Minnesota’s Homes for All Coalition
Homes for All is a statewide coalition that advances shared policy initiatives that lead to housing stability for all Minnesotans. The coalition, which has over 150 supporters of its legislative agenda, was created in 2011 to create a unified voice between affordable housing developers and homeless service organizations. At the time, there was a divide between these groups and Minnesota faced an unprecedented budget shortfall.
In 2011, Minnesota’s Legislature and Governor failed to agree on a state budget, leading to a three-week government shutdown. To end the government shutdown, Legislative leaders and the Governor negotiated an agreement that included a bonding bill. However, an opportunity was missed as the bonding bill did not include funding for affordable housing.
The Housing Commissioner approached community development, housing, and homelessness advocates and encouraged these organizations to align their visions for stable housing for all. Representatives from affordable housing developers and homeless service providers convened to develop and more unified vision, set up a plan for future legislative changes, and created a broader coalition that balances these organizations. Today, the more formalized coalition is called Homes for All.
Organizations like the Minnesota Housing Partnership (MHP), the Metropolitan Consortium of Community Developers (MCCD), and the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless have significant roles in supporting and facilitating activities of the Homes for All Alliance. Homes for All organizations are comprised of direct service providers, community and affordable housing developers, researchers and communicators, faith-based organizations, and other interest groups from health care, education, law enforcement. These diverse partners convene, guide, and support Homes for All in improving the conditions of home and community. Building on member organization experience, Homes for All strengthens development capacity and promotes policies that expand opportunity, especially for people at the lowest income levels.
The Homes for All Alliance is led by co-chairs from the affordable housing development and homeless service provider communities. Representation from these partners and from both urban and rural regions of Minnesota ensure that coalition activities best represent the needs of all the campaign supporters.
The Homes for All Alliance is comprised of three committees: Policy, Community Engagement, and Communications. Co-chairs on each of these committees are responsible for leading organizations, conducting key committee related activities, and developing a consistent message for member organizations to share with legislative leaders. The Policy Committee is the largest of the three committees and is comprised of non-profit Executive Directors, researchers, and policy advocates. The Communications and Community Engagement Committees are smaller, as many organizations have their own process for outreach and legislative advocacy.
Homes for All is an alliance comprised of over 150 endorsers. The strengths of its efforts rests in the individual organizations. Because Homes for All does not have its own staff and is run by various representatives of affordable housing development and homeless service organizations, costs are incurred by participating organizations.
Each organization contributes their own budget and staff time to the campaign. Organizations that are heavily invested in the campaign’s success may contribute up to a third of their annual budget to the Homes for All Campaign. Special projects, such as website development and events, have been supported by foundation partners, including the Family Housing Fund and Greater Minnesota Housing Fund.
Activities and Communication Tools
The Homes for All Coalition developed an intentional communication strategy about the way housing is framed in 2012-2013. The coalition moved away from justice-based messaging and offered a new economic framework that appeals to and motivates lawmakers. Rather than discuss homelessness and housing preservation as a large-scale issue that cannot be fixed, the coalition worked to develop a cohesive, digestible message for legislators to support incremental change. The communication strategy involves a streamlined message and solution-oriented, data-driven results. The Coalition provides tangible examples that allow policymakers to understand the impact and result of incremental policy change.
In order to target a large Minnesotan population and capture media attention, the Homes for All Coalition developed a communication strategy in 2013-2014 that balanced stories about homelessness and housing development. Messaging that supports the coalition’s key objectives inflicts emotional response, as well as appeals to housing enterprise.
Each year when developing its legislative agenda, the Homes for All Alliance leadership requests policy proposals from member organizations. Homes for All reviews the proposal, which include funding requests to increase the supply of affordable housing and to preserve existing units and legislative changes for target populations. The vetting process also includes e-mail conversations that allow members to weigh-in on policy proposals and a coalition-wide meeting to set legislative priorities.
The following communication tool and strategies are used to speak with communities and politicians about changes and affordable housing needs:
Earned media with unlikely messengers – In 2013 and 2014, the Homes for All coalition asked for support and collaboration from the education community. Homes for All published an op-ed in the Star Tribune, signed by several school district Superintendents, asking for additional funding resources to preserve and increase the affordable housing stock in Minnesota. The op-ed identified housing as a platform for improving education opportunities and well-being of children. The letter was publicly eye-opening, as leaders in education requested an increase in funding for housing rather than for already thin education resources.
