The Power of Simple Human Stories
By Joe Belden
Who are unconventional stakeholders who can help rally support for housing?
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Our experience at the Housing Assistance Council over many years is that tenants and homeowning families who live in affordable housing and can often be effective and moving witnesses. The real life stories of these stakeholders may be able to help rally support. For example, consider the following from two girls, ages 8 and 9, writing about growing up in USDA-supported self-help housing, one in Arkansas and one in Ohio:
“I have my own room. I love my house. I am proud of where I live. I am happy where I live. My mom worked very hard. I am safe and happy.”
“[Our new home] means our whole family doesn’t have to live in a one room house anymore. It also means I can plant flower gardens around our home. I even have my very own peach tree.”
These young ladies were among the winners in a 2004 USDA-and-HAC-sponsored children’s poster contest. It asked children to answer the question, “What does self-help housing mean to my family and me?” But similar questions could be asked of most or all affordable housing programs.
There are of course many other personal stories out there. Some examples from HAC’s local partners, files and travels:
- A group of seniors, tenants in a USDA Section 515 rental project on the West Coast, who were happy and relieved when their threatened apartments were preserved in affordable use with new ownership and financing.
- An older woman who, with her late husband, built a self-help home in California in the mid-1960s. Today she’s still there. Her adult children, who grew up in the home, are all leading successful lives.
- A small subdivision in rural Maryland, financed with USDA mortgages. Forty years on most of the original homeowners are still there.
- An all-pro NFL quarterback who grew up in a USDA self-help house, and whose father started a construction business based in part on his self-help building experience.
These are of course anecdotes, not scientific surveys. But simple human stories can be very effective.
Joe Belden is deputy executive director of the Housing Assistance Council
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