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Elevating Voices: The Housing Authority’s Advocacy for Inclusive Policymaking

Policy and Advocacy
Elevating Voices: The Housing Authority’s Advocacy for Inclusive Policymaking

Amplifying the Expertise of Those Who Know Best

As I step into the lobby of the Housing Authority’s headquarters, I can’t help but feel a sense of excitement. This isn’t your typical government building – the walls are adorned with vibrant murals, the furniture is modern and inviting, and there’s an unmistakable buzz of activity. It’s clear that this is an organization that values inclusivity and celebrates the diverse voices of the community it serves.

I’m here to meet with Jewelyn Cosgrove, the Vice President of Government and Public Relations. Jewelyn has been a driving force behind the Housing Authority’s efforts to elevate the perspectives of those with lived experiences in affordable housing. As we sit down to chat, I’m struck by her passion and unwavering commitment to empowering marginalized communities.

“You know, I used to be so afraid to use my voice,” Jewelyn admits. “I would try to make myself smaller, take up less space. But over time, I’ve learned that it’s okay to claim my rightful place at the table. In fact, it’s essential if we want to create real, lasting change.”

This shift in mindset is at the core of the Housing Authority’s approach to policymaking. Rather than relying solely on the perspectives of those in positions of power, they’re making a concerted effort to seek out and amplify the voices of individuals who have faced the daily challenges of affordable housing insecurity.

Fostering Trusting Partnerships

One of the key strategies the Housing Authority has employed is building long-term, trusting relationships with community-based organizations (CBOs). Jewelyn explains, “These groups already have deep connections and credibility within the communities we aim to serve. By partnering with them, we’re able to reach individuals who may be wary of engaging directly with government entities.”

The Housing Authority has made a conscious effort to compensate CBO partners and the community members they bring to the table. “We recognize that their time and expertise are invaluable,” Jewelyn emphasizes. “We want to make sure they feel respected and that their contributions are truly valued.”

This commitment to equitable compensation is just one way the Housing Authority is challenging the status quo. As Jewelyn notes, “Too often, policymakers expect marginalized communities to participate in the process for free, as if their lived experiences aren’t worth anything. We’re determined to change that mindset.”

Dismantling Barriers to Inclusion

Of course, building trust and fostering meaningful partnerships is only half the battle. The Housing Authority has also identified and actively worked to address the practical and strategic barriers that can prevent community members from engaging in policymaking.

“We’ve had to get creative,” Jewelyn admits. “Things like transportation, childcare, and language accessibility – these can be major hurdles for folks who are already struggling to make ends meet. But we’ve found that by being proactive and anticipating these challenges, we’re able to create a more welcoming and inclusive environment.”

One example Jewelyn shares is the Housing Authority’s decision to hold community meetings in locations that are easily accessible to residents, rather than expecting them to come to the government’s turf. “We want people to feel comfortable and at ease,” she explains. “That means meeting them where they are, both literally and figuratively.”

The organization has also invested in multilingual outreach and communication strategies, ensuring that key information is available in the primary languages spoken by the communities they serve. “It’s not enough to just invite people to the table,” Jewelyn emphasizes. “We have to make sure they can actually understand and participate in the conversation.”

Empowering Community-Driven Solutions

Perhaps most importantly, the Housing Authority has made a concerted effort to cede decision-making power to the very people whose lives are most impacted by their policies. “We’re not here to dictate solutions,” Jewelyn states. “Our role is to facilitate, support, and empower the communities we serve to drive the change they want to see.”

This shift in mindset is evident in the Housing Authority’s approach to policy development. Rather than starting with a pre-determined set of ideas, they begin by engaging in open-ended listening sessions with community members. “We ask them about their dreams, their struggles, and their visions for the future,” Jewelyn explains. “From there, we work collaboratively to identify the key priorities and co-create the policy solutions.”

One powerful example is the Housing Authority’s recent work on affordable housing zoning policies in the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Suryani Dewa Ayu, a policy entrepreneur at the Housing Authority, partnered with community organizers to advocate for a 100% affordable housing overlay.

Rather than relying solely on dense policy language, Suryani and her team leveraged a range of creative communication strategies – from photography and sculpture to poetry and music. “They understood that traditional policy proposals can be intimidating and inaccessible,” Jewelyn notes. “By using a more visually engaging and culturally responsive approach, they were able to facilitate meaningful dialogue and build broader community support.”

Ultimately, the city of Cambridge adopted the affordable housing overlay, thanks to the tireless efforts of Suryani and the community members she empowered. “This is the kind of change we’re striving for,” Jewelyn says with a smile. “It’s not about us coming in and dictating the solutions. It’s about elevating the expertise of those who know best – the people who live it every day.”

Breaking Down Silos, Building Collective Power

As our conversation draws to a close, Jewelyn reflects on the broader implications of the Housing Authority’s work. “At the end of the day, this is about more than just housing policy,” she explains. “It’s about dismantling the systemic barriers that have long excluded marginalized communities from the policymaking process.”

By partnering with directly impacted individuals and communities, the Housing Authority is not only improving the quality and relevance of their policies, but also helping to build trust in government and strengthen the foundations of our democracy. As the Next100 report on inclusive policymaking notes, “Engaging impacted individuals and communities in policymaking will help to build their trust in the ability of government – and the policy sector more broadly – to find solutions to the problems that most affect them.”

Jewelyn nods in agreement. “We know that the challenges facing our communities are complex and multifaceted. That’s why we’re committed to taking a holistic, collaborative approach. By breaking down silos and bringing diverse perspectives to the table, we can develop more comprehensive, equitable solutions that truly meet the needs of the people we serve.”

As I prepare to leave, I can’t help but feel a renewed sense of optimism. The Housing Authority’s work may seem daunting, but Jewelyn’s unwavering determination and the community’s collective power are truly inspiring. I’m reminded of the powerful words of Nelson Mandela: “I never lose. Either I win or I learn.”

It’s clear that the Housing Authority is in it for the long haul, driven by a deep-seated belief that by elevating the voices of those closest to the issues, they can create a more just, equitable, and inclusive society. And with partners like Jewelyn and the community members she champions, I have no doubt that they’ll continue to win, learn, and make lasting change.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Housing Authority’s work or getting involved, I encourage you to visit their website at hacc-housing.org. There, you’ll find information on their programs, partnerships, and upcoming events – all focused on building a more inclusive, vibrant, and equitable future for everyone.

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