Recap of NLIHC’s Housing Policy Forum 2024 Featuring Tenant Organizers, House Representatives, Thought Leaders, and Others!

NLIHC hosted Housing Policy Forum 2024: An Unwavering Path Forward to Housing Justice at the Hilton Capitol Hill Hotel in Washington D.C. on March 19-20. The sold-out event featured a keynote discussion between NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel and scholar and civil rights attorney Sherrilyn Ifill, as well as a keynote address by journalist and author Jelani Cobb. Representatives Maxwell Frost (D-FL), Cori Bush (D-MO), and Jimmy Gomez (D-CA) spoke about the fight for affordable housing, and tenant organizers, researchers, and thought leaders participated in plenary panels focused on building the political will to achieve housing justice in the 2024 elections and on organizing for affordable housing. Attendees had the opportunity to join an array of breakout sessions on topics ranging from tenant protections, multi-sector approaches to housing advocacy, and disaster recovery housing to the current state of data on housing preservation, coalition-building in native and rural housing, and the power of storytelling. The Forum also formally launched NLIHC’s year-long 50th-anniverary celebration. More than 500 advocates from around the country were in attendance, as well as nearly 200 other participants who attended virtually.

Following several pre-Forum sessions on March 18 and the morning of March 19 – including a State and Tribal Partner Convening and Tenant Leader session (see the additional articles in this issue of Memo for more information) – Housing Policy Forum 2024 formally began with opening remarks from NLIHC Board of Directors Chair Dora Leong Gallo. NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel then took the stage to welcome guests to the Forum.

“It’s wonderful to be together as we kick off this year recognizing and celebrating NLIHC’s 50 years of advocacy for housing justice,” said Diane. The Coalition’s history dates back to 1974, when the late Cushing Dolbeare called together several national organizations to respond to major changes to federal low-income housing programs proposed by the Nixon administration. “Since then,” explained Diane, “we have achieved so much together. We have been influential in every major piece of federal legislation related to affordable housing over the last five decades, from helping to create the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program in the ‘70s, to working with partners to enact the first-ever federal legislative response to homelessness and the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program in the ‘80s, to enacting the “National Affordable Housing Act” and creating the Home Investment Partnership program in the ‘90s, to creating disaster housing recovery programs and establishing the “Protecting Renters in Foreclosure Act” in the wake of the Great Recession, to creating a national Housing Trust Fund, to defeating cuts and winning historic increases in HUD appropriations and the expansion of rental assistance over the last decade.”

“There can be no doubt that, over the last 50 years, the National Low Income Housing Coalition has had a tremendously positive impact on the lives of tens of millions of people across America,” explained Diane. However, the Coalition’s success has only been possible thanks to the unyielding efforts of all those advocates and groups that have been involved. “The National Low Income Housing Coalition isn’t just a single organization,” she said. “We are a broad and powerful network of people and organizations, across the country, who fight – and win – together for housing justice. You are the National Low Income Housing Coalition,” she said, addressing the audience. It was only due to the work of those impacted people, state and local partners, and others making up the Coalition that pandemic-era relief programs like Emergency Rental Assistance, Emergency Housing Vouchers, and expanded Child Tax Credits were enacted by Congress, saving countless lives, cutting eviction filings in half, reducing child poverty by 50 percent, and ensuring that millions of low-income renters were able to stay stably housed during the pandemic.

Moreover, these successes showed clearly what has been obvious for years: “that the only thing we lack to end homelessness and achieve housing justice is the political will to do it.” The question now, she explained, is how to sustain the political will that emerged during the pandemic to achieve real, long-term solutions and keep growing the power necessary to bring about change.

“One of the clearest indications of our growing power can be seen in the tremendous accomplishments of all of you in this room over the last year, in your communities. The work of our partners, just those here in the room today, achieved collectively over $10 billion in new state and local resources for affordable housing,” said Diane. For example, partners in Michigan secured over $1 billion in new money for affordable housing, while partners in Alabama won $25 million for the state’s Housing Trust Fund. Partners in Oregon and Illinois each persuaded their lawmakers to make $200 million available for affordable housing in their states. Maine advocates won the first-ever funding for affordable housing and supportive housing and to create a statewide Housing First program, and the Minnesota Housing Partnership successfully pushed policymakers to enact a $1.3 billion housing omnibus bill, marking the state’s largest investment in affordable housing in history.

