Director’s Desk: November 2021

November marks a quiet ramp-up of work in Salem as Legislators start finalizing what bills they will be introducing in the 2022 short session before the bill filing deadline later this month. For advocates and organizers, it means “on your marks” and “get set,” before we “go” in February. 

As Neighborhood Partnerships is undertaking the exciting journey of hiring an additional Housing Justice Organizer to support the ongoing history being made at Residents Organizing for Change (ROC), it is appropriate to pause and discuss the power of the story, the power of self, and how organizing facilitates the empowerment of people and the change that they can effect. 

What’s the difference between advocacy and organizing? Advocacy at its most basic definition is encouraging people in positions of power on behalf of a community to do something, like introduce a bill, sign on to a letter, or support an initiative. Organizing is something more direct, it’s bringing the community itself to those people in power.  

Residents Organizing for Change is a part of the change that is needed for addressing the on-the-ground perspectives to ensure that people can get the services they need to stay housed in uncertain times. 

Through the power of ROC, we’re developing a culture that goes further. It’s a culture of beating apathy, empowering residents of affordable housing to stop and insert themselves in the issues that Legislators grapple with, and thus inserting people back into the equation of the legislative process. It’s a concept that doesn’t just facilitate storytelling, it’s one that gets people involved, demystifying the process, and empowering ROC members to know (if they don’t already) that they’re the single most important aspect of the legislative process, and wouldn’t it be a shame if they weren’t there? 

ROC is the seed needed to make change in the communities where the impacts of policies inequities happen. ROC leaders elevate the needs of their neighbors, creating opportunities for their experience to interrupt the status quo and make housing justice history. To combat the NIMBYs, ROC changes the narrative, showing that passionate people live in affordable housing and want to make a difference. ROC members create housing opportunity for all Oregonians. 

And this is exactly what ROC does. With the guidance of Housing Justice Lead Organizer Reyna Gillet, ROC leaders develop their own legislative agenda separate and apart from the Oregon Housing Alliance, that is informed by their own lived experienced and based off what they believe is needed to ensure safe, stable, and affordable homes. They have their own meetings with their Representatives and Senators, which they facilitate, lead, and spend the time needed beforehand to ensure that the meetings are as successful as possible. Last March, ROC met with 18 Representative and Senators (Democratic and Republican) over a span of a week to advocate for their 2021 legislative agenda.  

The effect of ROC leaders advocating for safe, stable, and affordable homes has already been huge. ROC helped pass HB 2006, which removes barriers to siting shelters in communities through mid-next year. They helped pass SB 291, which requires an individualized assessment by a landlord, and prohibits landlords from screening people out for an arrest with no conviction, or previous criminal history for situations that are no longer illegal in Oregon. And ROC was instrumental in securing a windfall of funding for housing, including $4.5 million for a long-term rent assistance pilot program for former foster youth (HB 2163), $3.6 million for expanding an existing host home network, which provides a home for unaccompanied homeless youth, and $100 million in general fund dollars to meet needs to maintain existing affordable housing across Oregon! 

And ROC is still at it. In addition to supporting bills that didn’t get passed in 2021, such as ending the criminalization of homelessness (HB 2367), and instituting a universal rental application (HB 2427), ROC is endeavoring to draft bold, systems-changing legislation of their own for the 2023 long session. Stay tuned! 

The power of organizing creates palpable, tangible results that show that there is a place for every Oregonian to engage in the legislative process if they want to. NP is extremely excited to see our organizing work empower Oregonians across the state to advocate for what they believe in, and we’re doubly excited to see our team grow in the near future.