In preparation for the 2017 election, affordable housing advocates in Virginia launched the Campaign for Housing and Civic Engagement (CHACE) in conjunction with Our Homes, Our Voices National Housing Week of Action. The campaign sought to raise the profile of the affordable housing crisis among voters and educate candidates about the need to invest in affordable homes. The Virginia Housing Alliance, an NLIHC state partner, and the Virginia Poverty Law Center led the non-partisan campaign, which was supported by over 20 organizations across the state. Following an election during which many candidates pledged support for affordable housing programs, CHACE leaders are now expanding the campaign to include year-round voter education and elected official engagement.
As Virginia prepared for its 2017 election season, which included elections for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and the 100 members of the House of Delegates, housing advocates joined together to mobilize voters around the state’s growing affordable housing crisis. The Virginia Housing Alliance and the Virginia Poverty Law Center drew together over 20 organizations to plan a comprehensive voter and candidate engagement effort. They identified three central policy themes: funding for permanent support housing and housing supportive services, support for the state’s housing trust fund, and expansion of residential energy efficiency programs. CHACE funded a public opinion poll, which found that a majority of Virginians support expanding state investments in affordable housing and requiring utility companies to increase energy efficiency to help families save on energy bills. The group then used the results of this poll to demonstrate to candidates the voters’ support for affordable housing solutions.
CHACE used the results of the public opinion poll and compelling data on the lack of affordable housing in Virginia extensively with both candidates and voters. The group provided voters who indicated a commitment to affordable housing with messaging guides and talking points to raise the profile of the affordability crisis in the election. They also created housing issue briefs and district-level fact sheets on housing need. CHACE leaders then used these fact sheets as they met directly with candidates. Ten of the states’ newly elected delegates met with CHACE leaders prior to the election and will enter the state house already educated on the need to increase the state’s investment in affordable housing. With a significant shift in the makeup of the House of Delegates, CHACE’s work to educate officials will position affordable housing well in the next legislative session.
CHACE also worked with Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE), a northern Virginia group who hosted a gubernatorial candidate forum, to ensure the forum included a discussion of affordable housing. Both gubernatorial candidates pledged their support for the state’s affordable housing trust fund during the forum. Ralph Northam, the governor-elect, promised voters, “As governor, I will support policies that ensure that all Virginians have access to safe and stable homes… I’ll fight to protect and increase funds going to the Housing Trust Fund, which encourages private and public investment into housing for low income, elderly, and disabled Virginians.” Mr. Northam also highlighted the struggle thousands of Virginians face as housing costs rise and wages remain stagnant. His understanding of the lack of affordable homes and his pledge to support programs that encourage their creation was one demonstration of CHACE’s impact.
Following the election, CHACE leaders are dedicated to continuing to engage Virginians about the need for affordable homes. They will transition their efforts to year-round work, focused on educating voters, candidates, and elected officials at the local, state, and federal level.
“For the first time in Virginia, housing advocates dipped our toes into the state elections,” said Virginia Housing Alliance Policy Director Zack Miller. “We had an overwhelmingly positive experience with the campaign, and we view this as a first step and are excited to continue and expand this effort in 2018."