Why Can’t We Build Public Support for Affordable Housing and Community Development?

By Emily Reyst, communications & training associate 


On Wednesday, August 22, Dr. Tiffany Manuel, originally from Detroit herself, took to the podium at our annual Developing Vibrant Communities conference and delivered an inspiring, thought-provoking and engaging presentation on how to build public support for affordable housing and community economic development work in Michigan.

A self proclaimed data wonk, Dr. Manuel’s presentation urged us to use data—which our industry is not lacking—in a new way. What we are lacking is messaging that mobilizes people outside of our industry and those in our community to care about and feel invested in our work. Here are my main takeaways from her presentation:

  • Talking about “Housing” creates an “other” category and propels people into thinking about “public housing”. The reality is that almost everyone lives in some type of subsidized housing (think of homestead tax exemptions, etc.).
  • “Presenting the need is not a call to action.” We often use data to talk about the massive problems facing our state and we make the problem to be so big it sounds unsolvable. What we should do instead is use data first to talk about solutions and an inspiring way forward for EVERYONE in the community. Let’s start with what the future could look like!
  • We have to get better at creating our argument around housing by connecting it to other very important issues like education, healthcare and transportation.
  • We need to appeal to values that all Americans share, like ingenuity, pragmatism and prosperity.
  • We need to be clear in what we are asking our listeners to do. As soon as we engage with someone new we need to build trust, create a sense of belonging and ensure them that they have a stake in this issue too.

Two important resources she mentioned are the You Don’t Have to Live Here” Why Housing Messages Are Backfiring and 10 Things We Can Do About It report from Enterprise Community Partners Inc., as well as the Opportunity 360 resource, which is a tool that measures opportunity in neighborhoods across the country. You can search any neighborhood to see how it ranks in affordable housing, education, access to jobs, transportation, healthy food, air quality and more.

Dr. Tiffany Manuel is the vice president of knowledge, impact and strategy at Enterprise Community Partners, Inc., is a social scientist, strategist and cross-sector leader committed to social impact. Read her full bio here.