Last week at Solutions for Housing Communications, NHC’s annual convening on building support for affordable housing and countering community opposition, we heard from housing communicators from around the country about ways the housing community can tackle today’s communications challenges. Solutions showed us a lot about how far we’ve come as communicators, and about the progress we can still make.
Research-backed messaging is a movement
Friday morning, Michael Anderson of the Housing Trust Fund Project at the Center for Community Change shared what he and his housing and community development colleagues in Portland, Ore., learned in the early 2000s about advocacy messaging: The typical jargon-filled advocacy message about programs simply doesn’t work. Instead, we have to talk about our work using overarching values. As Michael’s presentation showed, this approach has spread, with state and local housing coalitions and campaigns across the country doing their own messaging research and training advocates in values-based messages. The housing campaign wins on Nov. 8 are part of this movement.
There’s more work to do
In spite of the work of state and local groups, and the valuable new research into message backfires presented by Dr. Tiffany Manuel of Enterprise Community Partners, the housing community can still improve our communications practices. Change is never easy, and it’s especially difficult to focus more on values and solutions and less on problems and data when our habits are so ingrained. We also need to push ourselves to have more day-to-day conversations with people whose views differ from ours, whether that difference comes in the form of politics or simply that they do different work. Over the two days of the convening we heard examples of cross-sector conversations and discussions among people across the political spectrum that revealed areas of potential agreement and collaboration. This is an area where we can, and must, do more.
We have what we need to succeed
In her presentation, Ashley Kerr of the Low Income Housing Coalition of Alabamashowed us the universal nature of housing values. Alabama is a conservative, religious state, but the messages that worked to win support for housing funding there were strikingly similar to the messages that worked in Portland, Ore., and other “blue” parts of the U.S. It’s not a matter of partisanship. Americans understand the value of home, and can be convinced to support systemic solutions to housing challenges. We just need to craft messages that truly account for the way people actually understand and process information.
Solutions for Housing Communications was about a lot more than messaging. I hope you get a chance to view the plenary sessions online and check out some of the slide decks we’ve shared on our website.