This Housing Policy Proposal Is Radically Inclusive

National policy proposals for fighting poverty are not usually drafted by the people who most urgently need them. At best, poor and working-class people may be brought in to a forum or legislative hearing to testify in support of a policy when it’s nearly fully baked, and has already been delivered by elites.

In September, People’s Action, a national network of state and local grassroots power-building organizations, launched a “Homes Guarantee” campaign that it hopes will dramatically change housing policy and the national conversation about it. It calls for major reforms at the federal, state, and local levels—including everything from the construction of millions of units of social housing to national rent control—and is taking aim at the platforms of both presidential and down-ballot candidates. What’s also notable is the way the policy proposal was generated: by a group of directly impacted people from across the country.

This group, whom People’s Action have deemed their “grassroots leaders,” includes people who have experienced homelessness, live in public housing, rent from corporate landlords, or own mobile homes. In a series of discussions, they determined priorities that were then shaped into a policy proposal—with their consultation. Now, the same people are helping to lead the effort to garner support among policy-makers and voters. It’s an approach to policy-making that centers and responds to people’s lived experiences, one rarely used when it comes to antipoverty policy (with some notable exceptions).

Grassroots leader Linda Armitage, age 77, previously faced eviction when her NGO-owned building for seniors was almost sold to a for-profit developer. She says being able to talk about one’s personal connection to a proposal makes all the difference between policy’s being “impersonal” and its being about “humanity.”

Armitage had the opportunity to present the Homes Guarantee to lawmakers on the Hill in April. “It’s interesting to see people’s faces when listening to real stories from real people,” she says. “It’s like, ‘This goes on in this country?’ A think tank can come up with wonderful things, but if it’s not backed up by real people’s experiences… That’s what we were trying to communicate to the representatives.”

The need for a dramatic shift in housing policy is clear: There are 43 million renter households in the United States—nearly half of whom spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent. Approximately 3 million people experience homelessness every year. There is no county in the nation where a full-time worker earning the minimum wage can afford a two-bedroom apartment. And the wealth of the average black American is just 10 cents on the dollar compared to the wealth of the average white American—in part because public and private-sector policies have promoted white homeownership, while excluding people of color and extracting wealth from their communities.

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