Affordable Housing Gone Viral?

For those of us in the affordable housing field, the map from the National Low-Income Housing Coalition’s annual Out of Reach report showing the “housing wage” in each state of the union is familiar, nearly iconic. Likewise, its headline fact that one full-time worker making minimum wage can’t afford* fair market rent for a 2-BR apartment anywhere in the country is, while frustrating, unsurprising. 

So it took me, at least, a minute to realize that there was something different going on when I saw the map flash by a few months ago on my Facebook news feed. Not once, but four or five times, all posted by people outside of my work circles and with no particular association with the affordable housing world. It quieted down, but I saw it pop up again recently. While we as a field fretted about whether housing has a “natural constituency” or not, the Out of Reach map had gone viral.

NLIHC President Sheila Crowley says she has become a big fan of Twitter as a method of getting the message out, noting that once something gets enough mentions or retweets, it tends to push it up onto more visible platforms like the Huffington Post. Others, including the Texas Association of CDCs have used social media as a tool to organize their constituents to respond quickly to legislative/executive branch action.

But it’s also a matter of being open to luck. There was no concerted effort to get the Out of Reach map reposted; it was picked up by a grad student and just struck a nerve, getting tens of thousands of repostings.

NLIHC staff say they’ve learned one social media lesson from it, which is to embed their credit and contact info more centrally into their images, since it got cut off, keeping them from reaping quite as much benefit as they might have from posts like this.

Nonetheless, it’s a great lesson about the fact that housing issues—even beyond foreclosure—are of interest to the general public, and social media may be a crucial way to reach and galvanize them. Especially in an election season, as social media bandwidth is increasing crowded with catchy political and cause-oriented memes, can community development find a spot?

If you could see one thing relating to your work go viral, do you know what would it be? Have you tried to make it happen?

*(Using the standard measure of spending no more than 30 percent of one's income on housing.)

Map: As cropped when it went viral, but credit to National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Miriam Axel-Lute is CEO/editor-in-chief of Shelterforce. She lives in Albany, New York, and is a proud small-city aficionado.


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