How Civic Engagement Shapes the Housing Landscape

By: Danielle Hubley, Advocacy & Education Manager, Partnership for Strong Communities

When most people think of civic engagement, they think about the practice of voting – in particular, they think of going to vote in the Presidential election once every four years. Yet in most instances, the President of the United States is not the person who will decide what kind of housing is built in your neighborhood. The President is not the one who approves or denies regulatory or zoning processes for your community. Our federal government helps set the stage for the moral boundaries and direction of the nation, but they are far from the final decision-maker about what your community looks like.  

It’s important to remember that civic engagement encompasses so much more than just voting. The American Psychological Association broadly defines civic engagement as “individual and collective actions designed to identify and address issues of public concern.” Voting is certainly an important part of being an engaged citizen, but it is not the only way people can be an active voice in the decisions made for their communities.  

On July 3rd, the Partnership hosted state and national partners to discuss what civic engagement means for housing advocates, and how we can help encourage more advocates to participate in civic activity at the local and state level. To view the event recording and presenter slides on the Partnership’s YouTube channel, click here.  

Secretary of the State of Connecticut Stephanie Thomas kicked off the conversation by sharing the story of her life growing up – how the influence of systems, services and programs in place in her community helped shape her experiences and led her to a life of active participation at public decision-making tables at the local, and eventually state level. As well as reinforcing the importance of voting, Secretary Thomas also reminded attendees how important it is to run for local office, or to attend local meetings or community events to be a voice for the changes you want to see.  

Courtney Cooperman, Project Manager of the Our Homes, Our Votes Campaign with the National Low-Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) highlighted examples of work happening across the country to encourage more housing advocates to be civically involved to drive change. Courtney shared data that showed how homeowners are more likely than renters to be active voters in national elections, and how that shapes the landscape of what can be accomplished to improve housing outcomes locally. She also highlighted the role nonprofits can have in encouraging more active civic engagement, noting that “across the board, all voters who were engaged by a nonprofit saw a 10% increase in voter turnout”.  

Elaine Mintz, Vice President of Strategy and External Relations with Fairfield County’s Community Foundation (FCCF) raised the important consideration that national and state policy is not aligned with what constituents are saying they want and need, with polling data showing wide support for more housing that meets the needs of low and moderate-income households. Elaine shared information about the work FCCF is doing to help keep residents informed and engaged in opportunities to drive change in the community.  

When community members become more actively involved in the services, processes and policies that influence their communities, the more likely those systems and resources are to reflect what people want. When community members are apathetic to the problems that exist around them, expectedly, very little happens.  

Following the presentation, all panelists were asked to share the resources and takeaways they hoped attendees left with – this information can be found below.  

RESOURCES AND KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM PRESENTERS:  

Stephanie Thomas, Secretary of the State of Connecticut 

“Imagine the incredible impact we could have if everyone was civically engaged! As Secretary of the State, I’ve seen how powerful involvement can be. That’s why I’m asking for your help to inspire others and teach them how to make their voices heard. Check out our easy-to-use power of civics guide at Civics101.ct.gov.”  

Courtney Cooperman, Project Manager of Our Homes, Our Votes Campaign, National Low Income Housing Coalition 

“The same communities that face the greatest barriers to securing stable, accessible, affordable homes also face the greatest barriers to voting. Fortunately, tenant leaders and nonprofits that work with people experiencing housing instability and homelessness are proven, trusted messengers that can enable their community members to overcome obstacles, make their voices heard in our democracy, and close the voter turnout gap.  

Our Homes, Our Votes has an abundance of resources that housing advocacy organizations, direct service providers, tenant leaders, and other partners can use to register, educate, and mobilize voters in their communities, and to elevate housing as an election issue. I encourage you to browse the resources on our website, join our webinar series, and sign up to become an Our Homes, Our Votes Affiliate if you’re interested in getting more involved with this work.” 

Elaine Mintz, Vice President of Strategy and External Relations, Fairfield County’s Community Foundation 

“The ultimate goal of Fairfield County’s Community Foundation civic engagement efforts is to create a government at all levels that is responsive to the desires of its constituents. In this country and in CT, we see a lot of policies that don’t reflect what the community wants, especially with housing policy. By empowering more people to be involved through voting, advocacy, and service we’re going to see better alignment between policies and what the people want.” 

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