Another indicator of the growing political power of the movement for affordable housing could be observed in the wide range of new tenant protections enacted in states and localities thanks to the work of advocates across the nation. In the last three years alone, Diane explained, NLIHC’s partners advanced and implemented nearly 300 new state and local tenant protections. Partners in Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota, Delaware, and Washington, and in Denver, Detroit, Louisville, New Orleans, Seattle, and St. Louis, were instrumental in efforts to pass right-to-counsel legislation within their jurisdictions, while partners in Rhode Island and Connecticut passed laws banning rental application fees, creating a statewide rental registry, and sealing eviction records. Colorado partners helped create source-of-income protections and convinced lawmakers to crack down on junk fees. Partners in Texas and Washington helped enact Tenants Bills of Rights in their states. Minnesota partners won the passage of a comprehensive tenants’ rights package that strengthens eviction protections, landlord accountability, and health and safety requirements, and partners in New Jersey created a program that gives families and nonprofits the right of first refusal to purchase foreclosed homes and keep generational wealth. Likewise, partners at the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, working alongside tenant leaders in the state’s Resident Action Project, led a campaign for statewide rent stabilization that – although it was blocked before passage – moves them closer to the finish line in preparation for the the next legislative session.

Diane suggested that these state and local wins had begun to influence activity at the federal level. “The state and local work, especially on tenant protections, is clearly building the political will for federal action,” continued Diane, citing the White House’s unprecedented steps to advance renter protections, including the creation of a Renters Bill of Rights that was influenced by discussions conducted during a visit to the White House by NLIHC’s Tenant Leader Cohort, as well as President Biden’s remarks during the State of the Union that his administration would crack down on rent gouging by landlords. Diane commended the administration for these historic actions, observing that “it’s the first time in decades, since the Great Depression, that the federal government is acknowledging that there is an important federal role in preventing rent gouging. And it would not have happened without the power you’ve built, without all of your organizing and urging and insisting that it did.”

Diane thanked those tenant leaders and other impacted people – including those on NLIHC’s Board of Directors – for their role in helping lead the Coalition’s efforts. “The power that we’re building, and the progress we’re making together, on tenant protections and beyond, is a direct result of our engaging with and elevating the leadership of tenant leaders in this work. At NLIHC, a key part of our work on racial justice and inclusion is centering and amplifying the work, the voices, and the power of impacted people.” These efforts have included the creation of NLIHC’s first Tenant Leader Cohorts. “Thank you for your tremendous leadership, thank for your dedication, and thank you for your work and partnership,” Diane said to the members of the Cohorts.

The support of impacted people and other advocates – as well as members of the HoUSed and OSAH campaigns – was vitally important in ensuring that House Republicans did not succeed in cutting appropriations for housing and homelessness programs during the most recent budget battles, explained Diane. In fact, due to the tremendous work of advocates everywhere, in “the final FY23 spending bill [that] was just enacted…we not only prevented cuts to the housing programs that serve the lowest-income people – vouchers, public housing, homelessness programs – but also achieved increased funding for each, an incredibly unlikely but excellent outcome.”

Diane also praised the work carried out by NLIHC’s Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition and cited its successes as another indicator of growing political power. “In the last year, our Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition of over 900 organizations around the country built on its past success, fostered deep connections with disaster-impacted communities, linked those communities and their advocates with policymakers and advocacy efforts on the national stage, and forged historic victories for households with low incomes impacted by disasters.”

She also explained how NLIHC is building power by fighting back against coordinated campaigns to criminalize homelessness, which are coming to a head in the upcoming Supreme Court case City of Grants Pass, Oregon v. Johnson. Speaking of the case, Diane explained that “the City of Grants Pass – along with an alarming number of mayors and governors, both Republicans and Democrats, including California Governor Gavin Newsom – say yes, they should be able to arrest people with no place else to go for simply having a pillow. We say no, and we’ll be at the Supreme Court on April 22 – along with our partners at the National Homelessness Law Center, the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the National Coalition for the Homeless, and many others – to say no and to continue to demand the affordable housing and supportive services that are the real solutions to homelessness.” Diane commended partners around the country – in Indiana, Kansas, and Iowa, especially – for their efforts in opposing attempts to criminalize homelessness.

Finally, Diane reminded advocates that political will is most fundamentally built at the ballot box. “There’s nothing more fundamental to building political power and political will than increasing the voter engagement of impacted people through registering, getting out the vote, and – ultimately – running for office and winning. Because the power of impacted people in elected office is undeniable. You don’t have to convince someone who experienced homelessness to prioritize solutions to homelessness when they’re in office,” said Diane, citing Representative Cori Bush as an example of the power of lived experience in office.

It is not difficult to see why policymakers favor the interests of homeowners rather than lower-income renters. “Higher-income people – predominantly homeowners, predominantly white – vote at much higher rates that lower income people – predominantly renters, predominantly people of color. So, when we ask ourselves, Why do policymakers, if they prioritize housing at all, only prioritize homeownership, or provide massive subsidies through the mortgage interest deduction to homeowners, this is why.” In order to ensure that low-income renters are represented at the ballot box this year, NLIHC has relaunched the Our Homes, Our Votes project to guarantee that candidates on both sides of the aisle and at every level of government know that affordable housing is a top priority for voters.

