NHPF Industry Report: Battling Hypocrisy to Build Popular Support for Affordable Housing
NHPF Industry Report
Battling Hypocrisy to Build Popular Support for Affordable Housing
R ecently, two high-profile names, the comedian Dave Chappelle and the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, were quoted expressing their opposition to affordable housing coming to their respective neighborhoods. Interestingly, Chappelle countered the reporting by saying he opposed this particular development, not affordable housing per se and Andreessen has been quoted expressing a need for “regular people to move in” to neighborhoods. Just not his. That is the crux of this report: What will it take to make Americans more comfortable with different types of housing—and people—in “their towns?” We’ve learned that when we say affordable housing, we hear opportunity and advantages for all, when others hear affordable housing they hear barriers, obstacles, or illusions. In this report we are looking at what people are hearing and how we can improve what we are saying, so that affordable housing continues to be part of communities everywhere.
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NHPF Industry Report
The NHP Foundation (NHPF) not-for-profit providers of affordable housing, recently completed surveys of two groups: 1. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) providing services in the housing space conducted in partnership with E-Consult Solutions, Inc. which helps businesses and policymakers better understand and serve their communities, markets, and customers nationwide.
2. The general population via a national survey conducted by Toluna, providers of agile consumer behavior tracking data.
NHPF sought opinions on the best ways to gain support for creating enough housing for those who are “one paycheck away” from homelessness as well as “those experiencing homelessness” (54% of respondents selected this term as most accurate to describe people without housing). This report is an amalgam of these results plus case study examples from four affordable housing pros, representing different regions of the U.S., who have successfully overcome hurdles to achieve public support for their endeavors. In-depth interviews with professionals working for housing NGOs and representing 26 U.S. states, found that: “Places that are predominantly liberal or progressive do not necessarily have more YIMBYs (Yes In My Backyard) rather, people may support the idea of building affordable housing (and are often comfortable raising taxes to do so), as long as the housing is not located in their own neighborhoods.” This belief is bolstered in the general population study which found that less than half [44%] of Americans reported feeling “comfortable” about affordable housing coming to their community.
Should “Affordable Housing be a Human Right?”
Let us begin with the definition of affordable housing that the general population agrees upon per our questioning, and how the population feels about “housing as a human right,” a framing that our NGO survey showed, has mixed results in “real life” usage. • 63% of those queried define affordable housing as “rental apartments and single- family houses that a household can pay for, while still having money left over for other necessities like food, transportation, and health care” • 89% of Americans surveyed believe unconditionally that “housing is a human right”
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NHPF Industry Report
Based on the above, “affordable housing” is for everyone! But, dig deeper and the hypocrisy starts to show.
• 40% of the public surveyed have reservations about the statement “housing should be a human right” • Of that group, 47% feel that making housing a human right “may cost me money” or “take resources from me, my business or my family” • Many could not be convinced that homelessness is a business problem with economic impact for all (47% ranked this response as the least likely to convince them of the need to guarantee housing)
What more needs to be done to tackle this kind of public response?
According to Executive Director of the US Interagency Council on Homelessness, Jeff Olivet, ending homelessness starts with “pairing an increase in housing with an upstream [homelessness] prevention strategy.” Almost 900,000 people a year exit homelessness through programs that work. Yet 900,000 more fall into it. The soon-to-be-released Biden-Harris administration’s federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness starts with how to stem the tide of people moving into homelessness, particularly looking at critical transitions such as when young people age out of foster care. Research suggests that 9 out of 10 of those aging out of the system into homelessness are youth of color, about 50% identify as LGBTQ. The government will include a prevention strategy in the upcoming plan, that is also a racial equity strategy and includes supports for LGBTQ young people at a crucial moment in their lives. The government and those in the housing and service provision world need to do the same thing transitioning people from jail and prison back into the community and those transitioning from military service back into civilian life. According to Olivet, “We've got to do better at these critical moments of transition so that people don't become homeless in the first place.”
