"Americans are caught in an image of housing that's over 20 years old -- they are really surprised when they see what affordable housing is now." Nancy Belden of Belden Russonello & Stewart elegantly captured the challenge of the perception gap between public opinion and the reality of affordable housing. On May 5 and 6, 2004, the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation, in partnership with The Campaign for Affordable Housing, analyzed the challenge of closing that gap in its fourth NeighborWorks Symposium on Multifamily Excellence.
The symposium, held in Minneapolis, was entitled "Changing Minds, Building Communities: Advancing Affordable Housing through Communications Campaigns." The symposium brought together 300 local and national affordable housing leaders from across many organizational and institutional sectors to engage in a day of candid exchange on one issue key to strengthening communities and expanding housing opportunities. The issue? How we can better communicate publicly and through marketing campaigns to advance the development of homes all Americans can afford.
While affordable housing stories are often filled with conflict, and projects are completed against the odds, participants were energized and enthused to find that successes are happening across the country. Fifteen successful cases were used as a backdrop against which key issues were discussed and debated. The context for these successes was demonstrated through opinion research that shows untapped opportunities for support -- a kind of new "silent majority" that recognizes and is concerned about the corrosive effect affordability problems have on families and communities.
However, the affordable housing industry will only tap that support if it learns to employ professional communications tools to move its message from simply "housing" to "homes, family and community."
From case studies, research, and the candid reactions and debate from participants, 10 key points emerged that suggest a communications strategy for the affordable housing community.