Maine Affordable Housing Coalition (MAHC), a NLIHC state partner, and other housing and economic justice advocates around the state, are seeing benefits from their campaign to improve public perception of the Section 8 voucher program. Advocates launched the campaign in October to show the human face of the affordable housing crisis in Maine. The central piece of the campaign is a 12-minute film, titled Along the Way Home.
The film tells the stories of low income Maine residents, those who have received vouchers and those who have not. Their voices provide a perspective on the Section 8 program that differs from the rhetoric politicians and the public often hear. The campaign aims to reframe perception of the voucher program by telling the ways affordable housing provides a foundation for greater access to education and economic opportunity, while also stabilizing physical and mental health.
The campaign has promoted Along the Way Home using a variety of websites, including Facebook and YouTube. The dual strategy of portraying the real stories behind Section 8 and harnessing social media to publicize those stories has proven effective. “Social media has expanded the reach of our message in a major way,” said Greg Payne, MAHC’s coordinator and NLIHC board member. These organizing tools have also allowed advocates to measure success in a new way. Organizers can better gauge how far their message is spreading by tracking the number of times Along the Way Home is viewed on YouTube and the number of people who become fans of the film’s Facebook page. Several thousand people have watched Along the Way Home, and many have emailed the video or shared it on social networks.
Advocates have also successfully placed a number of editorial pieces in local papers about the importance of the Section 8 program. Authors of the editorials reflect a wide range of Section 8 supporters, from residents on waiting lists to local politicians. The campaign has developed a broad base of support, engaging groups fighting for racial and economic justice, leaders of nineteen local public housing authorities, college professors and students, and a statewide social change movement called Homeless Voices for Justice, led by people who have struggled with homelessness.
Advocates have also alerted the public to the number of Maine residents who languish on Section 8 waiting lists for years. While Maine housing authorities are authorized to provide 12,221 vouchers, another 12,795 households are on waiting lists, many of which are closed. Advocates say these numbers underscore the need to not only preserve funding, but to increase investment in the voucher program as well. As the country faces devastating cuts to Section 8, Maine advocates are looking to the increased public awareness generated by their campaign to garner support for voucher funding and the Section Eight Voucher Reform Act from Senators Olympia Snowe (R) and Susan Collins (R).
Advocates argue that increased investment would have a positive ripple effect on Maine communities, just as a lack of adequate funding compounds negative impacts on the state workforce and economy.
“If you don’t have housing, then you’ve got a whole other host of problems that come with the fact that you don’t have that stability,” said Mary-Anne Martell, whose story is featured in Along the Way Home. Mary-Anne is a former voucher recipient who explains how receiving a voucher provided her greater opportunity to complete college and law school. Mary-Anne was eventually able to buy a home and open a law firm. “If Mary-Anne hadn’t been able to get a voucher, and the stability it provided for her and her family at the time they needed it, then she may not have been able to apply her considerable skills to creating a new business,” said Payne. “That business is now paying payroll taxes and property taxes, and provides employment for others in her community.”
For more information on the Section 8 public education campaign, contact Greg Payne at firstname.lastname@example.org.