Regional data and reports – The Minnesota Housing Partnership provides communication products to raise awareness of housing conditions and advocate for the Homes for All platform.
Legislative District Profiles highlight housing need and data specific to each district with additional information about the state of Minnesota. The District Profiles are shared with House and Senate representatives.
The 2x4 Report tracks two timely, important housing trends in four key areas: rental market, owner’s market, homelessness, and the housing industry. These 2x4 reports provide information on updated housing trends that help policymakers and the public better understand the state’s housing needs in a changing economy.
Similarly, the County Profiles provide data on cost-burdened households paying at least 30% of their income for housing, a comparison of what common jobs pay and what renting and owning actually costs, changes in rent and home prices, foreclosures, job and unemployment and homelessness. County Profiles support evidence-based decision making.
Advocacy Days – While Homes for All Coalition does not host an official lobby day, member organizations advocate for the legislative proposals in each organization’s advocacy day. Homes for All Coalition uses this approach to target policymakers from a multitude of advocacy avenues.
Traditional Media – Traditional methods, such as fact sheets, postcards with personal tenant stories, and press releases, are also used to communicate the legislative platform, gain supporters, and share information.
Social media – The Homes for All Coalition uses a social media strategy for community engagement. Frequent, positive messaging ensures that the coalition is covering all Minnesota regions. As the 12th largest state, it is important to convey messaging through many communication vehicles, and social media ensures that the target audience is receiving the message.
The Homes for All Coalition’s greatest success is its ability to alter and create new legislation that increases and preserves the affordable housing stock and protects the homeless population in Minnesota. Any increase in funding for Minnesota Housing and DHS program expands housing options across the state, reduces public costs of homelessness, and promotes economic development, educational achievement, family stability, and healthy communities.
Housing will probably not be a top-priority issue for Minnesotan lawmakers while there is increasing pressure for economic improvement, tax breaks, and education legislative change. The Homes for All Coalition’s success has resulted in the transfer of housing from a fringe issue to a core issue. The coalition focuses on housing as a platform for improving education, lowering health care costs, and increasing ability for economic mobility.
Minnesota is struggling to climb out of a deep housing crisis. Any policy platform funding increase is considered a success, as it helps close service gaps and expand housing options across Minnesota. The Coalitions greatest success thus far occurred during the 2014 legislative session. The Coalition advocated for a $100M policy platform to preserve the state’s public housing ($20M) and preserve and develop supportive housing ($80M). This increase in funding contributed to:
Development or preservation of housing for over 5,000 households throughout Minnesota.
Increasing total funding available for housing options. In 2014, every $1 in state funding for gap financing for preservation leveraged approximately $3 in private capital. Every $1 in state funding for preservation sustains $4 in federal housing assistance.
At the end of each fiscal year, Homes for All Coalition leadership meets with state policymakers to discuss lessons learned and receive feedback on the policy platform and advocacy strategies. The State Finance Housing Agency also offer support and lessons learned feedback at the end of each fiscal year.
When advocating for legislative changes and expansion of housing options, Homes for All Coalition leadership suggests other organizations carefully decide on organizing principles. For the Homes for All Coalition, their organizing principles are to maintain a balance between affordable housing developers and homeless service providers. Similar organizations should engage a responsible leadership body to ensure that the coalition heeds to those established principles.
During the last funding cycle, the Homes for All policy platform was not funded to the requested amount. Members of the coalition recognized the need to build up champions and equip bill authors with the personal stories that can be used to inflict an emotional response in policymakers. Building broad community engagement, gaining bi-partisan support, and understanding expectations is key to building strong, lasting relationships with internal and external stakeholders. These relationships in a frustrating political landscape are critical to maintaining support for the campaign’s policy platform and objectives, especially when there are unexpected losses.
Secondly, the effectiveness of the coalition depends on the participation and involvement of its member organizations. Coalitions must hold members accountable and balance between foundation principles and legislative activities. It is critical to build relationships with organizations in order to encourage active participation.
For questions, contact us at ProsperityPlaybook@hud.gov.