Organizing People to Shift Power

Organizing People to Shift Power

Lars NegstadThe Partnership for Working Families Ford Foundation invited a number of affiliates, including ISAIAH, to participate in a pre-conference meeting at the National Housing Conference in Atlanta on September 16.  The purpose was to discuss inclusionary housing campaigns, and in particular, to talk about how organizing a base of people to shift power is essential in winning transformational change in our communities.

Lars Negstad, ISAIAH’s Strategic Campaign Coordinator, was asked to give a presentation at the meeting.  Below is a summary of his prepared talk:

ISAIAH’s Housing Campaigns

About ISAIAH

ISAIAH is a coalition of 100 congregations in Minnesota, in the greater Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan region plus St. Cloud acting collectively for racial and economic equity.

As people of faith committed to building a movement for positive change, we see how all issues and policy areas are deeply interwoven. Housing is intimately linked to jobs, schools, transportation, health, and racial & economic equity. We are working to change entire state to be more equitable, striving to find the most strategic levers to accomplish this.

Our analysis is that the forces shaping housing policy and barriers to affordable housing in greater MSP are deeply tied to growing racial and economic disparities.

Our strategy is to build power strategically on three levels: policy change, infrastructure and leadership development, and narrative or worldview.  We are working to win concrete policy changes that make a difference in people’s lives. We are also developing hundreds of new leaders and organizational infrastructure. Finally, we work intentionally towards long term structural change to shift decision-making power, by setting out to challenge the dominative narratives and create a new climate of ideas. A key component of this strategy is to lift up what we call the “prophetic questions,” of Who benefits? Who is affected? and Who decides?

Minneapolis/St. Paul Metropolitan Context

There is a both a severe shortage of affordable housing in the 7-county Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan region (MSP), as well as shocking disparities and growing racial segregation. MSP has added just 1,154 new affordable units in 2011. Yet 131,000 households pay more than 50% of their income on housing. In the 7-county Metro area, 81.4% of white households own their own homes, while only 30.4% of African Americans do.

School systems are intimately linked to housing choices. MSP went from 9 racially isolated schools in 1992, to 108 in 2008. This segregation is fueled by racial steering by realtors and mortgage lending discrimination. In MSP, a white family earning $39,000 is more likely to receive a mortgage than an African American family earning $157,000.

ISAIAH’s Campaigns

Healthy Corridor for All. In conjunction with PolicyLink and TakeAction MN’s Hmong Organizing Project, ISAIAH led a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) process on the development of a new light rail, connecting downtown Minneapolis to downtown St. Paul. ISAIAH built Healthy Corridor for All Coalition of 22 community based organizations, churches, local businesses, and labor. We held a large public meeting with 350 people and received good press coverage.

The City of St. Paul firmly resisted even modest inclusionary zoning recommendations, but did pass a resolution to study recommendations including density bonuses and accessory dwelling units.  In addition, the City dedicated an additional $2.5 million to affordable housing. The effort helped change the conversation, by drawing the connections between health, transit, housing and land use policy.

Metropolitan Equity. MSP is highly fragmented, with two central cities and a total of 188 municipalities. Our Metropolitan Council has significant governmental authority over the region, but often doesn’t use it. In conjunction with a group of housing, transportation and environmental advocates, ISAIAH has been working to highlight the important potential of the Met Council to shape our region for equity.

ISAIAH trained volunteer leaders to conduct over 100 research visits with Met Council members, suburban officials, school superintendents, business leaders, state commissioners of Housing, Education, Health, Human Services, Human Rights. ISAIAH hosted four regional briefings in the suburbs with small groups of Met Council members, faith leaders and local officials. In February 2011, ISAIAH convened a leadership summit of 750 people, including the Governor, six of his cabinet members, and 52 other public officials. Our work continues, with ISAIAH President Rev. Paul Slack serving the Housing Policy work group to inform the 30-year regional development plan.

2013 Legislative Campaign. Following a massive civic engagement campaign and come-from-behind victory in defeating a proposed Voter ID amendment, ISAIAH staged a robust presence at State Capitol in 2013. Our focus was on housing, transportation, education, health, and fair revenue to pay for it all.

Among other activities, ISAIAH

  • Staged a huge kick-off rally, 600 people, Speaker of House, the Governor’s Chief of Staff, a dozen legislators;
  • Congregations adopted a day at the Capitol during 40 Days of Prophetic Vigil (a total of 475 leaders met with 75 legislators over this period);
  • Suburban congregations hosted 11 in-district meetings with 450 people and 28 legislators, including the Speaker of the House, as well as 4 Commissioners of Transportation, Human Services, Revenue and Education.

As a result, ISAIAH helped win

  • A $2.1B tax increase, over half of which was a new 4th tier income tax
  • Homeowner’s Bill of Rights – foreclosure reforms including ending dual tracking, required lenders to offer loan modifications, and strong enforcement provisions.
  • An increase in Renters Credit – $15.5m
  • $33m increase for Affordable Housing

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