In 2012, the Alabama legislature took a significant step forward to address our ongoing housing crisis by passing HB110, the Alabama Affordable Housing Act, which established a state housing trust fund. The Low Income Housing Coalition of Alabama (LIHCA) has advocated for increased housing opportunities for low income Alabamians since its inception and we view the passage of HB110 as a promising victory. A housing trust fund is a well proven model for sustaining needed funds for the production, preservation and rehabilitation of affordable homes. In passing HB110, Alabama became the 45th state to adopt such a fund.
While we have been successful in creating the fund, there is still work to be done to secure dedicated revenue. An integral component in our campaign strategy is a successful communications strategy. In addition to disseminating information about the need for more affordable housing, we are teaching Alabamians how to effectively advocate for a dedicated revenue source for the housing trust fund.
When we look at the data, the case for a state housing trust fund in Alabama is strong. Local and national estimates put Alabama in need of over 90,000 affordable homes for seniors on fixed incomes, persons with disabilities and low-wage workers. According to the 2013 Out of Reach report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, nowhere in Alabama can you find a 2-bedroom apartment that is affordable for a family living on minimum wage. However, we know that facts and data alone will not convince the legislature to create a revenue source. We need to build political will and that begins by framing the trust fund as an issue that aligns with Alabama’s values.
Successful campaigns use strategically crafted messages to influence policymakers – and LIHCA is doing just that. With support from our members and the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, LIHCA recently conducted focus groups and statewide polling to test messages about housing and its relationship to opportunity, responsibility and reward for work. We found that these are universal values and as a result we crafted messages that reinforce these values like:
“Children deserve an opportunity to succeed in school and in life.
In Alabama, this begins with a place to call home.”
Public opinion research shows that people become more responsive to our issues when we talk about values that are specifically important to them. Therefore, we’ve also tested messages related to Southern pride, economic impact and faith – values that resonate with many of us in the South. Testing these messages with Alabamians is helping us determine what messages we use and adapt moving forward in our communications strategy. Until now, we have had to rely on messages that were crafted and tested outside of the South for a national audience. However, the South is a unique place with a distinctive history, culture and resulting values system. What we want, and what we need, are messages that resonate with Southerners, and Alabamians, in particular.
Messaging Matters. Trainings are being offered statewide in Decatur, Mobile, Montgomery and Tuscaloosa. Our goal for these trainings is to equip advocates with the knowledge, skills and messages they need to talk with legislators and their communities about the need for a viable, i.e. funded, housing trust fund.This fall, LIHCA is hosting a series of trainings entitled,
Our focus groups, statewide polling and our Messaging Matters training are three key components of our overall communications strategy. This coming year, we plan to expand on these efforts by launching a housing trust fund campaign website, starting a blog and utilizing social media platforms to disseminate our message. LIHCA members and partners are reaching out across the state to make the case for dedicated housing revenue. We are optimistic that the tide is turning and we will secure dedicated revenue for the housing trust fund, because we know that the people of Alabama believe in the message and value that everyone deserves a place to call home.
Ashley Kerr serves as Community Initiatives Manager for Collaborative Solutions, Inc. (CSI), and oversees the rural housing initiatives. In this role, Kerr coordinates rehabilitation activities on substandard housing, develops curricula, provides technical assistance to nonprofit service providers, and brokers partnerships between rural service providers and affordable housing developers. In addition, Ms. Kerr oversees the coordination and advocacy efforts of the Low Income Housing Coalition of Alabama (LIHCA), a statewide organization dedicated to increasing affordable housing resources for Alabamians living in poverty.