Jon Searles, Community and Economic
Development Officer, Wisconsin Housing
and Economic Development
Authority (WHEDA), has seen positive results by focusing on the “real people” who would be living in an affordable
apartment community: retail workers, teachers, police officers, nurses, etc. through a campaign including ads, personal outreach, and media relations. This effective messaging resonated positively with the community and helped the development move forward.
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NHPF Industry Report
Although the majority of the 500+ general population survey respondents believe unconditionally that housing is a human right, there is dissent. • Less than half, 47%, of the general population support affordable housing that will benefit seniors, veterans and families • 62% of all respondents found that the statement “Stable affordable housing reduces crime and other societal ills including drug abuse and domestic violence” is most likely to convince them that affordable housing should be guaranteed for all •However, some survey takers wrote in that those who are perceived as “not working when they should,” or who “choose to do nothing but drugs” ought not receive the same support • 37% of those surveyed found that “what they see on the streets” [in terms of homelessness] resonated most strongly in terms of encouraging support for affordable housing
A Novel Approach to “What We See on the Streets”
Of the general population respondents to the NHPF survey who measure “what they see on the streets” as their primary barometer for affordable housing need, these participants are typically picturing permanent housing of some kind as the solution.
However, Brian Rossbert, Executive Director, Housing Colorado, took the negative connotation of what respondents see on the streets in terms of homelessness and created a positive. When it became apparent that
affordable housing output was not going to catch up to the number of unhoused Coloradans (particularly during the Pandemic), Rossbert and team hit on the novel solution of creating a “Safe Outdoor Space” via an organized tented community—that actually thrived due to positive public support. Housing Colorado overcame opposition via vigorous community engagement, involvement with RNOs (Registered Neighborhood Organizations), and near constant demonstrations of positive results via a website, video, and press coverage. (81% of NGOs surveyed and roughly a third of the general population rank local press coverage as the most effective communication vehicle to build popular support for affordable housing). NGO representatives in the NHPF study agree that in general, “it is easier to build popular support for affordable (or supportive) housing when the target demographic includes
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NHPF Industry Report
veterans or older adults. It is more challenging when residents are people who have substance use disorders, experience untreated mental illness, or are returning citizens.” However, additional collected wisdom from our NGO survey touts the steps below as critical to gaining popular support to create housing for even the most challenging residents: • Providing affordable housing tours • Promoting follow-up stories on residents who used to be homeless (or on the edge of being homeless) but are now active contributors to a community • Connecting people with affordable housing residents • Using messaging that humanizes the people who are being served, is more positive than negative, and demystifies the affordable housing development with statistics and facts
Add in “work with religious
institutions” to the above protocol and you will have the successful formula presenter Eva Thibaudeau, Chief Executive Officer, Temenos Partners CDC in Houston has followed. Her organization rallied
with support from a faith-based partner, the community, and officials to complete the construction and preservation of Temenos Place Apartments, which is exclusively supportive housing for those in crisis from addiction issues, returning from incarceration or experiencing untreated mental illness.
Who Makes Housing Happen?
Which stakeholders are most responsible for making affordable housing happen? More than 80% of NGO survey participants consider local elected officials very effective or most effective as a stakeholder, compared to 57% who think the same for state elected officials. 68% of respondents in the general population believe local elected officials should “create partnerships with funding sources, onsite resident services providers and others.” Interestingly only 38% of survey participants believe it is local government’s role to tackle zoning changes, often crucial to the creation of more affordable housing. This presents an opportunity for civic education. Other highly effective stakeholders according to the NGO study, include community leaders (83%), community nonprofits, and local coalitions of community organizations (both at 76%). On the public side of the survey, we found no consensus on who is most effective in ensuring creation of affordable housing, although 29% believe it is federal-level housing programs.