Diane concluded her remarks by praising the past work of advocates and looking forward to the future. “As we move into 2024, our fiftieth anniversary year, it is a pivotal year, with incredible opportunities and challenges ahead. We are ready to meet those challenges head on. We’ll gather lessons from those who came before us, those who have done this work before, for decades. We’ll galvanize the energy, creativity, and ideas of new generations that are moved to act for housing justice. We’ll build momentum with every win at the local, state, and national level. And we’ll continue growing, building power and partnerships, and moving forward into the next fifty years together on an unwavering path to housing justice.”

Following her remarks, Diane introduced the Forum’s first keynote speaker, civil rights attorney and scholar Sherrilyn Ifill. Ms. Ifill is currently serving as the 2023-2024 Steven and Maureen Klinsky Visiting Professor of Practice for Leadership and Progress at Harvard Law School and will soon become the first Vernon L. Jordan Chair in Civil Rights at Howard Law School. From 2013 to 2022, she was president and director-counsel of the Legal Defense and Educational Fund at the NAACP, where she led the organization in conducting groundbreaking litigation in the areas of voting rights, economic justice, and education and took a prominent role in confronting police violence against unarmed Black people. Ms. Ifill was joined by NLIHC Senior Vice President for Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Renee Willis for a discussion about racial equity and how to dismantle housing discrimination in the U.S.

Renee began the discussion by asking what had brought Ms. Ifill to her work. “This is what I wanted to do since I was a girl,” explained Ms. Ifill. “It’s why I went to law school. And I feel eternally grateful that I’ve gotten to live my dream.” Renee continued by asking what representing people at the margins had taught Ms. Ifill. Ms. Ifill suggested that it had taught her a great deal about the “puzzle” of America: “To understand racism requires that you are interested not just in voting rights, politics, and elections…but also you have to be interested in and have some knowledge of housing, employment, and labor economics and a whole range of things to understand how all the pieces fit together.” Many justices, including on the Supreme Court, do not have such knowledge – which often only comes with lived experience, she suggested – so part of her job as an attorney is not just litigating cases but also educating judges and justices on those issues about which they may have no knowledge.

Asked about the racial inequities in housing, Ms. Ifill said that “there are many forms of discrimination and inequality in our country. Some of them are not visible to the naked eye…Housing is the one area where America’s problem of race is fully on display. And the only reason that people think they don’t see it is because we treat the physical landscape of our country as though it is inevitable.” Ms. Ifill continued by explaining that “if we wish to see the consequences, the wages of segregation, it’s right there for us to see” in our built landscape. “When we think about segregation in our country, and the visualization of segregation, we think about water fountains that say ‘white’ and ‘colored’, or bathrooms that say ‘white’ or ‘colored’, but when see communities that say ‘white’ or ‘colored’, we assume that’s just the way it is. That’s the Black community, that’s Harlem, that’s Bed-Stuy, as though that’s not in and of itself as powerful as the [sign] that was fixed to those bathroom doors.”

Renee asked how it came to be that Black people, people of color, and Indigenous people are disproportionately extremely low-income renters. Ms. Ifill explained that being an extremely low-income renter means a lot more than just being a renter who has an extremely low income, but rather that it involves a huge range of additional conditions and challenges. “Low-income renter doesn’t really tell the story of the kind of precariousness, the kind of stress, the kind of isolation, the kind of challenges, that are inherent in American poverty…To suggest that this is just about people making more money and pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, against those odds, is outrageous, just outrageous. The obligation to provide safe, affordable housing of integrity for every America seems like the floor, the minimum for a healthy democracy. And we have really turned away from this.”

Ms. Ifill urged the adoption of policy solutions like a simple requirement “in every major city saying that for any development seeking tax breaks or other city contributions, [development plans] should include an explanation of how the plan will support the creation of affordable housing and/or promote racial and socio-economic integration in that city.”

Audience members were given the chance to ask questions at the end of the session. “Where are the places where the law can advance racial equity, and what issues can the law not influence?,” asked one. In response, Ifill cited the work of organizers in pushing to pass ordinances like the one she had just suggested. She also mentioned transportation, saying that it was inextricably linked with housing, and suggested that advances could be made in focusing on the intersections of housing and transportation, for example in advocating for the creation of rapid transit systems connecting low-income areas with urban centers.

Following the discussion with Ms. Ifill, Congressman Maxwell Frost (D-FL) took the stage to present remarks. He declared that housing is a human right and vowed to work to advance legislation to improve the lives of renters. “You deserve housing by virtue of being human and nothing else,” stated Representative Frost. During his remarks, he shared his personal experience with housing instability, including his challenges finding a landlord in Washington, D.C. who was willing to lease him an apartment because of his low credit score – even though he had been elected to Congress. Representative Frost is the first member of Gen Z to be elected to Congress and he brings a fresh and unique perspective to Congress as a young, Afro-Latino organizer and community activist.

