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Connections, Content, and Community: Solutions for Housing Communications

The National Housing Conference’s annual Solutions for Housing Communications convening is all about connecting with the housing community in order to communicate and discuss top housing issues in new ways. Many of us are aware that the most important aspect of any conference is reuniting with friends and partners; however, this year was unique in that housers from all sectors met in person for the first time in two years. As a newcomer, I was fortunate to witness the group’s special kinship as we gathered on Wednesday, March 30th, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., in anticipation of the convening’s start and our keynote speaker’s arrival.

Marc Morial, President, and CEO of the National Urban League opened the conference with an inspirational and uplifting speech, acknowledging that he was in the presence of a communications “honors class” of housing and finance professionals. He addressed the widespread concern that one of life’s most basic necessities, shelter, is becoming increasingly out of reach for many Americans. He also stated that this is a critical time for this generation to confront the current challenge with “power, passion, ingenuity, and foresight… We must centralize the idea that adequate shelter, as well as access to food, are fundamental human rights.”

Mr. Morial called on us to consider how lucky we are, and how easy it is to ignore the struggle of those around us. “Those of us who have the opportunity to go home every night where the heat works, the water in the shower comes on easily when we want to use it, and we don’t have to sweat at the end of the month whether our debit card or bank account can meet the rent or mortgage obligation, can sometimes take the challenges of millions for granted,” he said.

“You can’t say you’re for the middle class and be silent on housing, you can’t say you’re for families and be silent on housing, you can’t say I want to see racial equity in America and be silent on housing, you can’t say I’m for the health and vitality of America’s cities, suburbs, and rural areas and be silent on housing,” he said. He urged housers in both the public and private sectors to “move in unison,” to find common ground, and to press leaders to act with “force, urgency, and compassion.”

From our National Press Club studio audience to our offsite television viewing audience, there was engagement, inspiration, and, as Mr. Morial noted, an incredible amount of fortitude in the pursuit of the American Dream for all. This year’s gathering exemplifies how coming together in person and online this year was not only anticipated but also healing.

Here are some more highlights from this year’s annual Solutions for Housing Communications conference.

Following Marc Morial’s remarks, a panel, Combating NIMBYism featured Matthew Lewis (California YIMBY), Jenny Schuetz (Brookings Metro), and Matthew Taylor. Moderator Laura Grannemann (Rocket Community Fund) assisted in elucidating the various attitudes that can lead to anti-housing stances and how housers can combat them at the local, state, and federal levels.

During the Interactive Luncheon, NHC Board of Governors member Ali Solis (S3 Advisory Solutions) and journalist and blogger Matthew Yglesias (Slow Boring) took the stage to discuss how housers can maximize our media impact. Yglesias argued that in order to persuade more people of the importance of our issue, housers should adopt new frames. Most importantly, he said, our industry should emphasize the link between housing and national security: a stagnant, anti-growth America will lose its dynamism and become increasingly outcompeted on the global stage.

Angie Garcia Lathrop (Bank of America) moderated the first afternoon panel discussion, Promoting Homeownership in Communities of Color. Panelists Lot Diaz (UnidosUS), Marcia Griffin (HomeFreeUSA), and Gisele Roget (Overbrook Square Group) discussed how to move the millions of mortgage-ready families of color who are currently renting into homeownership, based on research that has informed the work of the Black Homeownership Collaborative. Griffin emphasized the importance of relatable, positive messaging when communicating with these families; people of color are already aware of the housing market problems they face, she said. What prospective homeowners need to hear are the reasons why purchasing a home would be beneficial to them, as well as why it is a wise and secure investment for the future.

Following this panel, I joined Anne Kat Alexander of Eviction Lab, Chris Ptomey of the Urban Land Institute, and moderator Mercedeh Mortazavi of JPMorgan Chase for a discussion on Making Data Digestible. Considering how housing organizations that maintain databases on housing issues, such as NHC’s Paycheck to Paycheck tool, can make that data available to housers on the ground. I talked about how NHC plans to expand Paycheck to Paycheck’s reach so that more members of local government and journalists can use it, and I heard about similar efforts at my fellow panelists’ organizations.

The grand finale was our last panel, Best Practices in ERAP and HAF Implementation, moderated by Eileen Fitzgerald (Wells Fargo) and panelists Llewellyn Anderson (Virginia Housing), Meg Burns (Housing Policy Council), and Jennifer Schwartz (Wells Fargo) (National Council of State Housing Agencies). These panelists and moderators are from the NHC neighborhood, as NHC President and CEO David Dworkin stated in his closing remarks. They are some of the people with whom NHC has worked most closely over the years, helping to build the houser community and move the mission forward. It was fascinating to hear them delve into the weeds of lessons learned, and as one houser put it, “It was so great to be back, and I can’t wait for next year.”

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