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Public Policy Advocacy

How and where to have impact on rental housing issues.  Why is it so hard?


Come strong or stay home.

    Recent efforts to win electoral reforms at the municipal level should be giving advocates some clues about how to make change where you live. Civic engagement is not for well meaning idealists in search of a good cause. Just one stunning defeat can poison the well for future efforts to mobilize the grassroots.

    The recent article "Portland, Maine, Debates and Rejects Rent Control " recounts the failure of well-meaning advocates to enact a rent control ordinance. ",,,Fair Rent Portland was out-fundraised by an opposing coalition of developers and landlords called Say No to Rent Control. On Election Day, the measure was soundly defeated." Lesson 1: Expect opposition based on self interest...not the social good. Lesson 2: You will be outspent-plan around it. From the article: “We were a small volunteer organization,” O’Brien says. “And we should have thought much more carefully about how entrenched and well-funded the opposition was.”

    An emerging rent control effort in Chicago is gathering signatures in support of a non binding ballot issue to lift the state ban on local rent control ordinances. Already the Realtors are pushing back. The rent control pre-emption law is their baby. And they have a war chest of member donations to shut down any "citizen" initiative. Lesson 3: Broaden your base by including labor unions, grassroots political organizations, and faith based groups. Tenants alone don't have the votes or the money to win a city wide campaign. Lesson 4: Find successful campaign professionals to advise you.

    A good place to begin planning a civic engagement campaign is by making a Force Field analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of you and your allies vs. the opponents.      
posted November 19, 2017

Here's what Advocates do:
  • Raise the issues: with stories about suffering caused by dysfunctional systems with adverse outcomes.
    more here.
  • Analyze the problem by defining rights and duties (both landlords and tenants want the bedbugs gone; both have duties (tenants-prevention and landlords-extermination) and there are ways to solve the problem rationally)
  • Convincing leaders that rational solutions are cheaper and more effective than inaction (adopt and enforce a rule, policy or procedure).
Who is an advocate? (maybe you?)
1. Tenants and tenant activists who want to.stabilize their homes and communities.
2. Social service providers who want their program participants to stabilize their households and communities.
3. Social justice activists who want a more equitable distribution of wealth within the community. Workers who share in wealth creation by their work should benefit from the wealth they create.

Who are the Columbus advocates?
Advocacy groups based in Columbus have unique access to decision makers in the state house and the administrative agencies

The Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio (COHHIO) is a state wide advocacy group active at the State and National levels around legislative and administrative issues impacting housing, homelessness and low income people.

The Ohio Poverty Law Center is the legal services state support center in Ohio. OPLC attorneys are experienced poverty law advocates who advocate on systemic impact issues and provide assistance to the six legal services regions in the Ohio legal services community. Policy Advocacy - OPLC engages in statewide legislative and administrative advocacy, issue identification and development, and community outreach and education.

Target your outreach for  results
  • ...and maybe you don't need a real sophisticated system...just ask your members-who do you know? how do you know them? Read more here
  • Does email work? 

Social Networking for Housing Justice?

A while back, Michel Tolle on his blog asked: HowAbout a Facebook Anti-Slumlord Alliance? This is a (long) interesting read but the gist is in the title. Local groups can use Facebook to link and learn in the arena of rental housing reform. Maybe we don't need ONE BIG ORGANIZATION (or FB page) as much as we need to be liking and inking across interests and geography.

Here's some places that the RHINO likes...maybe you can visit, like'm, and start to follow what's happening around housing justice.

  • Tenants Against Connor Group... (closed group, membership requests required)

  • Slumlord Watch of Columbus, Ohio Then...You can suggest other sites where ordinary people are working for housing justice by sharing with 

  •  With enough likes and links, the movement builds itself.

Want to make change? Engage Middle Class Renters!
RHINO has made the point...for years...that legislative change happens when the interests of middle income renters are affected. Now it comes to light that the State House's interest in curbing utility reselling might have something to do with the fact that some legislators and their staff members have been ripped off by utility resellers. An advocate on the issue of utility reselling wrote: "The good news is that [a key House Rep] supports...legislation that reins in the submetering companies. In fact, his chief aides are themselves 'victims' of the submetering companies’ practices and they supposedly 'hate' the submetering companies."

Low income housing activists need to welcome middle income renters into the advocacy arena and find ways to make common causes. Too often, low income advocates see middle (and even upper income) tenants as fundamentally different. Get this: based on median income and costof living, renters in Cleveland face the same kind of rent burden asrenters in San Francisco. (take a look at "Postscript and use the Planet Money tool to test the data.)

