Habitat for Humanity International’s vision is a world where everyone has a decent place to live. Anchored by the conviction that safe and affordable housing provides a critical foundation for breaking the cycle of poverty, Habitat has helped more than 3 million people construct, rehabilitate or preserve homes since 1976. Habitat also advocates for fair and just housing policies and provides training and access to resources to help more families improve their shelter conditions. As a nonprofit Christian housing organization, Habitat works in more than 70 countries and welcomes people of all races, religions and nationalities to partner in its mission.
1.6 billion people need a safe, adequate, affordable place to live. Adequate housing improves outcomes for people, affects broader communities, and is a driver for the economy.
Habitat for Humanity has been building homes, communities and hope through direct engagement for nearly four decades. In Illinois, nearly 1 in 3 are now considered poor or low income, an astounding statistic. Based on the US Census American Community Survey (2010), median household income today is $52,972, down over 3% from the recession (2009) and 7% from before the recession (2007).
Equally disturbing is the Gross Rent as a Percentage of Household Income. Over 712,000 Illinoisan families currently renting (51%) are paying over 30% of monthly income on rent (Source: US Census Bureau 2007-2011 American Community Survey). As a result, these families are extremely cost-burdened in rent which means less discretionary monthly income for food, clothing, transportations and education.
Clearly, there is a large and growing need for decent, affordable housing in our state. The 49 Habitat for Humanity affiliates throughout the state of Illinois are working hard to address that need. Habitat believes in the value of home ownership, both for Illinoisan families and for the communities in which they live.
Habitat for Humanity’s global strategic plan challenges Habitat affiliates to become more effective catalysts for systemic change—change that will help exponentially serve more families. To substantially reduce the housing deficit, Habitat affiliates must incorporate advocacy and influence the systems and policies that affect the communities it serves.
Policies, systems, and attitudes impact us every day. They are also developed at the local, state, national and global level making it critical to understand where policy is made and who the decision makers are.
Government regulations and laws have a significant impact on every nonprofit organization and the people it serves. To be effective, an organization must recognize the rules affecting those it serves. This makes it imperative for organizations at all levels to become involved with policymakers at the local, state and national levels who affect their organizations and constituencies.
While strategies will need to be tailored in each locality, Habitat will share a common advocacy approach around the world including:
- Housing focused: Advocacy should be limited to those issues which have a direct impact on housing or Habitat operations.
- Community centered: While policy and systems may be set at national or global levels, these issues must ensure local communities in need of adequate housing are the ultimate beneficiaries.
- Informed by program: Habitat is doing both advocacy and direct service and advocacy and programmatic activities should be linked.
- Evidence based: Grounding advocacy in facts, research and data is critical.
- Outcome oriented: Simply conducting advocacy is not enough. Meetings with legislators, organizing community action, developing policy positions or issue based media campaigns must positively affect individuals, neighborhoods and communities.
- Volunteer friendly: Involving volunteers in advocacy maximizes impact as well as increases Habitat’s ability to engage and retain them.
- Coalition engagement: Coalitions, both informal and formal, are often necessary to affect change.
- Mutually dependent: Advocacy positions being taken should not cause harm to other HFH organizations.
- Non-confrontational: Habitat is not confrontational in its advocacy. HFH works to promote understanding using evidence and practical knowledge from programs around the world.
- Nonpartisan: Advocacy efforts should be issue focused, and must not promote candidates or specific political parties.
Advocacy Initiative Priority Issues
Improving housing affordability:
The world is facing an affordable housing crisis. Forty percent of the world population lives on $2 a day or less. With no formal working papers or steady income, the working poor make improvements to their housing incrementally as needs arise and opportunities become available. Only about 20 percent of households in developing countries have access to the formal financial sector. In developed countries, a lack of quality affordable housing remains, especially after the housing crisis in the U.S. Affordability measures and programs must be supported and broadened so that low-income families can access homeownership opportunities, and neighborhoods can be revitalized. Secondary mortgage markets and government grants and loans are critical components to improving affordability.
Homeownership benefits families and plays a unique role in the long-term development, stability and resiliency of communities. Studies show that neighborhoods with higher rates of homeownership are often healthier. But housing is only one component of revitalizing and developing struggling communities. Strengthening neighborhoods requires a multiyear approach and a range of products and services that fit the needs of a neighborhood, such as housing, education and transportation. These efforts require a coordinated approach from multiple partners, including governments, schools, corporations, financial institutions, churches, residents, civic groups and other nonprofits.
Serving Vulnerable Populations:
Vulnerable populations are often overlooked and underserved when creating sensible housing policy. Women and girls, orphans and vulnerable children, veterans and fair housing for disadvantaged populations need to be considered when developing policy solutions. Each of these populations have unique challenges that should be kept in mind because they often have greater housing needs that require the support of various stakeholders.