NLIHC awarded four campaigns and organizations with Housing Organizing Awards to honor their achievements in expanding affordable housing options for renters with the lowest incomes in 2020 and 2021. The honorees were the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey (HCDNNJ), Just Housing Initiative, Oklahoma Coalition for Affordable Housing (OCAH), and Housing Justice League. Because the coronavirus pandemic delayed the announcement and presentation of the 2020 awards, winners from both 2020 and 2021 were recognized on March 31 at NLIHC’s 2021 Housing Policy Forum: A New Day.
The NLIHC Housing Organizing Awards recognize outstanding achievements in statewide, regional, citywide, neighborhood, or renter organizing that furthers NLIHC’s mission of achieving socially just public policy to ensure people with the lowest incomes in the U.S. have affordable and decent homes.
NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel emphasized the importance of state and local organizing efforts to expand renter protections and affordable housing resources and expressed her appreciation for the extraordinary work of this year’s honorees. “As we have seen throughout the pandemic, it is critical that advocates push at all levels of government for the expansion of renter protections and additional resources for affordable, accessible, and decent housing for those with the fewest resources,” said Diane. “NLIHC is honored to present the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, Just Housing Initiative, Oklahoma Coalition for Affordable Housing, and Housing Justice League with these awards to recognize their outstanding organizing achievements. All four organizations and campaigns show the power of local organizing to address past inequities and to push for a more just housing policy.”
The Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey received the 2020 Statewide Organizing Award for their “Build a Thriving NJ” Campaign that won significant new sources for affordable housing development. As part of the campaign, HCDNNJ organized and mobilized 300 community leaders, elected officials, and stakeholders to win three significant outcomes: restoring the New Jersey Affordable Housing Trust Fund to full funding in the budget, addressing the needs of people experiencing homelessness, and increasing the Neighborhood Revitalization Trust Fund.
“Thank you NLIHC for this recognition and support of our efforts to get New Jersey’s leaders to preserve and protect state funding to ‘build a thriving New Jersey,’” said Staci Berger, president and CEO of the Network. “These investments are economic revitalization tools that help create jobs and affordable, healthy homes and communities as well as strengthen our neighborhoods. We are finally on the right path, but our work will continue until we make New Jersey a place everyone can afford to call home.”
Just Housing Initiative in Cook County, Illinois received the 2020 Local Organizing Award for their success in amending the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance to create fair housing protections for people with arrest and conviction records. The Just Housing Initiative, co-chaired by the Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance and Housing Action Illinois, spent four years mobilizing nearly 120 organizations to join the effort to dismantle barriers to housing for people with records through the enactment of the Just Housing Amendment, requiring that housing providers and housing authorities do not consider certain aspects of prior justice involvement when making housing determinations. For applicants with conviction records from the last three years, housing providers must conduct an individualized assessment to consider multiple factors such as evidence of rehabilitation, whether the conviction is related to a disability, and whether a reasonable accommodation could be provided. Because of the amendment, more than one million residents of Cook County—and their families—have a fairer chance at renting or buying a home.
“We are honored to be recognized by NLIHC with this Organizing Award,” stated Maria Moon, housing justice organizer at the Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance. "Passing the Just Housing Amendment in Cook County was a critical win for the more than one million people with records in our community, and this step forward for housing justice and racial equity was made possible because of the leaders who shared their own experiences and demonstrated that ‘we are not our records.’”
For their successful organizing to block House Bill 2760, Oklahoma Coalition for Affordable Housing received the 2021 State and Local Organizing Award. The legislation would have cut in half the funding for the Oklahoma Affordable Housing Act retroactive to January 2020, leaving hundreds of people living in sub-standard housing or being severely housing cost burdened. Because of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, OCAH pivoted from in-person advocacy to producing materials for their members to use in outreach to legislators and on social media. Because of OCAH’s successful advocacy, Governor Kevin Stitt vetoed the legislation, preserving funding for state affordable housing tax credits.
“From 2015-2020, the Oklahoma Affordable Housing Act has produced or preserved 3,184 housing units with a $1.1 billion economic impact,” said Lisa Albers, president of the OCAH Board of Directors. “We are honored to advocate for access to safe and affordable housing for all Oklahomans and are especially grateful for the tireless efforts of our members and all that they do to promote affordable housing in Oklahoma.”
Housing Justice League in Atlanta, Georgia received the 2021 Renter Organizing Award for their eviction defense work and provision of emergency housing resources to support renters and tenant organizing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, the organization ran a COVID-19 hotline for renters, canvassed neighborhoods with the highest eviction rates, assisted with rent payments, organized phone zaps, and held socially distanced rallies like car parades. As part of their effort, they created an Eviction Defense Manual to educate tenants about their rights in the eviction process to reduce displacement and debt caused by evictions. The manual breaks down the complicated legal process of evictions to help tenants understand necessary defense strategies.
"Understanding the law will never be enough to abolish eviction, but it can help people feel less powerless and more connected to a community organization,” said Natalie McLaughlin, Housing Justice League organizer and co-author of the Eviction Defense Manual. “We hope the eviction defense manuals can serve as a first step on the way to organizing mass tenant power and winning housing for everyone, regardless of ability to pay."
To learn more about the Organizing Awards and see past winners, visit: https://nlihc.org/organizing-awards