Every year the National Low Income Housing Coalition gives out a number of awards to individuals and groups who have played important roles in furthering the coalition's goal of providing or improving housing for lowest income Americans. The breadth of the awards—from politician to media to resident organizing—is a good reminder of how many different roles there are to play in this work.
Last night at the Housing Leadership Awards Reception (the coalition's main fundraising event, with lead sponsor Bank of America back on board after a year off), they honored two very familiar names:
The Edward W. Brooke II Housing Leadership Award, named after a former Republican senator and housing champion, went to Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine. Greg Payne of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition said of Sen. Snowe that not only was she a consistent supporter of affordable housing, but she is “revered” in Maine because she knows that neither party has a monopoly on good ideas.
The Cushing Niles Dolbeare Lifetime Service Award, named after the coalition's founder, went to Dr. Chester Hartman, a longtime scholar, activist planner, and founder of the Poverty & Race Research Action Council. Appearing by video because he was recovering from heart surgery, Hartman told the group that the coalition is a very important organization, and spoke of his studies of the effects of displacement on people who have lost their homes and of the need to connect housing, health, and education work.
On Monday, following hard on a discussion after the keynote by Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry about the difficulty of getting media to cover issues of poverty because they doesn't rate well (one of her suggestions was to pick unexpected bad guys as targets for action), the NLIHC's 2013 Media Award was announced.
The award went to Nikole Hannah-Jones (author) and Jeff Larson (news appliations developer) at ProPublica for their series “Living Apart: Fair Housing in America,“ which traces the history, promise, and enforcement shortfalls of the Fair Housing Act. It is a gripping read (and really makes you wish Mitt Romney was a lot more like his father, former HUD Secretary George Romeny). In an environment where many are bemoaning the loss of long-form, in-depth, real-reporting journalism, the nonprofit ProPublica, which publishes its stories under a Creative Commons license, is a shining exception.
And of course, there needs to be activist and organizing for the media, scholars, and pols to learn from, report on and support. The coalition gives two awards in this category, one for state and local organizing and one for resident organizing.
The state and local award went this year to the Maryland Affordable Housing Coalition, a 175-member strong group, for its successful campaign to increase state funding for rental housing by $17.5 million through the Rental Housing Works Initiative. They pitched it as a job creator, and nearly doubled the state's housing funding.
Honorable mentions were New York State Tenants and Neighbors (increased enforcement of rent protections), Tenants Union of Washington State (winning of Seattle's Rental Housing Registration and Inspection Ordinance), and Virginia Housing Coalition (winning the Virginia Housing Trust Fund).
The resident organizing award went to Central Advisory Council, a jurisdiction-wide tenant organization in Chicago with 14 local offices that serves over 25,000 public housing residents and has also supported Section 8 voucher holders. The group has many projects, including one to connect families in scattered site housing with social service providers, and CAC was the group to bring together Chicago housing advocacy groups through the Common Grounds Coalition.
The Coalition also announced a special award for outstanding partner in affordable housing research for the Public and Affordable Housing Research Corporation, a young organization that has, with the coalition, created the National Housing Preservation Database, the first nearly comprehensive catalog of federally subsidized multifamily properties in the country.
(Sen. Snowe photo, CC-BY, from Sen. John Rockefeller. Chester Hartman photo courtesy of PRRAC. Nikole Hannah-Jones image credit: Lars Klove)