On February 12, hundreds of Habitat for Humanity advocates rallied on the lawn in front of our nation’s Capitol. “Over half your pay is not okay! Over half your pay is not okay!” advocates chanted, referring to the 18 million U.S. households that spend over half their income on housing. The energy on the lawn was palpable, and three members of Congress came out to greet the crowd. After their remarks— and a few more chants! —Juanita Jensen took the stage.
Juanita is a Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity homeowner. In 1994, she and her husband applied for our homeownership program and began their Habitat journey. As Juanita shared her story in front of the Capitol Building, she highlighted the importance of advocacy:
Why do I continue to advocate for affordable housing? Affordable housing paves the way for: family stability, a foundation of permanence that fosters future growth and education of the entire family, and opportunities where families thrive and succeed together building a more successful community.
Juanita Jensen shares her story at the #CostOfHome rally.
What brought Juanita and hundreds of other Habitat advocates to the Capitol? We were coming together for Habitat on the Hill, an annual advocacy conference hosted by Habitat for Humanity International. Each year, affiliates from across the country spend time getting to know one another, learning about advocacy strategies, and sharing local solutions for affordability. Then, we put our learning into practice and spend a day visiting our members of Congress.
This year, 375 Habitat supporters and advocates gathered to collectively elevate the #CostOfHome, Habitat’s national advocacy campaign. We heard from speakers, practitioners, and elected officials about what we can accomplish when we come together around a shared agenda. Among those who spoke at the conference was Twin Cities Habitat CEO Chris Coleman. Chris brought valuable perspective to a panel about optimizing land use, where he discussed the implications of Minneapolis’ groundbreaking 2040 Plan. (More on that here!)
This year, we had two students in our group! Marie, with the Gustavus Adolphus College Chapter, and Megan, with the University of Minnesota Chapter, brought energy and enthusiasm to our legislative visits. As Marie said, “I could never get this kind of experience in a classroom!”
During our legislative visits, we connected with members of Congress about how federal policy impacts people in their local communities. Folks from our group met with the offices of Minnesota’s eight United States Representatives and two Senators. We asked our members of Congress to support two main requests:
First, we urged them to fund critical resources for housing and community development programs. Federal programs—such as SHOP, HOME, CDBG, and AmeriCorps—are essential to the work we do here in the Twin Cities. SHOP, HOME, and CDBG provide vital funds to help make the homes we build affordable for the families we partner with. And the AmeriCorps program provides us with a valuable resource of committed service members. AmeriCorps members work with volunteers, help build homes, and assist several of the teams in our main office.
Second, we asked them to support the Neighborhood Homes Investment Act (NHIA), which would incentivize the construction and rehabilitation of single-family homes in opportunity neighborhoods, enabling communities to thrive. This proposed legislation was presented as a solution to help build value in historically disinvested communities, an important goal of the #CostOfHome campaign.
Site Supervisor Skip Schmall, far right, got his start at Twin Cities Habitat ten years ago as an AmeriCorps member! Twin Cities Habitat staff were joined in this photo by Dayna Norvold (Rice County Habitat for Humanity), far left; Cristen Incitti (Habitat for Humanity Minnesota), fourth from left; and Lori Anderson (Douglas County Habitat for Humanity), second from right.
We were lucky to meet in person with District One Representative Jim Hagedorn and Senator Tina Smith. Both Representative Hagedorn and Senator Smith were supportive of Habitat’s work and seemed receptive to our legislative requests. Lori Anderson, with Douglas County Habitat for Humanity, described the meeting with Senator Smith:
This was my first Habitat on the Hill experience, and I didn’t know what to expect. I was blown away during our visit with Senator Tina Smith. One of her staff members said they had five pages of notes from their listening sessions around the state, about housing.
Juanita shares her story with Senator Tina Smith.
Minnesota Habitat advocates pose for a photo with Representative Jim Hagedorn.
Just this week, Habitat advocates got a shout-out from District Seven Representative Collin Peterson, who included us in his weekly constituent newsletter. This is a powerful illustration of the impact we can have when we talk to our elected representatives. Members of Congress care about the work that takes place in their home communities. And it is up to us to tell them our stories!
As Site Supervisor Skip Schmall says, “When speaking with our representatives, we could convey the urgency of the affordable housing crisis with one unified and amplified voice.”
Do you want to speak out with a unified and amplified voice? Sign up to be a Housing Hero!
You’ll receive ways to take meaningful action and advocate for affordable homeownership.