At Solutions for Housing Communications last week, housers from 28 states and Canada joined us in New York to learn and discuss ways to build support for affordable housing and counter community opposition. I was impressed with the quality of discussion and the insights both our speakers and guests brought to the event. Here are a few of my take-aways:
- Be unprepared. Many developers have the greatest success in building support when they begin the conversation in the community without a detailed plan in place. It’s harder for community members to trust a developer’s willingness to hear their concerns and work with them when the big decisions have already been made.
- It takes a village. Affordable housing developers can’t address all concerns on their own, and community meetings aren’t the only path to building support. Similar to our policy advocacy efforts, we have the best chance of succeeding when we build relationships outside of housing, cultivate supporters from the broader community and grow support for our developments among key elected officials.
- We may get the development done, but we might not be creating community. It’s tempting to find ways to just push developments through. But when that happens, the receiving community may not ever truly accept the new development and its residents. This sets the stage for continued conflict and makes it more difficult for the next affordable development to gain support.
- The law is an option. Sometimes, good communications, organizing and strategy can build the support necessary to move an affordable development forward. But when all reasonable concerns have been addressed, and the opposition is as strong as ever, it may be time bring in a civil rights attorney. Federal fair housing laws can provide significant protection to affordable housing development, as can local laws. Simply making local elected officials and members of the public aware of the laws can provide leverage.
- Our communication needs to change. In our final plenary, we learned that while the housing community engages in some good communications practices, we have improvements to make, particularly in providing more and better explanations of the structural problems were trying to solve, and in using metaphors to make those explanations come alive. Many state groups are leading the way on this, and housers, particularly those of us working at the national level, should take note.
If you missed this convening, you can still view all the plenary sessions online (where presentations will be posted soon). And I hope you’ll join us to continue the conversation in Minneapolis April 27-28 for Solutions for Housing Communications 2017.