Strategic Action for Affordable Housing: How Advocacy Organizations Accomplish Policy Change

Anaid Yerena of the University of Washington, Tacoma writes about a recent article she authored in the Journal of Planning Education and Research.

Read Time: 3 minutes

January 10, 2020, 5:00 AM PST

By JPER


Traffic Safety Advocates

New Yorkers rally for slower speed limits outside Prospect Park. / Dmitry Gudkov

Several planners have found that advocacy organizations (AOs) influence local housing policy decisions (Basolo, 1997; Goetz, 1997; Lucio & Ramirez de la Cruz, 2012; Yerena, 2015). To do so, they have used several methods, from directly asking planners to assess AOs influence, to looking at quantifiable outcomes of AOs’ work (local spending on housing).

Through this research, I contribute to planners understanding of this issue by answering how AOs go about deciding the strategies they use to exert their influence. This study looks at AOs at four Los Angeles County cities. Using data from interviews with AO leaders and city officials, document review of AO materials (e.g., IRS 990 forms, AO websites), and content analysis of the cities’ most recent Housing Elements. I categorize the tactics AOs used based on the goal of the effort as: insider and outsider strategies. Insider strategies aim to reach (and influence) decision makers, for example: testifying/speaking at a city council meeting. Outsider strategies, on the other hand, target the broader public in the hope of mobilizing their support; examples of these strategies include publishing an OpEd or leading a letter writing campaign. I look at the selection of strategies by large and small AOS (according to their resources–number of employees, years of existence and assets) and according to the political context (opportunity) in which the AOs are acting.

In the study I find that the range of tactics large and small AOs use depends on both the political context and organizational resources. What was evident from the cases was the approach AOs are willing to take depending on the political context. When the political context is closed (e.g., low support among residents and decision-makers around affordable housing), AOs take on a reactive role (as they await the political context to shift); they make sure to fund and create reports to raise awareness on the facts among the general public and decision-makers. While AOs in more open political contexts (e.g., supportive city council), are able to be proactive and propose ideas for discussion in the interest of moving the housing policy agenda forward. As members of city staff, planners work in support of city council’s interests and if affordable housing policy is not (or low) on councilmembers’ priority list, planners can call on AOs use their tactics to ensure housing makes its way up policymakers’ priority list.

To be sure, the solution to the current affordable housing crisis does not rest solely on the shoulders of affordable housing AOs, yet their continuous work and understanding of the housing issues can play a large role in cities’ policy and implementation responses to this pervasive issue. AOs provide planners and local policymakers with on-the-ground, up-to-date information and are able to mobilize their constituent base in support of innovative solutions. Whether the solution involves tenant protections, reducing the amount of single-family zoning, or changing state regulation, AOs are always thinking about housing policy solutions.


JPER

In this new series, Journal of Planning Education and Research (JPER) articles will be made available to Planetizen readers subscription free for 30 days. This is possible through collaboration between SAGE Publications and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning.

Books

The Top Urban Planning Books of 2022

An annual list of the must-read books related to urban planning and its intersecting fields.

November 28, 2022 - James Brasuell

The  Rue Sainte-Catherine in Bordeaux is crowded with pedestrians in a lively European scene.

European Cities Act on Density

The sprawling mass of suburbia has been a disaster for the environment. But now smaller, denser cities herald a renaissance in city living.

November 20, 2022 - Wired Magazine

Victorian two-story buildings with retail shops in downtown Nashvile, Tennessee

Nashville Sets Downtown Parking Maximums

Nashville is the latest city to enact a substantive change to the parking requirements set by the city’s zoning code—doing away with parking minimums and setting parking maximums in the city’s Urban Zoning Overlay.

November 20, 2022 - The Tennessean

Home Sold Sign

Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae to Back $1 Million Mortgages

Expensive housing markets are about to cross a symbolic threshold.

7 hours ago - The Wall Street Journal

The land locked Salton Sea, seen from the air, is surrounded by mountains, desert, and farm land.

Controversial Agreement Yields Funding for Salton Sea Restoration

An unprecedented, but deeply controversial, agreement changes the equation for the Colorado River and the Salton Sea.

November 30 - Palm Springs Desert Sun

People examining parked goMARTI vans at launch event

Grand Rapids Tests First Rural Autonomous Shuttle

The town launched a five-vehicle fleet aimed at improving mobility for residents in the rural community.

November 30 - The Daily Yonder

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.