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NHPF Industry Report
Arlo Chase, Sr. Vice President: Real Estate & Property Development, of New York City’s S:US (Services for the Underserved) faced an uphill battle with a recent supportive housing project. In a city where land is scarce and red
tape is everywhere, changing trenchant local zoning laws to permit S:US to build required herculean efforts with local and state officials as well as community-based organizations. S:US prevailed, creating over 600 units of supportive and affordable housing in the heart of the Bronx. While these success stories are inspiring, there are countless other tales of affordable housing that goes unbuilt due to government obstacles or the public’s lack of appetite for building in their “backyards.” A bright spot though can be found in creating messaging for two demographic groups poised to help head off hypocrisy in affordable housing creation.
Women and Generation Z
Women are far more likely than men to believe unconditionally in affordable housing as a human right (65% vs. 53%) and may be best positioned to do something about it. Current data reports that 56% of the American workforce is female; in every U.S. presidential election dating back to 1984, women have turned out to vote at slightly higher rates than men (2020 Census Bureau); women now control some $10 trillion in U.S. financial assets; and according to a Bank of America study, women make 90% of household financial decisions including investment and philanthropic decisions. 39% of women in the NHPF study rank “meeting with residents of affordable housing” to understand their stories as one of the “most effective” ways to encourage their support for affordable housing, along with hearing success stories of residents who have overcome homelessness, and studies showing the costs of affordable housing (vs. the costs of homelessness). These statistics point to a prime opportunity to gain more support, and counter less NIMBYism (Not In My Backyard) from this group. The same potential exists with Generation Z. Interestingly, although 38% of Americans ages 18–25 have the highest concern about having to fund affordable housing, they may also be more easily enticed to support it. Recent reporting shows that young donors have a passion for activism and donating to causes that support human rights and social issues. The NHPF study shows that 33% of this group are most encouraged to support affordable housing based on “society benefiting due to decreased poverty and crime and economic opportunity arising as a result.” This group could also become more engaged
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NHPF Industry Report
by exposure to increased education and better use of language as they were the largest percentage to define “affordable housing” as “the projects” (37%). Not surprisingly, those ages 18–25 ranked use of social media as the most effective way to encourage their support for affordable housing with 1 in 3 ranking such platforms as their top choice. According to recent research, 67% of respondents rank TikTok as their number one social media platform. This medium represents tremendous opportunity to get fresh housing messages to this population.
Here are the following recommendations to take away from this reporting and put into action to achieve the above. We preface these recommendations with this: Although it may be impossible to obtain 100% support for an affordable housing concept in a community, and some opponents will never change their minds, its the courage to continue that counts!
HEAR the needs and wants of the affected community OFFER existing success and educate about positive change potential
Listen to community affordable housing concerns, work to resolve potential conflicts, and make compromises or adjustments based on community input.
Demonstrate affordable housing success, connect existing residents with community members to help build trust with the community. Use local press coverage to show off project victories and educate audiences. To all policy-makers, advocacy groups, people experiencing homelessness, community members, etc., speak your audience’s language to make your messages clearer and more effective. Organizations that work towards affordable housing can bring you more diverse perspectives, opportunities to connect with stakeholders, and build meaningful, strategic relationships. And use their tools! Americans ages 18 to 29 stand out in that the most common digital way they get news is social media, particularly TikTok, with 42% saying they get news this way often. Women want to learn about affordable housing by meeting residents of such housing, learning of residents who have overcome homelessness, and hearing studies showing the cost benefits of affordable housing. Tailor outreach, including news stories, specifically to women. Supportive services that are built into affordable housing programs improve not just the living experience, but also the physical and mental health benefits for people experiencing homelessness.
UNDERSTAND different types of audiences
SEEK alliances and policies that strengthen the case
INFLUENCE and engage the next generation
NURTURE relationships with women
GATHER support services
NHPF has long espoused the credo “more than just a roof,” demonstrating that successful affordable housing is more than financing, bricks, and mortar. It will take concerted efforts by those in—and outside of—the affordable housing ecosphere to tear down silos and overcome barriers, to operate more fully in individual communities, hear what is needed, and create the relationships that help fulfill promises. Collective hard work combined with strong support earned from elected officials, community groups, local businesses, and individuals can bring important projects to fruition.
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