U.S. Advocacy pilot projects and strategic partnerships -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

U.S. Advocacy pilot projects and strategic partnerships

By Colleen Fitzgerald

While advocacy has always been a part of Habitat’s mission, we have only recently become more intentional about this process of changing systems, policies and attitudes to achieve decent housing for all (HFHI’s advocacy definition). Currently, HFHI is supporting several advocacy pilot projects in the United States in order to build advocacy capacity for other U.S. affiliates and support organizations. The materials created by these initiatives and the lessons learned from the pilot projects will be made available for the benefit of all HFH organizations.

An old African proverb tells us that if you cross the river in a crowd, the crocodile won’t eat you. Three of these U.S. advocacy pilot projects have sought out key partners with whom they are “crossing the river.” Three of these partnerships are highlighted in this article.

Hawaii Habitat for Humanity Association

Although the state of Hawaii is mainly known as a tourist destination with beautiful beaches, a housing crisis exists there as well. The lack of affordable housing options for Hawaiians has strained the resources of the seven Habitat for Humanity affiliates within that state as well as the resources of other housing providers.

In recognition of this problem, the Hawaii Habitat for Humanity Association (a state support organization representing these seven affiliates) has launched an effort to establish a state housing trust fund. Housing trust funds are distinct accounts established by state or local governments that support affordable housing initiatives with a dedicated source of public funds. The proposal, put forth by Hawaii HFH, would create a “self-help” housing trust fund to benefit providers like Habitat and increase the number of affordable homes developed in Hawaii.

In order to create a strong case for this type of housing trust fund, Hawaii HFH knew it could not be the only group advocating for this solution. Hawaii HFH spearheaded the creation of a self-help housing coalition by reaching out to the six other self-help housing programs in Hawaii, many of whom had not collaborated previously. Through public awareness and lobbying efforts, the coalition has secured the introduction of a bill in the Hawaii State Senate that would establish a self-help housing trust fund.

Metro Louisville Habitat for Humanity

Metro Louisville Habitat for Humanity, the affiliate in Louisville, Kentucky, began its effort to establish a local housing trust fund by building on a successful state housing trust fund advocacy campaign. In 2005 the “Open the Door Kentucky” campaign had succeeded in obtaining a dedicated source of revenue for the state housing trust fund; accordingly, the Louisville-located members of this campaign formed the “Open the Door Louisville” effort to create a local housing trust fund.

The efforts of Open the Door Louisville began to pay off on Thursday, February 28, 2008, when an ordinance was introduced in the Louisville City Council to establish a local housing trust fund. Open the Door is continuing to meet with council members to lobby for the passage of this legislation.

Habitat for Humanity St. Louis One of the most collaborative advocacy pilot projects is being led by the affiliate in St. Louis, Missouri. Several years ago, Habitat for Humanity St. Louis joined a key group called the FOCUS St. Louis Affordable Workforce Housing Coalition; other group members included bankers, university professors and community developers. This task force met for nine months and closely examined the issue of affordable housing which led to the publication of a policy report “Affordable Housing for the Region’s Workforce.” One of the solutions identified in the report was inclusionary zoning which is a land-use policy in which local ordinances encourage or require private developers to include a certain percentage of affordable housing in new developments.

Based on this policy report, HFH St. Louis is now advocating for the adoption of inclusionary zoning ordinances in key municipalities in the St. Louis area. However, HFH St. Louis is not alone in this work; in partnership with a subset of the FOCUS St. Louis Affordable Workforce Housing Coalition, it is working across public, private and nonprofit sectors to promote inclusionary zoning as one part of the solution to the affordable housing crisis in St. Louis. More information about their efforts can be found at www.workforcehousingstl.org.

Colleen Fitzgerald has worked for HFHI for more than two years. She began her career with Habitat as associate director of Congress Building America, a program that links members of Congress with Habitat affiliates in their home district. Before coming to Habitat, she worked on Capitol Hill for a U.S. senator. She attended Penn State University where she was involved in the campus chapter of Habitat.

She may be contacted at CFitzgerald@habitat.org.