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Philanthropy is Key to Advocacy and Policy Wins in 2018, But More Work is Ahead

Over the past year, we have seen new proposals that threaten to further reduce access to affordable housing for the lowest income people, including austere budgets and cuts to housing benefits that help struggling families make ends meet. However, with the support of philanthropy, advocates across the country have been able to push back against these harmful plans. This partnership – between philanthropy and skilled advocacy – resulted in major victories. Sarah Mickelson, Senior Director of Policy at the National Low Income Housing Coalition outlines the affordable housing "wins" and what we can expect in the coming months.

The first major success of 2018 was a $4.7 billion increase to HUD’s budget for fiscal year (FY) 2018 – a 10% increase from FY 2017. Although President Donald Trump’s budget proposal included drastic cuts to housing and community development programs, Congress listened to advocates and boosted funding. These additional resources provided new vouchers to veterans and people with disabilities, funds to repair and operate public housing, and targeted assistance for addressing youth homelessness. Robust funding for HUD and USDA Rural Housing programs is crucial for ensuring the lowest income people have access to safe, decent, and affordable housing.

Advocates also had major victories when pushing against proposals that would cut housing benefits for the lowest income people. Three proposals –from the Trump administration, Representative Mike Turner (R-OH), and Representative Dennis Ross (R-FL) – put vulnerable populations at higher risk of homelessness by imposing work requirements, de-facto time limits, and rent increases. Through calls to action, tweet storms, lobby day visits, and more, advocates let Congress know that housing benefits should be expanded – not slashed – to ensure the lowest income people have access to safe, decent, and affordable housing. As a result of this advocacy, neither the proposal from the Trump administration nor Representative Ross’s proposals were formally introduced. Although Representative Turner’s bill did pass out of committee, many Representatives retracted their support, and the bill is not likely to come to a vote during the current lame duck session.

Several members of Congress have also answered advocates’ calls for increased affordable housing with bold new bills. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Dean Heller (R-NV) introduced renters’ tax credits that would provide relief to cost-burdened households. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced an expansive bill designed to end homelessness and housing poverty by increasing the supply of affordable housing through the national Housing Trust Fund, among other provisions. These bills are promising new plans that we hope to see reintroduced and supported during the new congress.

Philanthropy helps make these victories possible.

What’s Coming Up

While these 2018 victories are encouraging, more work lies ahead. The FY 2019 bill has not yet been finalized and the harmful budget caps required by the Budget Control Act of 2011 return for FY 2020. We expect continued pressure from some members of Congress and the administration to slash housing benefits that help struggling families pay rent. While advocates work to defend current housing programs, we also see opportunities next year to increase housing resources for the lowest income people, whether through a bipartisan agreement to invest in infrastructure or legislation to reform the housing finance system.

What can philanthropy do?

Philanthropy’s role in ensuring resources for housing and homeless programs are protected is crucial. Here are some ways funders can engage in ensuring the momentum from victories in 2018 continue into the new year:

  1. Facilitate conversations between your grantees and public officials. Use your convening power to host a philanthropy-led bipartisan town hall where grantees can talk about their work and the impacts federal dollars have on it. Philanthropy can feature the nature of its investment and how philanthropic dollars can’t be expected to “fill the gap” so preserving and expanding budget for housing and homelessness programs is essential to movement to end homelessness.
  2. Use your voice! Consider writing targeted op-eds in key communities. Highlighting work being done in key areas can have a ripple effect and educate both public and government officials in order to build will to end homelessness.
  3. Fund small emergency advocacy grants. Financial support helps advocacy organizations increase their capacity and bolster their impact.

With the support of philanthropy, advocates must continue to educate members of Congress about the importance of expanding affordable housing resources. We know the solutions to homelessness and housing poverty; we just need the political will to do what is right. Philanthropy plays a critical role in making this possible.

Learn more about the "Cans" and "Cannots" of being a funder involved in advocacy and lobbying efforts and get more ideas of action steps you can take through our "Advocacy - A Funder's Role" webinar

(Image credit: Dzm1try / Shutterstock)

Sarah Mickelson has joined National Low Income Housing Coalition as Director of Public Policy in June 2016. Sarah previously worked with Enterprise Community Partners as a Senior Analyst. In this role, she focused on building Congressional support for federal affordable housing and community development appropriations, including funding for programs administered by HUD and USDA.

We joined Funders Together because we believe in the power of philanthropy to play a major role in ending homelessness, and we know we have much to learn from funders across the country.

-Christine Marge, Director of Housing and Financial Stability at United Way of Greater Los Angeles

I am thankful for the local partnerships here in the Pacific Northwest that we’ve been able to create and nurture thanks to the work of Funders Together. Having so many of the right players at the table makes our conversations – and all of our efforts – all the richer and more effective.

-David Wertheimer, Deputy Director at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Very often a lack of jobs and money is not the cause of poverty, but the symptom. The cause may lie deeper in our failure to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities, in a lack of education and training, in a lack of medical care and housing, in a lack of decent communities in which to live and bring up their children.

-President Lyndon B. Johnson, 1964 State of the Union Address

Funders Together has given me a platform to engage the other funders in my community. Our local funding community has improved greatly to support housing first models and align of resources towards ending homelessness.

-Leslie Strnisha, Vice President at Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland

Our family foundation convenes local funders and key community stakeholders around strategies to end homelessness in Houston. Funders Together members have been invaluable mentors to us in this effort, traveling to our community to share their expertise and examples of best practices from around the nation.

-Nancy Frees Fountain, Managing Director at The Frees Foundation

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