After the plenary session, attendees joined one of three breakout sessions. Leveling the Playing Field: Achieving Permanent Tenant Protections” was moderated by NLIHC Vice President of State and Local Innovation Sarah Gallagher and focused on the importance of advancing federal, state, and local tenant protections that aim to divert the threat of eviction and keep renters stably housed. The panel was joined by Marie Claire Tran-Leung, evictions initiative project director at the National Housing Law Project (NHLP); David Pringle, director of state and local engagement at the Poverty & Race Research Action Council (PRRAC); Jonathan Jager, staff attorney at the Community Development Project; and Jasmine Rangel, senior housing associate at Policy Link. During the session, panelists spoke about a variety of crucial protections that can be implemented by lawmakers across the country to minimize the risk of tenant displacement and rectify the pronounced power imbalance that exists between landlords and tenants today. The session began with remarks by Sarah, who spoke about the rising momentum in state and local jurisdictions nationwide to enact renter supports, especially as the lowest-income renters continue to contend with the after-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the rental housing market. Sarah highlighted how state and local jurisdictions across the country have passed more than 280 tenant protections since January 2021, including “just cause” eviction standards, right to counsel protections, rent stabilization laws, and source-of-income anti-discrimination policies. Marie Claire spoke next and focused on the importance of enacting a broad but uniform set of federal tenant protections for renter households in the private rental market. David Pringle spoke about the importance of advancing source-of-income protections to ensure that tenants who receive public assistance through the form of Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers are not denied housing. Jonathan Jager recounted his work in Los Angeles to advance and implement a citywide “Tenant Bill of Rights.” He also spoke about the crucial role that tenant organizing played in securing rent stabilization protections, universal just cause, limitations on evictions for nonpayment of rent, relocation assistance for tenants displaced through no-fault causes, tenant anti-harassment policies, right to counsel, and proactive code enforcement laws. The session wrapped up with Jasmine Rangel speaking about her work to provide data-driven, evidence-based solutions to prevent evictions. In addition to discussing just cause protections and rent stabilization laws and ordinances, she described her work to assist tenant advocates in Philadelphia to build the case and showcase the need for eviction record sealing protections – an effective tool to ensure that tenants who have had an eviction filed against them are not denied housing due to their public court record.  

“A Multi-Sector Approach to Achieving Justice and Equity at the Intersections of Housing, Environment, and Health” was hosted by members of NLIHC’s Opportunity Starts at Home (OSAH) campaign and attended by more than 100 participants. Panelists include Chantelle Wilkinson, OSAH campaign director; Dr. Sabrina Johnson, senior housing policy advocate at Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC); and Edgar Barraza, energy equity policy coordinator at Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles (PSR-LA). The speakers discussed how findings from a recent NRDC and PSR-LA report on centering environmental justice and health equity in building decarbonization clearly demonstrate the importance of equitable housing policies. Those working to advance environmental causes and health equity often cite housing justice as critical for ensuring sustainable and healthy communities, and Dr. Johnson and Barraza both shared how housing fits into their work as environmental and health advocates. The panelists concluded the session by sharing what they look forward to as partnerships between housing, health, and environmental advocates continue to grow, as well as why they each believe coalitions are needed to combat the housing affordability crisis. “We want good, affordable homes on healthy lands, and to end the vicious cycle of poisoning our people,” said Barraza, when speaking about the intersections of affordable housing, health, and environmental justice.

A third breakout session, “Changing Lanes: Integrating Housing and Homelessness Best Practices with Disaster Response and Recovery,” dealt with disaster recovery and housing. The panel featured Katherine Galifianakis, senior director of shelter transition at the American Red Cross; Sara Hicks-West, disaster subject matter expert at Cloudburst Group; and Natalie Maxwell, managing attorney at the National Housing Law Project. The panel focused on efforts to operationalize housing best practices during disaster response and recovery, with a specific focus on rapid rehousing efforts during the closure of disaster-related emergency shelters, the creation and implementation of HUD’s Rapid Unsheltered Survivor Housing (RUSH) Program, and the use of eviction moratoriums in the aftermath of disasters. Katherine Galifianakis gave an overview of the shelter transition process as it currently operates, describing the recent shift in thinking among disaster practitioners to fully address housing needs during shelter closure, as opposed to working to support disaster survivors experiencing homelessness after shelters have closed. She highlighted efforts like those to close mass shelters in Houston after Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and in North Carolina after Hurricane Florence in 2018. She also discussed how homeless and housing service organizations are needed to better improve disaster sheltering operations. Sara Hicks-West discussed the creation and implementation of the RUSH program, which was first deployed in Florida following Hurricane Ian in 2022. She described how the program operates, challenges to its implementation in Florida, and how the program grew from those efforts in Texas and North Carolina. Hicks-West echoed Kathrine Galifianakis’ earlier point that cooperation from organizations involved in Continuums of Care in areas impacted by disasters would be crucial to the ongoing success of the program. Natalie Maxwell discussed the use of eviction moratoriums in the aftermath of disasters. This practice, which was implemented nationwide during the COVID-19 pandemic, has gained favor in recent years, as advocates and researchers continue to demonstrate the impact disasters have on tenants, housing stock, and rent prices. Natalie highlighted local eviction moratoriums currently in effect in San Diego and the island of Maui and highlighted federal legislation that would seek to create automatic eviction moratorium in areas impacted by disasters.  

