HLC Case Study

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Making a Movement Accessible: Lessons learned from Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County’s affordable housing booklet.

Whether new to the movement or a longtime housing justice champion, advocates can likely agree on one thing: the industry is complex. That fact is compounded by the disruptive narratives circulated through media and the legacy of negative connotations associated with low-income housing. It’s no wonder there are misconceptions about what affordable housing really is, what it looks like, and who it serves— and why many people steer clear of the issue altogether. 

Enter the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County’s (HLC) digital Affordable Housing Flip Book.

Developed with San Mateo residents (and other potential supporters who want to learn more about housing) in mind, HLC’s online tool cuts through the NIMBY noise by putting faces to the data, starting with “who needs affordable homes”: that is, our families, seniors, veterans, and a whole host of professionals serving integral social functions across the region. The booklet then covers basic statistics, 10 successful housing developments, who their beneficiaries are, and where things stand today.

→ Let’s take a closer look at this resource to see how it’s making housing and racial justice more digestible, relatable, and actionable:

Stories help statistics hit closer to home

HLC’s ebook includes key quantitative information about housing conditions in San Mateo, such as: renters need to earn 3.7 times the City’s minimum wage to make average rent, 72% of extremely low-income households pay more than half of their income on rent (compared to 0% of moderate-income households), and 24,440 low-income households do not have access to an affordable home.

While those are important numbers, they are unlikely to convert persuadable supporters. People won’t remember those statistics, but they will remember Belinda— and Mirna, and Donald, and Michelle— and others with stories similar to that of our own loved ones and the members of our communities on whom we all rely. The approach forges a missing link between data and the humanity it represents, between abstract conditions and concrete impact (pun intended.)

Solutions counter defeatism and cynicism 

Housing data can be discouraging, but centering affordable housing as a solution calls the Bay Area’s status quo into question. Demonstrating the existence of alternative possibilities helps overcome the sense of inevitability or intractability that many people have adopted when it comes to housing scarcity. The priority is to make change appear within our reach.

The booklet’s focus on the success of real-life projects (and the policies it took to get there!) tells the story of housing justice as an adaptive challenge, or one that is related to our response to the problem, rather than a technical challenge, one related to our ability to solve the problem. The solutions aren’t easy, but they exist. Leading with those solutions helps to locate the source of the problem in our systems— not our people– and begins to paint the picture of new possibilities. 

Mobilize with a call to action

The resource closes with a summary of current funding and production trends paired with an explicit call to action: everyone must send a message of urgency to address the area’s lack of housing justice and support for pro-housing policies at all levels. Having already planted the necessary narrative seeds, this directive puts readers back in the driver’s seat. The goal is for folks to internalize the role they do have to play through collective action as a part of the broader movement. Our whole community does better when everyone has good, safe, affordable housing options, and we must convey that it’s up to all of us to fight for it.

→ Next Steps

HLC is currently using the resource to reach supporters at their events, introduce new folks to housing justice, and initiate partnerships with allied organizations—especially with those whose focus is not specifically housing. The data is out there, the collateral damage obvious to so many, but if the average person can’t see how their piece fits into the puzzle, solving it could be out of reach. 

Housing justice is a choose-your-own-adventure story with villains, winners, and many different paths one could take; our narrative should help not everyone but anyone understand how to start making an impact and where we go from here. 





Check out this HLC’s affordable housing flipbook here!

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Making a Movement Accessible: Lessons learned from Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County’s affordable housing booklet.

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