Habitat LA President and CEO, Erin Rank, and three staff members flew to Washington, D.C. in February for the 13th annual Habitat on the Hill conference. They joined more than 350 staff members from other Habitat affiliates around the country to advocate for affordable housing.
Accompanying Erin on the trip to the nation’s capital were Dawkins Hodges, Vice President of Programs; Dinesa Thomas-Whitman, Director of Outreach, Advocacy, and Policy; and Patrick Sunpanich, Real Estate Project Manager. They met with staff members from California Senators’ offices, and 11 members of Los Angeles’s delegation to the House of Representatives. Sunpanich was even able to speak to Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-San Pedro) in person.
Habitat for Humanity International recommended that all participants talk to their representatives about increasing funding for the following four programs:
- The HOME Investment Partnerships Program, which provides subsidies for construction and down payments for low-income homeowners. It’s the largest Federal block grant program for affordable housing. In the 2019 budget, Congress allocated $1.364 billion to HOME; Habitat asked for an increase to $1.5 billion.
- The Corporation for National and Community Service, which operates the AmeriCorps program. Habitat for Humanity hosts more than 500 AmeriCorps members annually, making the program indispensable to our operations. Funding was $1.05 billion in the 2019 budget; Habitat has asked to increase that to $1.2 billion
- The Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program (SHOP), which provides up to $15,000 to purchase land and develop the infrastructure needed for volunteer-based homeownership programs for low-income families. The 2019 allocation was $10 million; Habitat seeks to raise that amount to $15 million.
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Section 502 Direct Loan Program, which provides payment assistance to low-income applicants seeking to purchase homes in rural areas. The program received $1 billion in federal funds in the 2019 budget; Habitat asked for a $200,000 increase.
Habitat for Humanity International also recommended that all participants brief their representatives about our forthcoming Cost of Home initiative, which seeks to supplement the patchwork of housing assistance programs with a comprehensive national housing policy.
As in the previous two years, the current administration’s initial federal budget request reduced all four of those programs to $0 but historically Congress has restored the funding at a level even higher than the year before. Dawkins said the programs continue to see increases in funding because they’re extremely popular with representatives across the political spectrum. “Everybody wants them in their district,” he said. Almost all the elected officials and staffers they met with were happy to see Habitat representatives and many of them have volunteered and supported Habitat LA in the past.
The Habitat LA delegation also talked to representatives about disaster response, specifically ways Congress could respond to constituents who lost their homes in the 2017 Creek Fire and the 2018 Woolsey Fire.
The day before the advocacy day, historian Richard Rothstein delivered a keynote address on the history of institutional racism in America and offered suggestions on how to overcome it. Rothstein, a Senior Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, is the author of The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America.
Also during the conference, Habitat LA was presented the Engagement Award from Habitat for Humanity International for our work on behalf of veterans and active-duty members of the armed services. We significantly expanded our collaborations with veterans in 2018, especially during the week of Veterans’ Day, when we brought more than 200 volunteers to Century Villages at Cabrillo, a 27-acre campus that provides supportive housing and services for more than 1,000 veterans.