Convening of the Housing Narrative Project: Re-centering the Conversation About Housing Around Love, Belonging, and Human Dignity

by Michael Jackson | March 4, 2020 3:29 pm

Girl inside a fort. Personal Creations via Flickr Creative Commons.

The year-long Housing Narrative Project is rooted in a bottom-up approach that listens to the voices of the most impacted and those working on the front lines of the housing challenges facing this country. What better way to hear those voices than to gather them together.

As part of the project, we’ve held two gatherings where we assembled the nation’s leading voices and advocates on housing issues. The first was held in Washington, D.C., the second in Oakland, CA., less than two miles from where a small group of courageous mothers was arrested earlier this year for trying to secure their basic human right to housing for their families.

The purpose of the convenings was for the three partners on the project – Community Change, Policy Link and Race Forward – to assemble and engage key grassroots leaders and stakeholders in building housing narratives that center housing as a public good and include racial and economic justice in the solutions. We discussed the effective elements of narratives and held a focus group on housing issues with the advocates.

The Oakland gathering highlighted how the daily housing struggles of people across the country should remind all of us of the urgent need for impactful real-life solutions to the housing challenges that millions of Americans face every day. 

Each workshop  emphasized ways in which the project reaches beyond the well-trod tendency of focusing simply on policy reports and position papers towards a shift in the national conversation on the right to housing.

Jeff Chang, Race Forward’s Vice President of Narrative, Arts and Culture, discussed the ways in which other issues and movements, such as same-sex marriage advocates and Occupy Wall Street, successfully changed national narratives in ways that permanently shifted the discussion and moved both politics and policy.

The convenings included a listening and elicitation portion, led by project partner Lake Research Partners, which invited participants to imagine new narratives around housing. In a lively discussion filled with both personal and professional experiences, housing advocates engaged in a focus group where their observations, answers, and comments would help inform the project’s upcoming surveys and community focus groups. As part of the project, Lake Research Partners has conducted 11 focus groups  in five areas across the country that represent various gender, ethnic and racial groups and geographies. The focus groups asked participants about their thoughts on housing issues and narratives.

The convenings  featured presentations and discussions centering around essential tools for changing the stories we tell about housing. Community Change Communications Director Marisol Bello spoke about the values and causation are at the heart of successful narratives. She invited participants to begin by centering their narrative building about housing around values including home, safety, love, and belonging rather than problems. Then, they can show how the  housing realities people face erode these values.

Another workshop discussed how racial justice must be at the heart of any discussion on housing solutions. The group discussed  how many of the conditions people face around housing insecurity and homelessness are rooted in historical structures of racial oppression. Therefore, it is imperative that housing narratives center around racial justice and empowering communities of color.

The responses from and interactions between participants repeatedly highlighted how a successful housing narrative must be rooted in shared values of safety, belonging, and love. Everyone voiced particular enjoyment for the ways the workshops centered racial justice as an essential component to any housing narrative.

Participants left energized about what it would take to really shift and forge a new national narrative around housing.

The research continues through the spring and the partner groups will lead another set of gatherings with advocates on the findings.

The Welcome Home series is a space for discussion, debate, and information about the people, policies, and narratives that influence how we think and talk about housing. It is part of our year-long Housing Narrative Project in which we, through combining forces with two national narrative and policy powerhouses, Race Forward and PolicyLink, as well as frontline housing and racial justice advocacy leaders across the country, will redefine the national discussion around housing by researching how we talk about housing: Fair housing, housing markets, discrimination and housing, and how housing impacts our health, our families, and our communities. 

About the Author:

Michael Jackson is a Housing Narrative &  Communications Fellow at Community Change living in New York City. You can find his writing on & follow him on Twitter at @blk_Intellect 

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