Project Spotlight: Skid Row Housing Trust
Our project was to help Skid Row Housing Trust develop an advocacy approach to gain the attention of government officials and change the narrative around housing preservation.
Skid Row Housing Trust is a nationally recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides permanent supportive housing to those who have experienced homelessness, prolonged extreme poverty, poor health, disabilities, mental illness, and addiction. To do so, they focus on preserving, managing, and building new housing in the Skid Row area. In addition to providing housing, the Trust also provides mental health and health services to the people it serves. The Trust currently owns 26 buildings that provide housing for 1,800 people in Los Angeles. Instead of working with management companies, the Trust has created its own property management company called the Skid Row Housing Trust Management Company, which has been operating for the past 25 years. They are mostly funded by government subsidies.
There are two main issues that Skid Row Housing Trust needs help with. The first is finding a way to get government attention to preserving existing housing. Currently, government policy is mainly focused on building new housing. However, the trust has realized that they are losing too many units of housing, to the point where they may be losing more housing than they are able to build new units. This loss comes from a lack of funding in their existing housing, so it eventually becomes unlivable and is purchased by businesses and sold as market rate housing. They’ve tried reaching out to government officials for earmarks and contacted the Department of Homeland Security, but haven’t found much support or attention. They asked for our help to improve advocacy efforts. More specifically, they asked for 180’s help in creating a narrative that is digestible to both the lay person and government officials in order to draw more attention to the issue of preserving existing affordable housing. In addition to creating a convincing narrative, they want us to devise a strategy to reach as many people as possible with this message.
In this project, our team developed a detailed plan to address the following problem. First, we aimed to propose concrete ways to reach out to government officials, other advocacy organizations, and community members to explain the need for housing preservation. Secondly, we planned to provide assistance in crafting a convincing narrative that could be sent to both the public and government officials.
To ensure we provided the most informed, effective solutions, our team followed a three-prong approach.
Collect data on the current situation
Conduct outreach to government officials and other advocacy organizations to determine what partnerships could look like
Develop templates of letters and social media posts to support their advocacy efforts in changing the narrative around the homelessness crisis
To restructure the narrative, first SRHT would have to evoke awareness and concern in voters and politicians. The first way to do so is through vivid excerpts from SRHT residents. The second is through data. By using data we could simplify the problem and mechanisms of the loss of housing. Secondly, we would use the data to highlight how the kind of funding provided thus far has made little progress. And thirdly, use data to quantify the economic benefits of housing preservation and capital improvements.
First, we looked into housing loss: where it starts and why it persists. Through research we found that there’s an increase in outdated housing that needs repairs and improvements which is required for funding but is unsupported and unsustainable due to the decrease in public funding.
Why do they keep putting in more funding but making only modest, if any, progress in alleviating the suffering and homelessness of Skid Row?
Our answer: Los Angeles is on a treadmill, running with full force but not really getting anywhere. To get off the treadmill, and start seeing tax dollars make actual progress simply have to reallocate resources and priorities from to housing preservation and maintenance over development.
Breaking new land in Los Angeles is only getting more expensive. If focus remains sloley on producing new units, more taxpayers dollars and public funding will have to be used to make the same amount of progress. However, they can get around this by rehabilitating deteriorating and uninhabitable buildings, which is much cheaper. This way, the public pays less, and vulnerable individuals in Skid Row get more housing and better living conditions. We conducted more research into how the SRHT 2021 budget has been used as well as the increase in homelessness.
In the next aspect of our research, we reached out to similar nonprofits or advocacy-based non-profits. We asked the question: “how do we get decision makers to care about the issues at hand and act accordingly?”
We learned that there are four criteria to consider: framing, resident stories, broad coalitions, and tailored messaging.
We also took a deeper dive into understanding previous legislation that specifically worked in other states that improved housing preservation but hasn’t been implemented in Los Angeles. This previous legislation includes
The Right of First Refusal
Ex. San Francisco’s Assisted Housing Preservation Ordinance
Property Tax Incentives
Chicago Class 9
Tax Increment Financing/Linkage Fees
City Council of Portland, Oregon, TIF Set-Aside Policy
With this information coupled with the knowledge gained through interviews, we were able to have a better understanding about key aspects to consider when conducting outreach to policy makers as well as ways to reframe creating our solution for SRHT.