Following the breakout sessions, in-person attendees helped kick off NLIHC’s official anniversary celebration by attending the NLIHC50 Anniversary Reception in the Grand Ballroom of the Hilton Capitol Hill Hotel. Participants closed out the night by attending a viewing of the documentary “Razing Liberty Square,” which explores climate gentrification and community erasure.

Wednesday morning began with the Forum’s second plenary session, “Our Homes, Our Votes: Building the Political Will for Housing Justice in the 2024 Elections.” The session showcased the work of NLIHC’s nonpartisan Our Homes, Our Votes campaign, which aims to boost voter turnout among low-income renters and elevate housing as an election issue. The panel featured Dr. Bambie Hayes-Brown, president and CEO of Georgia ACT and member of the NLIHC Board of Directors; Lauren Legocki, director of community impact at POAH Communities; and Mary McGovern, president of the Minneapolis Highrise Representative Council. Courtney Cooperman, project manager of the Our Homes, Our Votes campaign, moderated the panel.  

Courtney opened the plenary with an overview of voter turnout gaps between low-income renters and high-income homeowners, underscoring the importance of nonpartisan civic engagement work. She gave a snapshot of the tools and resources that Our Homes, Our Votes will provide to support partners’ work in the 2024 election cycle, including the brand-new Our Homes, Our Votes TurboVote platform, where voters can register, sign up for election reminders, and find nonpartisan election information for their own communities.  

Each panelist gave an overview of their organization’s nonpartisan election work in recent elections and discussed strategies that housing advocates, tenant leaders, and service providers can use to get out the vote in the 2024 election cycle. Dr. Bambie Hayes-Brown shared lessons learned from Georgia ACT’s grassroots outreach to voters across the state, including collaboration with Black Voters Matter’s “The Block is Hot Tour” and F.R.E.S.H. Communities’ “3-V Liberation Tour,” which brought Votes, Vaccines, and Visions to 47 rural Georgia counties in 2021. Dr. Bambie also highlighted Georgia ACT’s relationship-building with newly elected officials to strengthen the political will for housing justice.  

Lauren Legocki presented on POAH Communities’ integration of voter registration into existing touchpoints (move-in and outreach when residents turn 18), activities to ensure that residents feel confident about voting, and the role of resident input and leadership in shaping voter engagement initiatives. Lauren emphasized the importance of providing resources, such as voter registration toolkits and get-out-the-vote call scripts, that enable frontline staff to bring voter participation opportunities to their communities without reinventing the wheel.  

Mary McGovern discussed Minneapolis Highrise Representative Council’s (MHRC) voter registration, education, and get-out-the-vote activities, which reach more than 5,000 residents across 42 high-rise buildings. Mary noted the success of one-on-one conversations in helping residents understand why voting matters in their own lives and pre-election activities to generate excitement about voting. She also described the powerful impact of MHRC’s nonpartisan candidate forums in local elections, which make residents’ priorities visible to candidates and lay the groundwork for strong relationships with newly elected officials.  

The plenary concluded with audience questions about engaging young voters, recruiting landlords to get involved, conducting nonpartisan outreach to candidates, and convincing prospective voters that their vote matters.  

Attendees then participated in one of four breakout sessions. “What Can We Know about Affordable Housing Preservation Needs?” focused on the current state of data for affordable housing preservation, explored how data can inform organizing and preservation planning, and identified ways that preservation data can be improved at the local, state, and federal levels. The panelists provided perspectives on preservation data challenges rooted in their work at the building, local, state, and national levels. Stephanie Winn, a LIHTC tenant organizer affiliated with Texas Housers, spoke about the need to understand housing quality challenges faced by tenants and the necessity of ensuring that preservation efforts produce tangible results. Dr. Kathryn Howell, director of the National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education and an associate professor at the University of Maryland, discussed the importance of data in building consensus around local preservation efforts and the need to better understand preservation risks for “naturally occurring affordable housing.” Megan Bolton, assistant research director at Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS), detailed recent state-led efforts in Oregon to develop comprehensive preservation data and actively monitor emerging preservation risks across the state. Finally, Kelly McElwain, manager of research and industry intelligence at the Public and Affordable Housing Research Corporation (PAHRC), presented on the National Housing Preservation Database (NHPD) and challenges with creating a national baseline for assessing affordable housing preservation risks. The panel was moderated by NLIHC Research Manager Dan Emmanuel.  

