Data and Politics Combine to Finance Affordable Housing

Citizen Wealth Financial Justice








New Orleans   I’ve been carrying around an article from the housing magazine, Shelterforce, in my bag for a year. I finally noticed it and moved it to my book, where I’ve toted it for a month or more, meaning to do something with it. Originally, I had torn the article out of the magazine to share with the local organizers because it contained an article by a New Orleans reporter about how healthcare facilities and legal aid were partnering in the city. Some kind of kismet though allowed me to find the treasure behind the door where an article on the back page talked about a fascinating strategy for creating and activating a political base for funding affordable housing.

In the scrap of the piece I had saved, Sharon Cornu, the political director of the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California, described the organizing plan she constructed to create an electoral base of tenants to support affordable housing. Here’s her plan in a nutshell:

“…NPH matched a list of subsidized apartment addresses to California’s voter database and then shared targeting lists with property managers. In an off-year municipal election, low-income, senior, veteran, and disabled affordable housing residents voted at nearly the same rate (43.3%) as the general electorate (45.5%).”

Realizing such mobilization could impact elections and create a viable political base of engaged tenants with a vested interest in affordable housing, they build a regional data base in 2016. With some help and technical support, NPH identified 52,000 registered voters living in developments managed by its member affiliates. She goes on to argue that initiatives they were able to support are producing $2 billion in financing for affordable housing.

Her strategy depended on organizing property managers and organizations that owned affordable housing complexes, but it seems to me the general strategy could be adapted by community organizations as well by doing the same database matching between subsidized and affordable housing complexes in any city and voter file addresses to identify tenants for organization, voter registration and GOTV efforts. With or without the managers’ cooperation, site-specific organizing committees could be established to visit other tenants in the complex.

Cornu adds that “reviewing the hard data about the number of registered voters by property revealed opportunities to broaden the electoral base, expand to new locations, and improve existing programs with low rates of registration. Measuring is the first step in identifying how to improve…”

Add her insights about data assemblage and targeting to basic community organizing methodology, and a deep, motivated voting block of tenants is waiting to be organized to demand more affordable housing to meet the crisis in cities around the world.