Affordable Housing: Managing The Message

The right choice of words, stories and images can have a remarkable effect on how the public views affordable housing.

This is the story of how Mary, the low-income person, became Mary, the school bus driver. She used to work for a minimum wage, but now she's the head of a working family. While she was once hopelessly in need of public assistance, now she's working hard, but she still can't afford a place of her own.

If these sentences don't suggest that anything about Mary's life has actually changed, that's because nothing has. Mary, an imaginary character whose life looks a lot like that of millions of Americans, is still low-income, still cashing paychecks that don't cover all the bills and still needs help from the government. So why should Mary's tale be told any differently than before?

Michael Anderson has learned that describing Mary as a hardworking mother, who happens to perform the essential role of driving other people's children to school, makes a huge difference to people who are skeptical about affordable housing. Anderson, who heads the Community Development Network (CDN) in Portland, Oregon, has spent a lot of time thinking about how he and other housing advocates portray people like Mary. His work on "messaging," how to frame the housing debate, has opened his eyes. For Anderson and fellow advocates to build support for better state and local policies on affordable housing, the key is to show people that their own neighbors will benefit. By contrast, for years advocates have managed to turn off editors, politicians and voters who hear "affordable housing" and visualize a faceless mass of the needy.

Thanks to David Holtzman

Full Story: Managing the Message

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