Reaching Out to New Constituencies
By Kent Watkins
Who are unconventional stakeholders who can help rally support for housing?
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Actually, history will show that housing, and especially affordable housing, arrives on the backs of other forces or necessities – land expansion and sales promotions; immigration and slum conditions; financial crises; wars; jobs; transportation and exceptionalism or Manifest Destiny; racial migration within the country; and so forth (see Academy Fellow Charles Edson’s History of Public Housing, and the academy’s currently produced outline entitled, Comprehensive Housing Milestones, 1717-Present).
Today, it is still necessary to garner ‘unconventional stakeholders’ to help rally support for housing. We have a gaggle of housing groups who continue to provide nook-and-cranny, cradle to the grave public policies and advocacy strategies in a very efficient and effective manner. But, like all silos (we are not the only ones by far), we must reach out to all those other constituencies with other stakeholders – education, public works, transportation, health and welfare, culture and recreation/leisure, commerce – and the planning and governance entities that integrate all these on a neighborhood, city, metro, regional and greater levels of human habitation.
At a recent academy event honoring former Mayor/HUD Secretary/BPC Housing Commission co-chairman Henry Cisneros, I purposely invited Jim Oberstar, former head of the House Transportation Committee and new advocate of the housing-transportation nexus. Also present was the BPC National Transportation Policy Project director, as was the director of the Housing Commission. Many more such cross-events should be held of this sort, symbolic and substantive.
Those who have followed the motif of my blogs from the beginning know my mantra has been to forge constant partnerships and collaborative bridges. When we only have housing advocates on a housing commission – logical enough, at first glance – and not include those ‘unconventional stakeholders’ from the beginning, then it becomes more difficult to gain support for the housing agenda. If it’s part of a greater urban development, community development, sustainable development agenda and there are other stakeholders represented on such a commission or there is an effort to broaden the current report, then rallying support becomes easier.
We are aware of the blowback from certain parts of Congress toward the collaborative efforts that are taking place at the federal level (such as the White House Inter-Agency Task Force on Sustainability, where even various Departments meeting together or putting NOFAs out in common are opposed). We are aware the structure of the Congressional subcommittees on a narrow functional basis hampers cross-cutting efforts. But congressional committees have been known to have joint hearings and work out ways to collaborate across jurisdictional boundaries (see my “unpublished” Brookings paper).
Recommendation: Follow the 1968 Kaiser Commission model by using the present BPC Housing Commission’s report like any strategic plan or blueprint – treat it as a dynamic not static document, upgrade and amend it to expand the scope beyond housing and link housing reform to a national urban policy. Create or piggyback off housing-transportation; housing-education; housing-health; housing-corporate/labor USA; and housing-overall urban planning stakeholders. I can name about 300 such stakeholder groups who could be enlisted – can you?
Kent Watkins is chairman of the National Academy of Housing and Sustainable Development.
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