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Changing the trajectory by changing the message

Uncertainty and change. These have been the watchwords in Washington, D.C. since the November election and somewhat naturally go together. Change typically brings some degree of uncertainty. A new presidential administration and a new one-party majority in the White House and Congress are always going to bring change. This administration’s nontraditional background brought more than the usual uncertainty to who would be appointed and how affordable housing and community development policy would be perceived.

Some things are certain, however. We know that the Trump administration has proposed deep cuts to housing programs that would reduce the number of people receiving housing assistance, increase homelessness and worsen the shortage of affordable rental housing that is still mostly silent in terms of political prioritization. While these proposed cuts have served to rally the field across the spectrum of homelessness, multifamily housing, homeownership and community development broadly, we expect that President Trump’s budget will not be implemented as proposed.

What I am less certain about is whether we all recognize how our advocacy and education efforts must change if we are to position housing as a politically popular bipartisan issue at the federal level. While I have been really pleased with the efforts by many groups and campaigns to talk about the whole housing continuum rather than just a specific priority, I don’t think we have really moved beyond a “program and problem focus” for our advocacy. Our advocacy often still centers on the magnitude of the problems our communities face, versus conveying more of the value, success and impact of housing solutions for people and places.

One area of hope and guidance is the success of many communities across the country in adopting new funding for affordable housing development locally. As someone who worked at the local and state levels for 20 years before coming to D.C., I know that state and local organizations have long been investing in new messaging and framing around values and impact. It has been interesting to watch some of this trickle up to national-level discussions, where the concepts feel new, and to see folks struggle with how to incorporate new messaging practices into advocacy and education efforts without falling back on old strategies.

At NHC we’ve worked for more than five years on identifying, distilling and creating resources on how the housing community can improve our efforts to more effectively build support at all levels of government. This is why our Annual Budget Forum focused on how folks are making the case for housing programs in this new political and budgetary environment, rather than focusing on the proposed budget cuts themselves.

This is also why we convene Solutions for Housing Communications each year. This annual event is targeted directly at how to overcome local opposition to affordable housing development in your community. We know that neighborhoods are where housing is built and where it visibly impacts lives. While Solutions provides practical tools for overcoming local opposition, it also provides guidance for how we can adapt these strategies to our state legislative and congressional educations efforts.

If you missed our Annual Budget Forum, I hope you’ll take time to view the recording. I also hope you’ll register for our Solutions for Housing Communications convening in Minneapolis April 27-28. You can get a 10 percent discount on registration using code “save10” now through April 7.

NHC will continue to work to be a resource for the field on messaging and on improved coordination and collaboration among national organizations, networks and campaigns. There is still much we must do together to change the trajectory of political support for our work over the long run as we stave off harmful reductions to vital resources today.

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