Habitat on the Hill 2017 Recap

May 03, 2017


Two weeks ago I traveled to Washington D.C to represent Comal County Habitat for Humanity at the annual legislative conference, Habitat on the Hill. Nearly 300 attendees from across the nation, Canada and Mexico gathered to learn, share and advocate for affordable housing.

Habitat on the Hill 2017: Congressional meetings
Habitat on the Hill attendees were able to cover a lot of ground during the annual day on Capitol Hill, meeting with 350 Senate and House congressional offices to talk about this year’s legislative priorities: tax reform and appropriations funding for HOME, SHOP and national service. Habitat representatives, including affiliate staff members, board members, homeowners and campus chapter students, did an excellent job of conveying the importance of Habitat’s policy priorities to members of Congress and their staff members, supporting our network’s ability to help more low-income families secure homeownership opportunities. Attendees reported that they had very positive meetings and that Habitat’s concerns and legislative asks resonated with legislators and staff members. Overall, Habitat was able to make its voice heard in the halls of Congress, reminding lawmakers that our nation is facing an affordable housing crisis and that Habitat has the ideas and policy solutions to address it.

One of the first speakers was Denny Heck, a House Representative from Washington State. Congressman Heck spoke on the importance of looking at housing as a “whole cloth” not a patchwork quilt; meaning the whole continuum of housing-from emergency shelters and supportive housing, to affordable rentals and homeownership- are connected. He also talked about how much he enjoys volunteering with Habitat and how he has helped build over 40 houses with his local affiliate. Congressman Heck encouraged us in times of uncertainty to “Stand up and speak out.” He went on to say that it is now more important than ever to voice our opinions and get involved in local, state, and federal legislature.

After a morning of workshops, we were fortunate enough to be joined by Mathew Desmond, author of the bestselling book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. The book follows the lives of eight families living in some of the poorest neighborhoods in Milwaukee and the trials and tribulations that come with being evicted. Desmond’s captivating writing beautifully intertwines quantitative data about poverty and inequality in the United States with real-life stories about families being evicted as well as the landlords doing the evicting. A few statistics Desmond shared include:

•            Most poor renting families devote over half of their income on housing and ¼ spend over 70% on housing in Milwaukee.

•            2/3 of renting families below the poverty line receive NO assistance for housing.

•            In Milwaukee 1 in 5 black women are evicted while 1 in 15 white women are evicted.

Desmond went on to share a story from his book about a young single mother, Arleen and her two sons. I won’t spoil the story as I encourage everyone to read this book, but it is safe to say there was not a dry eye in the room when he was done. One thing in particular that resonated with me from Desmond’s speech was “Eviction is a cause not just a condition of poverty.”

On Wednesday, all roughly 300 of Habitat staff, volunteers, board members, and homeowners were unleashed on the Capitol to meet with local representatives to share our mission, our stories, and our legislative asks.

The asks:

1. Ensure tax reform does not undermine access to adequate, affordable housing or nonprofits’ abilities to meet critical needs

2. Prioritize funding of critical resources four housing and community development in FY18:

a. Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity program (SHOP): $15 million

b. Home Investment Partnerships Program: $1 billion

c. Funds for National and Community Service (AmericCorps & Vista) at $1 billion

I had the pleasure of meeting with staff members from Congressmen Lamar Smith and Llyod Doggett’s offices. This was the first time for anyone from CCHFH to attend Habitat on the Hill and meet with our legislators, so I will admit I was quite nervous on the bus ride to the Capitol. All of my nerves left the building as soon as I sat down with Chris Morris (Lamar Smith’s Legislative aid) and he mentioned that he volunteered with his local affiliate while in college and admired the great work we do. Lloyd Doggett’s legislative aid, Kristen, was equally enthused to talk with me about the great work CCHFH is doing and I invited both her and the congressmen to join us at a job site next time they are in town. 

What a beautiful site it was to see almost 300 other Habitat-ers running through the House and Senate offices advocating for our vision: a place where everyone has a decent place to live. Next year’s Habitat on the Hill will be held February 13-15th, if you are interested in attending please contact me at 830-625-4025 or shaylee@comalhabitat.org.

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