Addressing Affordable Housing Communications Challenges

Legislation | February 03, 2017 | by Colleen Bloom

Language affects efforts to combat NIMBYism and other affordable housing communications challenges.  Here's how to become a more effective communicator.

Combating NIMBYism and Other Affordable Housing Communications Challenges

According to a recent report from a group of researchers and affordable housing proponentx, the affordable housing movement across the U.S. has had tremendous success in creating understanding of the affordable housing challenges our communities face, and in growing support for the actions government can take to solve the problem. Despite this success, the public discussion of affordable housing seems to get stuck when housers try to get both the public and policymakers to understand the vital role affordable housing plays in our lives.

Broadening public thinking on housing issues, increasing support for necessary policies, and sparking action and engagement is more challenging than ever before, say the researchers. To see the connection between housing, equity, and inclusive communities, and to advocate for a progressive agenda to establish programs that promote equity and inclusion, they explain that advocates must first understand why current messages are failing and backfiring.

FrameWorks teamed up with Enterprise Community Partners to think about how advocates’ messages affect public thinking.  This paper, "You Don't Have to Live Here:" Why Housing Messages Are Backfiring and 10 Things We Can Do About It" (2016) lays out the challenges that advocates face and uses new research conducted by the FrameWorks Institute to put forward evidence-based messaging recommendations that can be used to advance a strong affordable housing and community development agenda. Their goal is to equip housing and community development advocates with evidence about which messages work (and which don’t) as well as to use communications to expand the public discourse on housing issues—ostensibly paving the way for real and lasting systems change.

NHC, Enterprise Community Partners and the FrameWorks Institute also conducted a webinar discussion of housing messaging pitfalls and simple things housers can do to advocate more effectively and build support for affordable housing. 

The webinar presentation explained that, while statistics show issues of housing insecurity are rising rapidly, using these recommended 10 steps is critical to getting that message across in impactful ways.

1.   Balance people, places, systems
2.   Explain how systems shape outcomes
3.   Tell the story of US
4.   Powerfully connect housing to community issues
5.   Connect cause & effect of housing insecurity
6.   Where you live affects you
7.   Future orientation
8.   Focus on solutions/what works
9.   Avoid the term “housing”
10. Widen the range of visible stakeholders

Number nine is certainly surprising and challenging.   How does one talk about housing without using the word “housing” ?   But point 4 emphasizes that need that the issue not appear in isolation, stating that researchers found that too often that housing issues appear in the paper only when it’s about housing. But recommend instead the need to ensure that housing implications are included in the story/agenda when other issues are going on that have connections.

Presenters also discussed the challenge in using individual stories is conveying how that implicates others and communities around the conversation to see their stake in the success, as well as in the process.

Read the report. Access the webinar recording and slides