By Eva Wingren, Mercy Housing’s Policy Associate
To address the big political issues facing our country and their effect on the affordable housing gap, Mercy Housing decided to hold its first Advocacy Day in Washington, DC, with members of the Board of Trustees and senior leadership team. Julie and I, being the boots on the ground in Washington, DC, were in charge of pulling it off. We knew we would be coming in a busy time in the Congressional calendar; late February is traditionally peak budget advocacy time, as the House and Senate react to the Administration’s first offer. However, our chosen day ended up being two days before the 5.2% across the board sequestration cuts were going into effect. For better or for worse, we were right in the middle of one of the most contentious debates Washington has ever faced. And we were certainly not alone – we stood in line for twenty minutes to get into the House office buildings!
In contrast to the partisanship of the sequestration fight, there was a distinctly bipartisan flavor to our day. We started out with a panel called “Getting things done in a polarized world” featuring members of the Bipartisan Policy Council’s Housing Commission. Their recently released report is a blueprint for politically palatable but meaningful reforms to both the single family housing finance system and the affordable housing system. There is substantial alignment with Mercy Housing’s public policy priorities. Our teams all met with at least one Republican office and one Democratic office. Did you know that we have members on our Board of Trustees from both political parties? How about the fact that the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, which makes most of the affordable housing development today possible, was a product of President Reagan’s bipartisan tax reform efforts? It was great to see all the ways that the issue of affordable housing for seniors, veterans, people with disabilities, and families resonated with members of both parties. Finally, we held an evening reception recognizing a Democratic housing champion, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, and a Republican housing champion, Congressman Patrick Tiberi. Both reiterated the important role that the Low Income Housing Tax Credit has played during the current economic situation.
For me, the most gratifying piece of feedback I received was that the staffers were mostly already familiar with Mercy Housing, and the staffers I had met with before seemed more knowledgeable and more ready to support our priorities. The pace of change in Washington is purposefully slow, but it was nice to get some indication that the past year of advocacy has made a difference. As the Board learned, effective advocacy is about relationships. As the participants returned home, they pledged to continue those relationships and continue educating members of Congress about the important work we do at Mercy Housing toward making sure all people have a safe, decent, affordable place to call home.