On Monday, NHC joined many other housing and civil rights groups to organize a regional convening in Chicago to bring community development and fair housing legal advocates together with other affordable housing supporters. The meeting drew over 150 participants to discussions of the parallel strategies of building more opportunity by investing in distressed communities and opening pathways to opportunity in communities with greater existing opportunities. Lisa Sturtevant from NHC’s Center for Housing Policy kicked off the day with a moderated panel on national and regional trends. In my closing remarks, I highlighted three themes that emerged during the day: inclusion, unity, and trust.
Inclusion is the core value that brought us all together. Inclusive communities provide opportunity to all, either by welcoming new members to existing opportunity or by creating more opportunities in place, so that people are not, in effect, trapped or isolated. Building inclusivity, however, requires difficult conversations about race, income disparity, disability, national origin, sexual orientation, and other cleavages that divide us.
Unity is what we must achieve to win victories for affordable housing. If we spent most of our effort fighting for more resources for affordable housing rather than trying to divide up the limited resources currently available, we could relieve much of the pressure we are under. It is a telling reminder that a recent amendment to the THUD appropriations bill that would have prohibited HUD from using 2015 appropriations to implement the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule failed by only 6 votes (and not entirely on party lines). We must all pull together to support affordable housing to have much hope of overcoming opposition.
Trust is essential to achieving fair housing outcomes. We must build more trust between HUD and state and local governments, who from past experiences worry about enforcement actions that can go awry. We must build more trust between legal advocates and housing developers, so that focus on particular tactical moves does not overwhelm broader strategy. We must build more trust in affluent communities that affordable housing will enhance, not disrupt, their neighborhoods. And we must build more trust in distressed communities to overcome a history littered with broken promises of better times and new development to come. Trust-building is slow, but we must embrace it consciously and forthrightly to have a hope of succeeding.
As NHC’s CEO Chris Estes often says, we in affordable housing must think of ourselves as a movement, not just an industry or a legal strategy. A movement inspires people to action, such as building and preserving affordable homes, organizing to build community support, or pursuing legal and administrative remedies. A movement also brings change, be it new policies, changes in political leadership, and ultimately in the hearts and minds of people. As an industry, we are a small one at best, but as a movement we can be strong.