With a goal to change the narrative and infect policy change, we reached out to lawmakers to understand what influences their policy decisions which could affect how SRHT should shape their advocacy efforts. We reached out to both a Washington state Congressman and a Seattle Councilmember. Through these interviews, we learned that the most advantageous approach is a bottom-up, bipartisan approach beginning with localized advocacy. This means that encouraging lawmakers to advocate to their peers is crucial.
Using all the data, interviews, and research we collected, we were then able to develop an advocacy process model.
1. ADVOCACY TO HIGH-LEVEL PARTNER OFFICIALS
Using the collected data, the first main takeaway we realized was that, given that the central authority in this process is the public counter, it is vital for SRHT to build relationships with officials working with the Development Service Center. Secondly, we identified that, with regards to the budget allocation process, besides front-end advocacy work, there is little room for public participation.
With the data and interviews from public officials, our team developed an outreach agenda forced on short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals which are organized according to how quick and easy it is to implement with potential partners, specifically advocacy organizations.
Below we included examples of each kind of recommendation we provided SRHT.
The short term recommendations:
Growing a presence and voice on social media
Sharing data and materials with housing-related organizations in LA and California
Collaborate on a brochure or blog with a non-housing related non-profit and social groups.
Participate in a showcase or commission artwork with arts/performance groups.
Recruit for legal or technical assistance from groups that have taken a case to court before or specialize in legal assistance
Submit an op-ed or contact media with groups that support preservation policies
Develop a collective grant with housing organizations or developers interested in housing preservation
Create a joint research project with local and state housing-related groups.
Ask for link-minded organizations to share our message.
Much of our recommendations center around creating partnerships with organizations that are similar in cause or are focused on advocacy. To aid SRHT in finding and developing those relationships, our team provided a list of organizations to reach out to. Even more, we specified their shared mission, how SRHT can take collective action with them, and provided their contact information for their ease.
2. ADVOCACY TO HIGH-LEVEL GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS
The second aspect of our solutions focused on how to gain the attention and support of high-level government officials to implement legislative changes. Our consultant team researched individuals of interest, collected their contact information, and explained how their position relates to SRHT.
From there, we als created letter templates that the SRHT can utilize when reaching out to these individuals. The first letter template is to be used when reaching out to organizations that are also involved in the fight against the housing crisis. SRHT can fill in the template after deciding, if any, which policies they would like that organization to be a part of advocating for. And secondly they would have to decide which action items they would like from the organization, whether it’s signing a petition, collaborating on an event, sharing something with their network, etc.
The second letter template is curated to be used to reach out to organizations involved in related domains, health, women’s rights, racism, sexism, and combating poverty. The reason these kinds of organizations are useful to partner with is because their support broadens SRHT’s reach and appeal as well as framing SRHT’s narrative. These organizations may or may not be able to help SHRT with specific policies.
Letter Template 1
Letter Template 2
3. GRASSROOTS ADVOCACY
A main aspect of the project is shifting the narrative to change public and legislative action and to do so, we emphasized the importance of using social media for advocacy. Therefore, we developed a toolkit of tips that SRHT could use when developing social media posts. The main takeaway is that instagram can be a powerful tool for advocacy if leveraged properly, and these are just some of the tactics used by other organizations to generate the most noise and spread awareness of relevant issues.
Our team didn’t stop there. In addition, we created a list of ideas for types of posts that could showcase SRHT, engage with followers, and promote advocacy. Then we provided examples of posts with infographics, call-to-action text, and colors that match SRHT’s current color scheme. Lastly, we also provided examples of content that partner organizations can utilize to amplify the voice of SRHT’s cause.
By implementing our reccomendatoins, SRHT has short and long term benchmarks they can work towards to help them accomplish their goal of shifting the narrative, gaining legislative and public support, and ultimately developing a strong advocacy following that result in progress that serves the homeless population.
Looking Back at this Project
Our team is proud to have provided a comprehensive advocacy and outreach plan that serves Skid Row Housing Trust’s mission of providing affordable housing.
If you feel that your organization can use our help, fill out our client interest form!