Coalition with you. Think interning with the Coalition might be for you? Learn more here!

My name is Thaddaeus Elliott and I will be a senior this year at Northwestern University majoring in social policy. I served this summer at NLIHC as the policy intern.

My interest in affordable housing was really sparked by attending Northwestern and living in Chicago for the last three years. Through my coursework, my role as the chair of a social justice group on campus, and just my day-to-day experiences walking the streets of Chicago and talking to residents, I have learned that where we live has a tremendous influence over our life outcomes, especially for those with the lowest incomes.

So when it came time to begin the process of searching for a practicum site, I sought out nonprofit advocacy organizations focusing on housing policy. I found NLIHC on and thought the policy intern position would be a perfect fit. I sent in my resume and cover letter right away, and, well, here I am.

As the policy intern, I’ve had a wide range of different experiences that have allowed me to gain a lot of practical knowledge and experience in not just housing policy, but in the legislative process in general. The opportunities I have had to go to Capitol Hill and attend hearings, bill markups and meet with Congressional staffers have shown me all the work that goes into making policy and how many people and interests are really involved in the legislative process.

The most challenging aspect of the internship has been getting a grasp of the ins and outs of housing policy. There are so many programs and regulations that are a bit convoluted, so it is hard to keep them all straight at times. Luckily every intern is provided with a current copy of the Advocates’ Guide, which is an amazing resource to fall back on. I’ve also found that you can always ask a question and have it answered.

For anyone interested in interning at NLIHC: do it! The staff here is truly great and cares about you getting the most out of your time here. Also, take advantage of as many opportunities to get out with the staff to go to conferences, hearings, rallies, lunches, coalition meetings, receptions, Hill visits, what have you. It really adds variety to your weeks and allows you to get your face and name out there while also meeting other people passionate about the issues you care about.

My time here at NLIHC has made me firmly committed to advocating for those with the lowest incomes not only in matters of housing but in any area where class plays a role in access to opportunity. Though I am sad to be leaving, I will take these experiences and seek out avenues to continue working on these issues back at school and wherever I may end up come spring.

Advocates in the Spotlight: Michael Dahl

Many people, from staff and board members to conference attendees and members, work with the Coalition to help us achieve our mission. “Advocates in the Spotlight” celebrates different types of advocates, from people in the field to those behind-the-scenes working in our office every day. We continue this series by interviewing an advocate who has been doing a lot of spotlighting of his own, Michael Dahl of St. Paul, Minnesota.

As part of his “Talk About Home” project, Michael has been interviewing a wide range of pedestrians walking around the Twin Cities about the meaning of home and their response to the extreme levels of homelessness in their state. Videos of the interviews are posted on his website, which he hopes help make affordable housing and ending homelessness major issues during the 2012 election.

Our Communications Project Manager Sarah Brundage recently got Michael to take some time off from interviewing people on the streets of Minnesota, and got him on the other end of the camera to ask him a few questions of her own about his hands-on advocacy work.

The man behind the camera

SB: “Talk about Home” is a really exciting and engaging project. What does advocacy mean to you and how did your personal experience of advocacy inspire this idea?

MD: Advocacy has always been my thing and my drive has been to work on affordable housing issues. My advocacy has also been very drawn to being participatory…. We’re not going to get major change on issues unless we involve the public in a way we’re not doing right now. The reason we’re not doing that is because [we think] housing is so confusing and people won’t understand what we’re talking about. I wanted to put that to test and so I started thinking about what would happen if I went out and interviewed people.

When I started interviewing individuals it was beautiful in some ways; in other ways it was heart wrenching. I just decided to keep that up, and hopefully learn some lessons that I could teach advocates about how to communicate with people about housing in a way that they can understand it.

And while people do talk about housing differently, when they talk about affordable housing and homelessness they have a really good sense of it. People might not use the same words that we use but they know how to make sense of the problem.

SB: We were excited to see that you had used data from NLIHC’s annual Out of Reach report to help introduce this project on your website. You referenced Minnesota’s Housing Wage of $15.50 to show how low-wage workers cannot afford to live in that state. As a long-time affordable housing advocate, what role has Out of Reach has played in your advocacy work?

MD: Ever since I’ve been aware of Out of Reach I’ve been using it, and I’ve been using it a lot. It’s a really simple way to talk to anybody – whether it’s people on the streets, people living in housing or politicians – they understand that someone has to work to afford housing in most cases, and that full-time work often doesn’t pay for what we would consider quality housing.

SB: Unfortunately the state of affordable housing as described by Out of Reach has not improved much over the years. Do the report and the Housing Wage still surprise you?

MD: In some respects it’s what I’ve grown to expect since the numbers haven’t changed dramatically over the past few years. Even though they’re not headed in a good direction, I want to know that we’re not moving the ball forward enough right now, and that we need policies to do that. The Out of Reach report is a really good indicator of, “Are our policies being effective or not?”

The reason we’re not being effective enough isn’t because we don’t know how to do policy or because we don’t have answers or because we haven’t gotten politicians to pay enough attention to what the solutions are so far…. They key to getting politicians to pay attention is to not have just me talking about affordable housing, homelessness and Out of Reach data, it’s to have the public talking about it.

Two or three times a week, Michael “panhandles” for videotaped interviews about the meaning of “home”. While most of those interviewed are from Minnesota, he’s also talked to people from at least a dozen other states as well as visitors from Britain, Venezuela, and Costa Rica.

SB: You have interviewed over 100 individuals already. What would you say is the greatest take-away?

MD: I have people identify what they think about home and do they have particular memories, and it doesn’t matter if the person is well off, has an intact family or is homeless, I’d say 98% of them identify home as something they really love. We have this common good feeling about home, and when I ask people about those memories and I get them to think about the bigger issue they start to think, “What would it be like if I didn’t have this security, that place to go to, if I never cooked with mom, what happened if I lived in a car?” I’ve seen people grappling with the fact that what they have if they’re doing okay right now is not something that a lot of people have and it’s getting worse. And if they’re homeless, they still realize how important stability is, and how they’re not able to get out of their homeless situation because of the lack of stability.

So my advice, my punch line, the thing I want to get to for advocates and politicians that care about housing issues is… we’re still going to have to use the acronyms and the legislative speech in certain circles, but if we want to get the public behind us on a major policy initiative, we need to talk about how people can’t rely on home as a place of safety, as a place to go back to. Those are important things to people and a lot of folks don’t have it.

I hope that we find a way to talk about this in ways that really resonate with the public because as the interviews show, they’re ready to talk about this. They understand it.

Click on the image to watch one of Michael’s favorite interviews featuring Timothy, a man experiencing homelessness who gave an “extremely thoughtful and empathetic interview.”

Watch more interviews at and stay tuned for tips from Michael on how you can start your own “Talk About Home” project locally, coming soon!