Making housing a priority: Maggie Riden discusses a new Fahe advocacy case study

Advocacy | June 3, 2024

A new Fahe advocacy case study Making Housing a Priority reveals the power of collaborative state advocacy and provides insights to inspire housing and community development organizations to strategize and take advocacy action.

This publication describes two dynamic advocacy campaigns: the creation of a Rural Housing Trust Fund (RHTF) in Kentucky with an originating $20 million allocation, and an investment of between $10-14 million American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars in Tennessee for housing working families can afford. Both cases demonstrate how small networks of traditionally marginalized groups and communities can have a major impact via collective advocacy. The publication includes a summary of lessons learned, an overview of the two campaigns, and a chart comparing the key features of each campaign.

Fahe’s Senior Vice President of Advocacy, Maggie Riden, describes why she worked to document Fahe’s recent state advocacy efforts in a case study.

“Our work is subject to so many variables and so outside the control of any one group that I feel like when you have a success, it’s really important to capture it and do what you can to share that,” said Riden.

Riden further explains that her aim with the case study was “To distill what worked and what didn’t so that we could continue to get better. I think particularly in the footprint [of central Appalachia], there aren’t an abundance of successful advocacy stories at the state level and so being able to share what we did, and how we did it is an important story to tell.”

Overall, Riden feels that the experiences underscore the importance of using a two-track strategy of using both public pressure and insider connections at the same time. “There’s what you say outside and there’s what gets said behind closed doors in dark smoky rooms. In Kentucky we ultimately realized we were going to have to commit to convincing policymakers through both public pressure and a trusted advisor internal expert way. We were very fortunate in that we had a pretty broad coalition that included folks like the Homeless and Housing Coalition of Kentucky (HHCK) who could go out and do the people pressure and the mobilization and say all of the things out loud at a Hill Day. But then we also had a handful of folks, including members of our senior leadership team, who were able to pick up the phone and get in a private room with policymakers to advance our cause,” Riden explained.

Riden further reflects on how reputation is always important and should be nurtured so it is there when you need it. She says, “We were an unknown as a coalition in Tennessee. While folks knew discreet members, they certainly didn’t know the Fahe brand as well outside of the Tennessee Housing Development Agency (THDA). So when this little group of misfits showed up at the governor’s office and then in the legislature asking for one million dollars in ARPA funding , they were they were not necessarily going to buy right in.”

“It is so critically important to build those relationships before you have a need.”

A key takeaway is that this work takes time, and advocates should not expect instant gratification.

Riden says, “I want to underscore the critical importance of perseverance and giving it time because neither of these efforts was quick. They both took a year and a half to two years and that is still honestly the fastest I’ve ever seen money move. Of that level.”

Another takeaway is that advocacy is worth funding.

She adds, “I know that some funders are hesitant to invest in this kind of direct advocacy. I think it’s important for them to understand what even modest investments in good collective action and collective advocacy can achieve.”

The environmental conditions that led to the advocacy success were marked by a time of uncertainty around regulations that some might say still applies today.

“It was a unique start to an advocacy campaign. We were coming out of the pandemic; the American Rescue Plan dollars had started to trickle into communities.  But there was not a whole lot of clarity about how those funds could potentially be used for housing.”

“Then at the end of December of 2021, Treasury clarified their rules on the uses of funding, and by January of 2022,  it became much more obvious that states could tap into those dollars to support housing in a whole bunch of ways. That was a good thing and a bad thing as we later found out. In that, Treasury was very broad but states were very anxious about spending this money for fear of misspending it and having to pay it back. So while we asserted that this was a very flexible pool of funding, it took some convincing to get states there, particularly in Tennessee.”

“I would say the conditions were a little bit chaotic because everyone was interpreting these regulations a little bit differently. And we knew there was opportunity, but we weren’t quite sure how it was going to be received by other parties.”

“The other piece that was a challenge, particularly in Tennessee, was that prior to this effort, the caucus and partners had not worked as part of a larger  state based coalition. So, there hadn’t been a whole lot of opportunity for them to come together, build trust, coalesce around a goal and then pursue it. I think there had been small partnerships and efforts here and there and certainly collaboration. But the notion of convening themselves and amplifying their power as a collective at the state level was new. ”

At the end of the day, Riden hopes Fahe Members are proud of what they did, and other organizations can benefit.

“I hope Members have a moment where they read the case study and they feel proud of their work and are inspired to do more because we can show that this has an effect.

“I also hope that other groups that are focused on housing or community development can take some of the strategies and think about how to adapt them to their own communities. What worked in Tennessee was not immediately transferable to Kentucky and vice versa, but there are these common features that can be more generally applied.”

Riden would like to thank her co-author, Fahe’s State Advocacy Coordinator Andrew Bates, who had only recently joined Fahe and jumped into the work with both feet as these efforts got underway, as well as the many government employees, community allies and elected officials who helped shepherd the work.

Download the case study here.