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Last month I had the opportunity to attend the 2023 Housing Policy Forum: Onward to Housing Justice, hosted by the National Low Income Housing Coalition and held in Washington, D.C. There were several hundred attendees, as well as the NLIHC Board of Directors and State and Tribal Partners from across the country. The Forum is an annual event, but due to COVID, they had not held it in person since 2019.
On the morning before the Forum started, the NLIHC held its tradition of having a Tenant Session prior to the main Forum to provide learning and networking opportunities for low-income tenants. This year’s theme was “We Are the Ones” and included tenant and community leaders engaged in thoughtful discussions about tenant rights and protections and tenant advocacy focused on federal housing policy to achieve housing justice for all. For the first time, the NLIHC extended the tenant session to two days, which really centered those with lived expertise and provided a much more meaningful forum for all.
The next day I was invited to sit on a panel with other tenant leaders with lived experience to talk about building power. We spoke about what brought us to the work, how we are organizing, and what kinds of victories we have been able to achieve. I was proud to talk about our work around Source of Income Discrimination and being the first state to pass Right to Counsel!
There were many other break-out sessions and subjects -- everything from “Achieving Affordable Housing Solutions in Native and Rural Areas”, to “Countering the Criminalization of Homelessness”, and “Racial Equity in Practice”, and so much more! There were also several Plenary discussions, including “IDEAS into Action, Achieving Housing Justice” and “Conversations with Administration Officials”. There was also the annual Presentation of Organizing Awards and Best Practices in State/Local Organizing.
The highlight for me came on the second day when I got to join two colleagues on a panel with the HUD Secretary, Marcia Fudge. During the plenary session, we talked about how we’ve been impacted by housing instability and homelessness, how we can better balance the power between tenants and HUD, and ways we’d like to see HUD step up. Some ideas discussed were centering the voices of people with lived experience, holding Public Housing Authorities accountable for violations on their end, and strengthening Section 8, Section 3, and Section 9 programs. The Secretary listened intently, and said that this was the last job she intended to have, and although she won’t always get it right, she won’t stop working for our benefit and continually strive to do better.
Right after that session, Washington’s own Representative Pramila Jayapal came to talk with us. She re-introduced her bill, Housing is a Human Right, and told us that it will be a fight in Congress, but that she has boxing gloves! #shero She also asked that we all support it, so let’s show her some love and get this across the finish line this time! There were also several video messages by members of Congress that support affordable housing, tenant protections, and better homelessness-prevention policies.
The last day was spent on Capitol Hill for “Hill Day”. Hill Day brought together state and tribal partners, housing providers, tenant associations, and homeless service agencies, as well as tenants with lived expertise, who together conducted more than 170 meetings with congressional offices representing 34 states, making this year’s Hill Day the most active ever! We had 7 people representing Washington State, and together we met with eight lawmakers and had great meetings pushing to advance essential affordable housing legislation.
Overall, it was an amazing few days filled with learning, sharing, networking, crying, laughing, and most of all, building power! I am very grateful I had the opportunity to attend, and I am even more hopeful that together, we will achieve housing justice for all.
~Mindy Woods, RAP Leader, WLIHA and NLIHC Board member