A reflection after our Local Progress Housing Convening in Durham, North Carolina
October 21, 2019
There is a simple truth that connects every person in all of our cities, counties, towns, and villages across the country: everyone needs a safe place to call home. Having a home to raise their families, enjoy their leisure time, and rest their heads at night. But for far too many, this vision of home isn’t accessible, affordable, or in many cases, available at all.
Housing is too often treated as a commodity, to be bundled and packaged into financial securities. But we know that real safety begins with a safe place to lay your head down at night, and when coupled with holistic health services and treatment, access to education, healthy food, and quality jobs, we can begin to achieve equity in our localities.
In the absence of federal leadership, it is local leaders like all of us who are at the forefront of ensuring everyone has access to this fundamental need.
With all this in mind, we gathered in Durham, North Carolina for the first Local Progress Housing Convening. Our two days together were outstanding. We had nearly 50 Local Progress members from Spokane, WA, and Berkeley, CA, to Portland, ME, Austin, TX, and dozens of localities in between.
We took on challenging conversations about how we often find ourselves in the crossfire of local fights on zoning and development, how we work to navigate and address the tensions, pressures, and challenges directly experienced by neighborhood residents. We discussed the need to produce new affordable housing and preserve existing homes, address a shortage of supply, and to confront exclusionary zoning; so we are willing to weather opposition and push for smart and inclusive (where we can, even redistributive) growth. And we discussed the need to pair growth with much stronger, durable protections for existing tenants and homeowners to combat evictions and displacement.
We were warmly welcomed to Durham, NC by LP board member and Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson, Mayor Steve Schewel, Councilmember Vernetta Alston. They gave us insight into their approach in ensuring that Durham provides homes for all – and their effort to proactively protect low-income communities and communities of color from displacement in the midst of growth. They also showed us how they’re ensuring their budget reflects their values – they plan to invest $165 million in affordable housing over 5 years, a real investment that puts public housing and combating homelessness at the top of their list of priorities.
Beyond the tensions of growth, we also had robust discussions about using our power to win strong protections against rent hikes and evictions so that tenants can remain in their homes. Not all state political climates are created equal, so we had conversations about strategies to confront state interference in housing policy, as well as new innovative policy ideas to explore.
We also talked at length about building strong inside-outside coalitions, such as in Portland Commissioner Chloe Eudaly’s efforts around tenant screening and Minneapolis Councilmember Jeremiah Ellison’s work with his colleagues to ensure equity was centered in their 2040 comprehensive plan.
On a broader level, we also talked about how we can take advantage of the current political moment: a presidential contest in which candidates and members of Congress are beginning to talk about housing as a right. We identified specific federal interventions in which LP members can weigh in on policy and help shape the federal approach to most directly support our local work.
Leaving Durham, our vision is straightforward but powerful. We want our localities to be leaders at the forefront of redefining what it means to have an affordable, dignified home. We believe it’s the bedrock to making communities safe and giving communities of color the freedom to thrive. Our role as elected officials is to ensure that growth has a conscience – that it advances our values and happens with our community at the center.
Over the next year, we are committed to growing LP’s housing work across a number of fronts we discussed at the convening. Here’s the first: we are launching a cohort for members in mid-size cities to receive technical assistance and develop a community of practice.
Lastly, we would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the leadership of our housing steering committee, which includes Councilmember Rysheema Dixon (Wilmington, DE), Councilmember Elissa Silverman (Washington, DC), Councilmember Vernetta Alston (Durham, NC), Councilmember Kate Burke (Spokane, WA), and Councilmember Canek Aguirre (Alexandria, VA). They helped to design a convening that would benefit members from all types of jurisdictions.
We look forward to continuing our work together on housing and we’ll keep you updated on upcoming member programming to support you in your jurisdictions.