“Partnerships and Coalition-Building in Native and Rural Housing” focused on how to build lasting coalitions in two communities that are often overlooked. Panelists included Sharon Vogel, executive director of the Cheyenne River Housing Authority in Eagle Butte, South Dakota on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation and an NLIHC board member; Mel Willie, director of Native partnerships and strategy at NeighborWorks America; Samantha Booth, government relations manager at the Housing Assistance Council (HAC); and Jeff Ackley, Jr., the housing administrator of the Lac du Flambeau Chippewa Housing Authority. Samantha presented HAC’s latest data from the group’s Taking Stock report, highlighting the urgent housing needs in rural areas. Samantha noted that 87% of all U.S. counties have at least one USDA Section 515 Multifamily Property, and Sharon Vogel observed that using USDA’s housing programs, such as the 502 Direct Loan program, has helped Native communities build more affordable housing. Samantha and Sharon also highlighted recent legislative victories in building support for the “Rural Housing Service Reform Act” and the “Veterans Affairs Native American Direct Loan Improvement Act.” Mel discussed the need for Native and non-Native coalitions to identify a shared mission and change the legacy of exploitation with trust, humility, and equal partnership. Jeff added that Native and non-Native partners must “never stop learning and striving to help” their communities and shared his insights from the perspectives of both housing authority staff and a school board member. Breakout session attendees asked about losing rural homes to short-term rentals and second homes, how Tribal communities preserve their rental housing, and about partnerships between Community Land Trusts (CLTs) and Native communities.  

In The Power of Storytelling: Shaping the Narrative on How to Achieve Housing Justice,” attendees heard from Marisol Bello, executive director of Housing Narrative Lab; Miracle Fletcher, NLIHC Collective Cohort member and advocate; and May Louis-Juste, senior communication specialist at NLIHC. Together, the panelists delved into the transformative power of storytelling from various perspectives: organizational, personal lived experience, and the broader impact on advocacy, Congress, and the media. The session kicked off with Marisol offering a deep dive into the crafting of narratives and the empowering potential of sharing experiences to drive change. Through compelling video snippets, such as the impactful story of “Moms 4 Housing” and a touching call to action on deforestation, attendees witnessed firsthand how storytelling can evoke emotions and spur action. Miracle then shared her own journey, emphasizing the importance of authenticity in storytelling and its ability to resonate not just with individuals but entire communities. She stressed the need for intentional storytelling that amplifies voices and empowers others to do the same, urging advocates to take ownership of their narratives for effective communication. Last, May shed light on NLIHC’s strategic approach to storytelling, emphasizing the vital role of genuine connections with those with lived experiences in shaping narratives that drive housing justice advocacy and policy solutions. The session concluded with thought-provoking discussions on building authentic connections with those with lived experiences, navigating the ethical use of advocates’ stories, and leveraging narratives to shift perceptions, for example about the right of formerly incarcerated individuals to affordable housing. 

In “Climate Gentrification and Community Erasure: Are the Themes Highlighted in Razing Liberty Square Coming to a Community Near You?,” attendees heard from panelists who were featured in the previous evening’s film about the overarching themes and issues highlighted in the documentary. Panelists discussed the impacts of the displacement of Black and Brown residents in Miami on communities, how developers and policymakers have played a part in mass displacement, and how climate intersects with these issues. Attendees heard from Valencia Gunder, an activist and organizer who can be seen in the documentary discussing the impact of climate gentrification on vulnerable communities in Miami and across the country. Trenise Bryant, a longtime Liberty City resident and former resident of Scott Carver, another housing development that was razed, leading to the displacement of its residents, including Trenise. She spoke about her perspective as a former Scott Carver resident seeing the events happening to Liberty Square and explained how she had organized and mobilized her community in the wake of displacement and gentrification. Aaron McKinney, who was highlighted in the film, spoke about his perspective as a Liberty City resident who worked with the developer group that razed Liberty Square and eventually left the group. Aaron discussed how his outlook on the project changed throughout the film, as he saw promises made to residents being broken or disregarded, and the impacts the changes had on the community and residents as they determined their next steps to maintain housing. The panel was moderated by Daniella Pierre of the NAACP Miami-Dade County Branch and an NLIHC Collective Member who is from Miami and understands the impacts of gentrification on communities in the city. 

