Remarks from Jim Knight at the CNHED Housing for All Campaign Annual Event


October 29, 2015

It is a great pleasure to be part of this special evening that is celebrating all that has been accomplished through the Housing for All Campaign.

Steve asked me to recap some of the key moments along this campaign journey. As It occurred to me that we might distill the power of this campaign into three basic parts.

The first is that our campaign responds to a dream.

Very few things of lasting importance in this life happen without a dream to fuel them. What distinguishes a dream from a goal, or just another idea you might ask? In this sense, a dream is a response to something in life that isn’t what it could be.

Often, the most compelling dreams seem impossible.

Moses dreamed about liberating a people from bondage. Dr. King had a dream about equality for a nation. NASA had a dream to be the first to land on the moon. These were audacious dreams that responded to compelling visions that seemed impossible.

And that’s part of their power. We aren’t energized by the possible, and nothing great comes from playing it safe.
Dreams aren’t “manageable.” A dream has the power to move us beyond ourselves. It calls out resources and forces that are beyond our direct control.

Our dream has been a very simple one, albeit elusive.

We believe that our City cannot meet its created purpose until it works for all of its residents. Our dream is that all of the residents of our City will have access to the foundation of safe affordable housing and from there, go on to thrive.

Despite decades of effort, and some successes, our City is still plagued by a legacy of un-met potential. Still today,1 in 3 of our children in DC live below the poverty line, and 2 out of 3 of those children will not graduate high school, leaving them ill-equipped for the vast majority of jobs in the city.

How can we be surprised by these outcomes when our city has a shortage of more than 20,000 housing units for those families living below that line?

How can we expect that children living in crisis and through the trauma of homelessness and housing insecurity will succeed?

The gap between what we dream for and where we are as a city today continues to fuel our desire for change. It seems impossible to overcome. And yet it drives our campaign to succeed!

The second element that helped guide our campaign was that we identified a strategy for the problem we were trying to solve.

It was given out of a tense season discussions where members of CNHED where trying to find a middle ground between the twin goals of long term affordability and wealth building through home ownership.

As we wrestled together for a magical middle ground, we came to realize that rather than watering down these models through compromise, we were better off saying YES to all of them. Each model was valuable and each needed to be supported.

The first victory was the powerful realization that we need housing across the income spectrum and with access to an array of supports and opportunities that match residents’ wants and needs. Multiple income levels, multiple program models, etc.

So the Continuum of Housing became the organizing principle for the campaign.

The continuum housing became a unifying framework…it allowed us all to work together for the broadest goal…we no longer were divided internally, where one housing type competed with another for limited resources. Instead, we all worked together to increase resources for all housing types, in order to create housing for all.

This organizing framework prepared the way for the third component of success for the Campaign –Mobilizing a wide array of stakeholders!

Motivated by a dream, and guided by a strategy, we were ready to mobilize stakeholders from across the city – in government, in the non-profit sector, residents of affordable housing, faith communities, social justice activists, you name it – they came.

Before long, we were filling the MLK library for a housing rally with the mayor. We were filling the Wilson building and briefing all of our council members. The campaign was picked up by other similarly motivated advocacy groups and the base was broadened.

It’s hard to believe that the first year of the formal campaign saw a decrease in HPTF funds of $20M! But we kept working.

And then it happened.

A few years into the process we started to see things change, and Mayor Gray announced $100M for affordable housing.

We were able to capture that energy and turn it into even more wins, setting our sights on $100M for the Housing Production Trust Fund each year.

And we’ve accomplished that. We successfully moved our elected leaders to an expectation of affordable housing funding.

Mayor Bowser and her team are now leading the charge to end chronic homelessness, and it is backed up by a commitment of $100 million for the HPTF each year!

We did that by being a strong coalition and working together. By committing each of our organizations to work for the good of the whole. And by supporting residents as they found their voice and told their stories.

We’re excited to be able to share our story with more people through the publication of a case study on the campaign. It includes a dynamic website full of resources, reflections, and materials which you can see online.
And the Housing for All Campaign continues to shape our City.

While it is impossible to recognize everyone who played a key role in this campaign, I want to recognize some special contributions…the staff in its many iterations over the last five years…led first by Bob Pohlman and now by Steve Glaude… the Housing for All Campaign director Elizabeth Falcon, who led the mobilization of a true grassroots campaign… former CNHED board chair Polly Donaldson, now leader of DHCD… elected officials like committee chair Anita Bonds, and ward one CM Brianne Nadeau… our member organizations who participated in countless actions through the years… affordable housing residents who told their stories in numerous settings… and all of you here tonight who contributed in endless ways small and large.

Our work is not done. Our dream is still unfolding…we can be a city that works for all of its citizens. We must be!