Middle class "privilege" in the political process can pay dividends in arena of real reform. Advocates can't depend on media to help shape common ground movements...their view of the world depends on conflict between competing interests. 
As with all movements...housing advocates need to tell their own stories. Renters are all in this together!

 Four types of public policy advocacy be aware of the differences if you are a tax exempt non profit
  • Administrative
  • Electoral
  • Grass roots
  • Legislative
Finding and using information to make your case
Access to information 
learning the facts, not just impressions or ideas (or delusions) about what's going on is a first step towards analysis of your strategy and presentation of your CASE to the public and decision makers. 

Freedom of Information and the Ohio Open Records Act
should be tools you use all the time.
  • Dispatch says Police duck the law on release of incident reports
  • Bad decision on open records
  • Advocates seeking public records are not automatically entitled to attorney fees if they win their cases. This is a setback for those who wish to get "the private bar" more engaged in public interest practice...especially in the wake of the dramatic loss of representation through the Legal Aid system. 
  • open records in action in Cleveland Heights  
  • Primer on Ohio's Open Records laws 
  • Public Records made easy (er)
  • Do you need copies of health and safety violations at the property where you live?  It just became a little easier.  Columbus Dispatch reports: "Some people not prone to hyperbole are praising the General Assembly’s unanimous -- and long-needed -- passage of a bill leveling the public-records playing field between government and citizens. Senate Bill 321 authored by Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, gives Ohioans a low-cost method to potentially leverage loose improperly withheld records without the generally prohibitive cost of hiring a lawyer and filing a lawsuit. For the mere cost of a $25 filing fee, an Ohioan who believes a governmental entity is illegally withholding public records can file a complaint with the Ohio Court of Claims. The case will go to mediation to see if it can be quickly resolved and, if not, a judge will issue a binding ruling."
Creating your own credible data is often critical
I heard on the radio that "the plural of anecdote is data".  Creating data means systematically collecting information from your contacts or research into a standard format so that you analyze the stories to find links, trends and patterns.  Imagine tracking your individual calls so that, over time, you can identify all the callers from a particular property or all the properties managed by the same company. Spreadsheets and databases have made this kind of analysis easy. 

Ask the dataThe best thing about data is that it gives you the opportunity to step outside your perceptions. You drive to work the same way every day while a block away there's new people, new businesses, new signs. Or when you go out socially, you travel in the same social and demographic circles that you did 20 years ago. Data on the other hand doesn't care where you grew up, what you learned in school or what you value. "By asking questions like these, it compelled people to reflect on what they thought their community looked like. And then by seeing the actual data, either their perceptions were confirmed, or their understanding opened up. Often it was the latter. In fact, one participant said he realized how important data was to combating preconceived notions people might have about their own community."

Pick your battles:  Don't try to sweep back the ocean with a broom

Dalrymple, Louis, 1866-1905, artist

Email newsletters make sense for busy networkers.
"Like most people, I’m careful about handing my email address to anyone, much less somebody who promises to send me messages every working day. But because they sit in my inbox and can be opened (or ignored) at a time of my choosing, I’ve found newsletters keep me in the know about specific topics...'David Carr writes in the NYT.  

Media advocacy goes only 1/2 way.

    Maybe tenants at Harris-Askins House in suburban Westerfield were inspired by the advocacy around the flag lady in nearby Whitehall. When their hot water turned lukewarm and the property manager sent out a note suggesting that they boil their tap water to an indefinite time, tenants reached out to the media.
    A little media investigation prompted Showe Management was to respond that the manager was wrong and Showe encouraged the plumber to install a temporary fix that relieved the problem til a permanent solution was available.
But instead of claiming a "victory" the tenants moved to the shadows. The Dispatch reports:
"Maybe it was the presence of the news media in the parking lot, or maybe it was the fear swirling around the complex that talking about the water problem would lead to eviction — several residents discussed the issue but asked not to be named. Maybe people didn’t want to take a public shower. Or maybe they didn’t mind lukewarm water."
    Here's the problem. If tenants won't go "on the record" then the next time, the media won't respond.  If I'm wrong...let me know:

Notes & Links

Administrative Advocacy

Electoral Advocacy

Grassroots Advocacy

Legislative Advocacy

Using non traditional media

Using mainstream media

Using Social Media