Following the morning breakout sessions, participants attended the day’s second plenary session. Representative Cori Bush (D-MO) kicked off the session by speaking passionately about her personal experience with housing insecurity, eviction, and homelessness and the upcoming Supreme Court case Grants Pass v. Johnson, which could decide whether localities can fine, ticket, or arrest unhoused people for sleeping outside, even when there is no adequate shelter or housing available. “The federal government has the duty and obligation to provide housing for every unhoused person,” stated Representative Bush. “Was I a criminal?” asked Rep. Bush rhetorically, speaking of when she was unhoused and had no option but to sleep in her car. The Congresswoman made clear how her lived expertise is an essential component of her leadership in advancing housing justice and declared that “the decriminalization of homelessness is a racial justice issue.” 

Next, NLIHC Tenant Leader Fellow Dee Ross moderated a panel discussion on “Building Power: How to Organize for Housing Justice.” Panelists included Duaa-Rahemaah Hunter of Resident Action Project in Washington State; Ramona Ferreyra of Save Section 9 in New York; and Benjamin Finegan of Bozeman Tenants United in Montana. The panelists talked about how tenant leaders and their allies are organizing for housing justice in communities of all sizes, regions, and political stripes. The speakers discussed how organizers are generating momentum and achieving victories in public housing, unsubsidized buildings, urban and rural communities, and states regardless of political leanings. The organizers shared insights from organizing in their own communities and discussed universal principles and practices that can apply in any campaign for housing justice. During a question-and-answer session, audience members asked how the panelists had gotten started in organizing, where aspiring tenant leaders could go for support and training in areas without organizers or citywide tenant unions, and how attorneys and policy advocates could support tenants and organizers.

The afternoon commenced with four more breakout sessions. NLIHC Tenant Leader Fellow Dee Ross moderated a “Teach-In: Organizing” session. The session was facilitated by NLIHC Collective Cohort members Rob Robinson of Partners for Dignity and Rights; Tara Madison of the National Alliance of HUD Tenants; Ramona Ferreyra of Save Section 9; Albert Townsend of the National Alliance to End Homelessness; Shannon “Sunshine” Washington of Sunshine Charity Community Investment Coalition; and Willie “JR” Fleming of Chicago Anti Eviction Campaign. The session began with brief introductions, followed by an explanation of planned activities. Participants were then divided into breakout tables, each focusing on a specific housing justice scenario, and conversations were facilitated by experienced leaders in the field. The role-playing segment allowed participants to engage with the complexities of each scenario, fostering empathy, understanding, and practical problem-solving skills. The session concluded with a reflective Q&A session, enabling participants to further explore key insights and takeaways. The session brought together individuals from diverse backgrounds, representing a range of races, beliefs, and lived experiences, who were united in their commitment to achieving housing justice, and every participant was actively engaged and interacted enthusiastically with their fellow group members, fostering a sense of solidarity and collective purpose.

In “Building Support for Evidence-Based Homelessness Solutions,” panelists examined how advocates can advance proven solutions to homelessness despite the worsening affordable housing crisis and growing calls for ineffective and punitive approaches. NLIHC Senior Policy Analyst Alayna Calabro moderated the panel, which included Steve Berg, chief policy officer at the National Alliance to End Homelessness; Mackenzie Kelly, interim executive director of the Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition; Shawn Liu, director of communications at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Homeless Programs Office; and Donald Whitehead, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless. The panelists highlighted the role of Housing First in reducing homelessness among veterans and discussed how Chattanooga achieved a significant reduction in homelessness by implementing a Housing First strategy and developing a Flexible Housing Fund to overcome barriers to housing. Additionally, the panelists addressed the criminalization of homelessness and discussed the upcoming Supreme Court case Grants Pass v. Johnson, which could change how communities address unsheltered homelessness and treat unhoused people. The panelists also outlined what federal investments are needed to fully end housing instability and homelessness and discussed how to uplift the voices of people with lived experience as we work to change public perceptions of homelessness and advance solutions. 

“Accessible to Whom? Inclusive Housing and the Disability Justice Movement” invited participants to contribute to a conversation about housing access for people with disabilities. The conversation was led by disability justice advocates including Zella Knight of Resident United Network Los Angeles (RUNLA) and a member of NLIHC’s board of directors; Hunter Herrera-McFarland of The Kelsey; Monica Porter Gilbert of the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law; and Melissa Marshall of the The Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies. The discussion was moderated by NLIHC Project Manager of Inclusive Community Engagement Sidney Betancourt. Zella emphasized the importance of understanding the rights of people with disabilities and advocating for greater accessibility and affordability in housing. Hunter discussed how The Kelsey surpasses legal accessibility standards in the development of homes and federal policy solutions that can make these standards a reality nationwide. Monica highlighted diverse forms of disabilities, including mental illness, as well as the Johnson vs. Grants Pass case’s impact on the disability community. She also mentioned the effect of junk fees like “pet rent” on the disability community. Melissa focused on The Partnership’s role in disability justice during disaster recovery and resilience efforts, as the world sees a rapid increase of disasters impacting more communities. Attendees had the opportunity to engage in a fruitful conversation, with the panel asking questions about accessibility and disability justice. Through this discussion, attendees gained insights and wisdom about advocating for disability justice while also championing affordable housing. 

