A cadre of champions

As the 2009 Legislative session draws near an end, I’ve been reflecting on our experiences and success. There have been a lot of especially rewarding moments, and a recurring theme.

When a small group of advocates formed the Housing Alliance in 2004, we had three main goals.

First, we wanted to increase ongoing resources available to meet the growing need for affordable housing.

Second, we wanted to move housing up the priority list for at least some legislators, from number eight or nine to up among the top three.

And, third, we wanted to build a cadre of housing champions in the legislature – representatives and senators who understood the needs for affordable housing in their districts and who cared enough about those needs to do some work on the issue.

Our success this session is directly attributable to having accomplished the third goal.  We’ve done such a solid job of educating legislators about the issue that it’s hard to winnow the list down to a top ten or even a top twenty champions. On Lobby Day, March 13, we delivered “Housing Champion” awards and “Housing Advocate” awards to more than forty legislators.  And believe me, they had all earned the recognition, not just by voting to support Housing Opportunity, but by going out of their way to bring another legislator along, to speak out in committee or on the floor, and to dig deeply into the details of the issue and build their own passion for making housing opportunity a reality.

The credit for these housing champions belongs to all of you. If you’ve made a visit to a legislator, shared a story, invited a representative to a project opening, written an email, had a conversation, written a letter to the editor, or done anything else to bring home the fact that housing needs exist in every corner of the state, you should feel good about the results of that effort. Even if your representative didn’t vote with us, believe me it’s made a difference. The other thing I noticed this session is that even our “opponents” are supporters. Their statements typically began with “ We all know that everyone needs a safe decent place to live” or “ I support affordable housing,”.

When even your opponents carry your message, you know you’ve gotten your point across. Yes, everyone does deserve a safe decent place to call home. And together, we’ve made that vision more of a reality.

Janet Byrd