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.

Advocates in the Spotlight: Sakara Remmu

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 Sakara Remmu of the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, an NLIHC state coalition partner. With a long history of advocacy work and independent reporting and blogging, Sakara Remmu now leads the Voter Engagement Plan for the Housing Alliance as their Outreach and Mobilization Manager.

You have worked on a wide range of social issues such as race and youth gun and gang violence. How has your advocacy work shaped your life, or vice versa? And as an advocate, why is housing an important issue for you?

Professionally I have worked at many different levels of advocacy.  Personally, I have focused on issues impacting communities of color in the greater Seattle area, to shed light primarily on education and public safety disparities, particularly youth, gun and gang violence.

I love working for and with nonprofits, and I enjoy all that comes with working for a state-wide advocacy organization. When the opportunity to join the Housing Alliance came up, I didn’t hesitate. I’ve had my own experiences with homelessness and housing insecurity, and have seen the impact of policy decisions and budget cuts in my communities.  Washington state is recovering from the economic crisis at a rate slower than that of the majority of the country, and working families are being squeezed from every direction. Stable, healthy housing in a safe community should be a given for everyone. Being able to put my passion, expertise and energy behind such a critical issue, and for such a highly respected organization- that’s a dream job. Having said all of that, I think for me, ultimately, it isn’t necessarily advocacy work that has shaped my life, but my life that has shaped my advocacy work.

Blogs have emerged as a powerful platform for advocates to voice their opinions and to educate and empower others, and your popular blog Sable Verity did just that. What tips do you have for successful advocacy both for blogging and with other social media platforms?

Blogging is a surprisingly controversial aspect of community journalism. Just the term “blogging” makes some people sigh and roll their eyes. There are a lot of questions about ethics and journalistic integrity; is what is written opinion, or is it fact? If you want to be a respected voice, you have to know the issue- not just what your opinion of it is. You need to know how to message the issue in a way that is impactful.  I started the blog during the 2008 presidential campaign. I was frustrated about the superficial examination of the impact of race in the election, and in the country. I wanted to lend a more pointed perspective. So I was writing about the same things others were, but I was saying things that weren’t otherwise being said.  After the election I started taking on more community-based issues. Blogging morphed into a locally syndicated column in print, and then social commentary and featured stories for a local radio station.  I only had those opportunities because I made sure I knew the issues I was talking and writing about. And I had great mentors. So, know the issue, learn from others, and study your [social media] platform.  And also, know your limits. I put an incredible amount of time into writing and radio, and am very proud of what I was able to accomplish, but prior to joining the Housing Alliance a few months ago, I chose to stop that work. It was a hard decision but I don’t regret it.

You lead the voter engagement project at the Housing Alliance. Why is Voterization especially important for housing advocates?

As an organization, we work tirelessly for policy that supports affordable housing and an end to homelessness. But as I said earlier, Washington is slow to recover from the economic downturn. $10.5 billion has been cut from the budget. Those aren’t just arbitrary line items in a budget. Those dollars represent the quality of our communities, and whether or not people have enough to eat, whether working parents can afford to take their kids to the doctor, and whether those kids are getting a comprehensive education. Those dollars also represent cuts to the homelessness and affordable housing services. Bottom line, with our state’s current tax structure, there aren’t enough dollars to go around. Some lawmakers pay less attention to communities that do not have active voters, and historically, that includes people living in affordable housing, or who are experiencing homelessness.  We have to turn that tide. Empowering and engaging people who otherwise aren’t encouraged to participate in voting, strengthens our collective voice.

With so many projects, your advocacy work must keep you very busy so thank you for taking the time to talk with us! One last question: would you share with us what a day in the life of Sakara is like?

Oh boy. Tough question. My morning routine is…routine.  I enjoy going to work every day, but I am not a morning person.  I’m guilty of hitting the snooze button a couple times, but even then I wake up early because I like to have some time to catch up on the news, and it’s almost the only time the house is silent. After that, the focus is on getting kids up and out the door with everything they need.

I manage the Housing Alliance’s Outreach and Mobilization team, which means I’m responsible for my own work load, and also for guiding, managing and supporting the work of others. Meeting with members, connecting with community partners, developing program materials or meeting with funders- it’s a never-ending process and every day is a deadline. Working for the Housing Alliance is like the extreme sport of advocacy and epitomizes the term “multitasking.”

Whenever possible, I leave work at work at the end of the day.  That can be a mental challenge because there’s always “just one more” thing I could do.  I’m sure everyone can relate to that! But part of what is important to me, and something the Housing Alliance values as well, is work-life balance. So every day I practice not thinking about work, and hanging out with family.  Easier said than done, but so rewarding!

This interview has been condensed and edited.

NLIHC Fall Webinars Engage Residents and Advocates

Update: These webinars have passed, but slides and other materials are available. Download the materials from the Engaging Residents in Voter Activities webinar from this page. Download materials from the webinar on the Rental Assistance Demonstration from this page.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition has two great webinars coming up next week that will provide important information for residents, tenants, and low income housing advocates.

The first webinar, on Monday, September 17 at 4 pm ET, “Engaging Low Income Residents in Voter Activities,” features three panelists who will help nonprofit organizations, resident groups and resident leaders learn how to register, educate and mobilize low income voters for the November 6 election and beyond.

As discussed in the Winter 2011 issue of Tenant Talk voter turnout among traditionally underrepresented voters- minorities, renters and young people- increased in the 2008 presidential election, but there is still room for improvement. Register for our webinar and learn how to help drive voter turnout and strengthen American democracy.

The second webinar, on Tuesday, September 18 at 4 pm ET, is called “Rental Assistance Demonstration: What Residents and Advocates Need to Know Now.” The Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) will allow a limited number of public housing agencies (PHAs) to apply to convert public housing units to long-term Project-Based Section 8 units. Public housing residents and advocates can- and should- engage with PHAs to ensure the best possible outcomes from RAD. This webinar will feature guest speakers from HUD, who will explain how RAD will work. NLIHC’s own Ed Gramlich will explain why it’s so important for residents to be part of the RAD application process, and lay out simple steps to get involved. We encourage all public housing residents, resident group members and leaders, and interested advocates to register for this webinar.

We’re strong believers in the need for constituent advocates to hold leaders accountable for meeting the housing needs of low income people. Webinars like these are one way we empower advocacy. If you’ve got an idea for a webinar, let us know in the comments.

Summer Issue of Tenant Talk Focuses on Resident Action

The Summer 2012 issue of Tenant Talk went in the mail to subscribers last week. In this issue, we focus on real ways residents and tenants can get organized and take action in our communities. Naturally, we encourage everyone to get registered to vote, be informed about the issues and vote. Vote411, one of our favorite voting resources provided by the League of Women Voters, gets prominent mention as the place to go for information on voter registration, finding your polling place and more.

We also profile the creative and successful Resident Intern Program run by Charlottesville’s Public Housing Association of Residents. Resident interns learn and practice real organizing skills, creating lasting change in their communities while developing vital leadership skills of their own.

Finally, Tenant Talk presents a graduate student’s study of tenant organizing models from around the country. We talked to Emily Goldstein of Tenants and Neighbors, an NLIHC state partner and subject of the study, about the strategies they use as a successful, tenant-led organization.

To read the summer issue of Tenant Talk, download a copy online, or contact outreach@nlihc.org to receive a printed copy by mail.