The final breakout session, “Locked Up, Locked Out: Barriers to Housing for Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People,” featured experts on the relationship between incarceration, housing, and homelessness who explained the barriers to housing for formerly incarcerated and convicted people, highlighted policies and communities paving the way for reentry services, and discussed the federal solutions needed to ensure everyone has a safe place to call home. Panelists included Dr. Ronald Day, senior vice president at the Fortune Society and a person who was formerly incarcerated; Taylar Nuevelle, the founder and executive director of Who Speaks for Me? (WSFM) and who was also formerly incarcerated; Marie Claire Tran-Leung, Evictions Initiative project director and a senior staff attorney at the National Housing Law Project (NHLP); Jesse Rabinowitz, campaign and communications director at the National Homelessness Law Center (NHLC), where he leads the Housing Not Handcuffs campaign. NLIHC Policy Manager Kim Johnson moderated. Dr. Day and Taylar opened the panel by sharing their insights about the barriers to obtaining and maintaining safe, stable housing after exiting incarceration and the ways in which things have changed – or in some cases, failed to change – for the people they help with reentry services today. Marie Claire discussed some of the formalized barriers to housing for formerly incarcerated and convicted people, including the broad discretion owners and operators of federally assisted housing have in screening out potential tenants with conviction histories. Marie Claire and Dr. Day shared their insights on enacting fair chance housing ordinances in Cook County, Illinois, and New York City, respectively. Fair chance housing laws set needed boundaries on tenant screenings, like limiting the kinds of convictions housing providers can screen for or the lookback period for conviction histories. Without a fair chance at accessing housing, too often people exit incarceration into homelessness, and homelessness in turn increases the likelihood of interacting with law enforcement, creating a vicious cycle of incarceration, homelessness, and reincarceration. Jesse rounded out the panel by describing how the increased criminalization of homelessness and the pending Supreme Court case will reinforce this cycle and create even more housing instability and homelessness.  

The Forum concluded with the day’s third and final plenary session. Congressman Jimmy Gomez (D-CA) kicked the session off by speaking about his efforts to create the first-ever Congressional Renters Caucus to serve as “a launching pad for legislative efforts and advocacy to finally give renters a voice in Washington.” He spoke about the need for a bold legislative agenda to ensure that housing is the primary priority for Congress going forward. 

Journalist and author Dr. Jelani Cobb then delivered a keynote address on achieving housing justice. Dr. Cobb began his remarks by thanking advocates for the work they do. “I’m an observer and an analyst,” he said, but “without people doing the work that you’ve been doing, for the time you’ve been doing it, I have nothing to observe and nothing to analyze.” He thanked the audience for “doing the work that allows us to incrementally move forward as a society toward a more equitable landscape.” He described how he had helped start the Inequality Project in response to conversations about the murder of George Floyd, the pandemic, and the pandemic-induced recession. He explained how he had realized that rather than three different conversations, they were in fact one conversation – about inequality. Inequality, he explained, is not a new problem but is instead like an “operating system that receives periodic updates.” Among the primary types of inequality in the U.S. is housing inequality, which, Dr. Cobb explained, has been baked into the country’s housing system from the very beginning but has recurred in different forms over time, including through restrictive covenants and redlining. He recounted the process through which he realized how fundamentally housing discrimination was connected to other types of discrimination, like police violence targeting Black people. He explained a revelation he had in the wake of the murder of George Floyd: “I had been reporting all these police stories, but I had really been reporting housing stories. I had been downstream from what the actual driver of the situation was.” He concluded by explaining how important unpredictable changes in context are to the fight for equality. Even when advocacy can seem hopeless and change impossible, sudden changes in social contexts can allow new possibilities and developments in the push for equality, and advocates should keep this in mind when their idealism flags or hope fades. Dr. Cobb finished his session by taking questions from the audience about what practices have worked in advancing equality historically, and what can be done to encourage journalists to focus on issues that matter, like housing.

Following Dr. Cobb’s address, NLIHC Board Chair Dora Leong Gallo delivered closing remarks, thanked participants and attendees, and urged advocates to join Capitol Hill Day the following day to transform the two days of discussion and brainstorming into action.

NLIHC thanks all those who attended Housing Policy Forum 2024: An Unwavering Path Forward to Housing Justice and made the event such a success. We look forward to seeing you at next year’s Forum!