Journal of Housing & Community Development

Commissioners as Advocates and Educators

May 24, 2019

We commissioners are in a unique and powerful position to advocate on behalf of our housing agency and the work it does in our community.  As Ken Miller wrote in a previous issue, “[c]ommissioners..are often our most effective advocates. When a commissioner speaks – correcting a misunderstanding in the community or testifying to a legislative committee – they’re credible.” Our experience as community leaders, coupled with our knowledge of how the housing agency works and what it needs to continue fulfilling its mission, make us valuable resources to both our elected officials and to our fellow commissioners.

Connecting with Our Elected Officials 
One of a commissioner’s most important roles is to act as an advocate both for their housing agency and for affordable housing and community development in general. Our state officials, mayors and city councils need to be very familiar with both the good work that our agencies do, and with the resources we need to continue to provide safe, decent and affordable housing in quality communities. And who better than us to be educators and advocates? We know how the housing agency works, we know what both the staff and the residents need, and we are respected voices in our communities.

Having a great relationship with your local government is an important role in advocacy and a must for commissioners. That relationship in my hometown has assisted the Opelika Housing Authority with facilities when hosting the SERC-NAHRO Basketball Tournament, partnerships for Juneteenth, additional security when needed, and inclusiveness in city decisions. A few years ago I asked the Mayor and council to recognize those who move on to homeownership. They provide letters commending those who do. There is an open door policy to the Mayor’s office and I can pick up the phone and call every council person. They don’t just talk the talk but are right there for resident functions and concerns. As you will see in the photos, Opelika’s leadership cares about Opelika Housing. 
But that’s not all – our advocacy must also extend to the national level, to our congressional representatives and senators in Washington, D.C. I hope you were able to attend NAHRO’s 2019 Legislative Conference, CONNECT to Purpose. It is always inspiring and invigorating not only to meet face-to-face with our legislators, but to do so as part of a wave of our fellow commissioners and affordable housing practitioners. There’s power in numbers! 

Keep in mind too that advocacy is a continuous process, not a one-time activity.  Even though the conference is over, you can still serve as an advocate! Check with your representatives’ local offices, find out when they’ll be back home, and try to arrange a meeting with them then. If you need talking points or a list of NAHRO’s priorities, please refer to the 2019 NAHRO Legislative and Regulatory Agenda or contact NAHRO’s Congressional Relations staff for assistance.

Connecting with our Peers
One of the most valuable things about NAHRO conferences is the opportunity to interact with fellow commissioners from all over the country. Whether in a formal setting such as a session or a professional development course, or during more informal networking events or even chance hallway conversations, I enjoy learning from and sharing my experiences with others. I know many of my peers feel the same way. 

You can also participate in and help shape the learning experience by submitting a session proposal for NAHRO’s upcoming conferences! Share your expertise and experiences with commissioners from all across the country.  The call for proposals for CONNECT to Partners, the national conference event in San Antonio (Oct. 10-12), is open until June 7. 

Whether or not you want to submit a session proposal, if you have any ideas about sessions you’d like to attend or topics you’d like to see covered, please feel free to contact a member of the Commissioners’ Committee – visit NAHRO’s website for our names and contact details. We’re here to listen, and to help.

AUTHOR BIO: Henrietta Snipes is the Chair of the Opelika (Ala.) Housing Authority. She also serves as the Vice President of Commissioners for national NAHRO, and the Vice President of Commissioners for the Southeast Regional Council (SERC) of NAHRO.

(Top picture) Left to right are State Representative Jeremy Gray, City Council Pro Tem Patricia Jones, Mayor Gary Fuller, Opelika Housing Board Chair Henrietta Snipes, CEO Matthew McClammey, Councilman David Cannon, Council President Eddie Smith, Councilwoman Tiffany Gibson-Pitts and Councilman Dozier Smith T. 

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