Tenants Engage in Federal Advocacy during Two-Day Tenant Session at Housing Policy Forum

For more than 20 years, NLIHC has hosted a tenant leader session at its annual Housing Policy Forum. In the lead-up to this year’s Housing Policy Forum 2024: An Unwavering Path Forward to Housing Justice, NLIHC held a two-day, hybrid tenant session, “Tenants Creating a Just Housing Reality,” that brought together tenant and community leaders for a series of panels, sessions, and discussions about the current state of housing justice advocacy. For the first time ever, NLIHC also included in the tenant meeting a breakout session featuring HUD staff. Attendees engaged directly with staff from the agency, who fielded questions and discussed concerns about a variety of topics, including public housing, vouchers, and tenant organizing.

The session began with a welcome from NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel, who highlighted the centrality of tenant leaders in NLIHC’s work. NLIHC Project Manager for Inclusive Community Engagement Sidney Betancourt then introduced members of NLIHC’s 2023-2024 Collective to attendees, and NLIHC Tenant Leader Fellow Dee Ross shared a moving piece of spoken word addressing the pressing issues facing tenants today and including a call for deep engagement in the tenant session. After Dee’s words, the session’s facilitator, Rebeccah Bennett, the founder and principal of Emerging Wisdom, guided an opening activity during which in-person and virtual attendees had the opportunity to meet and talk.

Following the opening activity, attendees participated in a workshop, “Overview of HUD Programs,” featuring staff from HUD. The conversation began with an overview of the goals and priorities for HUD’s Public Housing, Project-Based Rental Assistance, Tenant-Based Rental Assistance, and Fair Housing programs. Geraldine Collins, executive director of the National Alliance of HUD Tenants and an NLIHC board member, moderated a conversation with Richard J. Monocchio, principal deputy assistant secretary in HUD’s Office of Public and Indian Housing (PIH); Ethan Handelman, deputy assistant secretary in HUD’s Office of Multifamily Housing Programs; and Lynn Grosso, deputy assistant secretary for enforcement in HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.


Next, attendees were invited to attend one of three breakout sessions featuring HUD staff. Each session adopted a town hall format that allowed tenants to engage directly with HUD personnel. One session focused on Public Housing/RAD, was moderated by Ramona Ferreyra (a member of the NLIHC Collective), and included Todd Thomas, director of the Office of Public Housing Programs, and Thomas Davis, director of the Office of Recapitalization. Another session focused on Project-Based Rental Assistance, was moderated by Tara Madison of NLIHC’s Collective, and featured Ethan Handelman, deputy assistant secretary of the Office of Multifamily Housing Programs, and Robert Iber, senior advisor in the Office of Deputy Assistant Secretary. The last session addressed organizing in subsidized and non-subsidized housing, was moderated by Dee Ross, and featured Kymian Ray, director of Public Housing Management and Occupancy; Libby Fernandez, supervisory program analyst in the Office of Multifamily Housing Programs; and Parker Lester, program analyst with the Office of Multifamily Housing Programs.


The sessions provided a space for informed dialogue, knowledge exchange, and relationship-building between attendees. By elevating tenant voices and perspectives, the sessions not only addressed immediate challenges but also paved the way for ongoing collaboration and policy improvement. The engagement with HUD officials exemplified the importance of inclusive decision-making and the potential for positive change when community members are actively involved.

The first day of the Tenant Session concluded with a dinner attended by tenant leaders and members of NLIHC’s state and tribal partner network. The dinner opened with remarks by Cathy Alderman, chief communications and public policy officer of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, state and tribal partner caucus chair, and an NLIHC board member, and Geraldine Collins, executive director of the National Alliance of HUD Tenants (NAHT) and an NLIHC board member. Dinner guests enjoyed a performance by SongRise, a D.C.-based women’s social justice a cappella group that performed songs directly related to social justice movements, such as “A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke, “Bread and Roses” by Judy Collins, and “Mountain Song” by Holly Near and Emma’s Revolution. The dinner concluded with guests participating in guided conversations with prompts to foster deeper connection and discussion.

Facilitator Rebeccah Bennett began the second day of the session by setting the tone with a wellness and liberation exercise. She discussed the connections between wellness and liberation, engaging participants in an interactive gratitude practice, and had participants share their personal healing methods with the entire group.

Following Rebeccah’s introductory workshop, Collective member Shannon “Sunshine” Washington of Sunshine Charity Community Investment Coalition and Sunshine Tenant Authority Patrol and Support moderated a panel discussion, “Challenges of Building a Movement.” The panel included Tara Madison, member of NLIHC’s Collective; Miracle Fletcher, housing commissioner of the City of Atlanta; and Dee Ross, founder of the Indiana Tenants Association and NLIHC Tenant Leader Fellow. The session highlighted the tendency among tenant leaders to overthink and strive for perfection and emphasized the importance of providing consistent leadership over simply increasing numbers. Participants discussed effective storytelling strategies, as well as the reluctance of some tenants to share their experiences due to fear of retaliation. By showcasing the tenant association itself as a “narrative representation,” participants explored alternative ways to amplify voices while ensuring tenant safety. The session was well-received, with attendees expressing gratitude for practical insights and ideas about best practices that would enable them to initiate meaningful change in their communities.

After the workshop, participants had the opportunity once again to interact directly with HUD staff one-on-one during a “HUD Office Hours” session. The session provided a space for informal discussions about tenant experiences in HUD programs. Participants also utilized this time for networking with each other.


The Tenant Session concluded with heartfelt remarks from the facilitator, Rebeccah Bennett, as participants enjoyed lunch together and geared up for the start of NLIHC’s Housing Policy Forum. Moving forward, both tenant leaders and NLIHC look forward to continuing tenant-led sessions and collaborations aimed at advancing housing justice and tenant empowerment.