The strength of the 1070 Main Street affordable housing and homeless prevention collaboration is best exemplified in its recent joint efforts to save the Neighborhood Opportunities Program, or NOP. NOP is Rhode Island's most critical program for ending homelessness and developing affordable housing. In February, 2010, Governor Carcieri eliminated NOP funding from his FY2011 budget. Several groups joined together to make restoring NOP their number one legislative priority.
For the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless (RICH) and the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH), NOP is critical because NOP funding has helped many homeless individuals and families move off the street and out of shelters into stable homes, and it has prevented others from becoming homeless in the first place. NOP funding has stretched limited family incomes so that more can be spent on essentials like food and medicine. And it has helped develop facilities that provide services, like job training, that contribute to productive lives.
For Housing Action and the Housing Network, which is the association of the state’s CDCs (community development corporations), their stake was equally critical. The CDCs have been the primary benefactors of the NOP funds to build affordable housing in the state.
The Critical Need for Partnership
Established in 2001, NOP is a unique state-funded program that subsidizes the cost of affordable rental homes in Rhode Island. Since its inception, NOP has funded the acquisition, new construction and/or rehabilitation of 1,188 housing units in 28 Rhode Island cities and towns. This includes the production of family housing, permanent supportive housing and homeownership opportunities. These housing units are located at sites that contain a total of 2,525 affordable housing units.
NOP has also contributed $44 million in gap funding for the development and operation of the 1,188 units. This investment has leveraged $418.3 million, or $10 for every dollar invested by the State of Rhode Island.
Unfortunately, given the state’s dismal economic situation, restoring funding for NOP, even with all the incredible benefits of the program, is proving to be a Herculean task. This makes the partnership and joint efforts even that more critical.
An Action Plan
The groups began in January with the establishment of a NOP Working Group through the joint Government Relations Committee of RICH and Housing Action. The NOP Working Group met monthly and reported to the larger Government Relations Committee at its monthly meetings.
The first action of the NOP Working Group was to set goals for the campaign. The campaign goals were:
- Ensure that NOP is funded in this year’s legislative budget.
- Create grassroots pressure to promote the importance of NOP.
- Push NOP to become one of the State House “key” issues through building up strong grassroots support.
- Develop a strategic campaign to push NOP consistently over the legislative session.
- Educate legislators about the importance of NOP.
- Educate the general public about the importance of NOP.
- Begin identifying a permanent funding stream for NOP and other affordable housing and homeless prevention programs.
The campaign strategies included various efforts.
Online/Social Media Strategy: This included using Facebook and Twitter to promote action on letter writing, sharing videos, encouraging turn-out for events, etc. It also included use of the RICH website for action alerts and an email letter-writing campaign.
Letter Writing Campaign: To date over 2,000 letters have been collected, including the collection of letters from the districts of key legislators through the tried and true method of door-to-door canvassing efforts.
Lobbying and Advocacy: Through Housing Action’s premiere lobbyist, Brenda Clement, a daily State House strategy was employed.
Grassroots Events: Weekly events were held, starting with the Coalition’s Annual Luncheon, which attracts over 400 attendees. A NOP Birthday Bash event was held at the State House, and a NOP Tent Tour traveled around the state illustrating what it is like to be be homeless and living in tents – the reality for many more state residents if not for NOP. The various events also lent themselves to continued media coverage and opportunities for local community involvement.
Constituent Involvement: Through RICH’s Constituent Advisory Committee and partners at the Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project, homeless and formerly homeless constituents were involved in all aspects of the NOP campaign. Constituents were part of the planning and organizing efforts. Constituents were also speakers at events, with the media and at the State House.
Media Outreach: “Media hits” got the attention of the public and policy-makers. These included local articles on NOP events, great coverage of the Birthday Bash event, the NOP hearing, and the Tent Tour in various cities and towns around Rhode Island. Also, an editorial appeared in the Providence Journal promoting the continued funding of NOP, a a huge feather in the partners’ cap.
Highlights of the campaign to date include:
- A very powerful video created by the Johnson & Wales marketing students to highlight the devastating impact of family homelessness
- Coverage for the local NOP Tent Tour around the state
- Video of the Providence protest against elimination of funding for Neighborhood Opportunities Program
- Coverage for the NOP hearing for which there was excellent turn-out – with the room packed with supporters wearing the green "Save NOP" stickers (The strategy of having only a few speakers also worked well; check out the Providence Journal article.)
- An editorial in the Providence Journal urging the legislators to restore NOP
The NOP campaign is an excellent example of how the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Individually, none of the organizations would have been capable of pulling off this campaign at the level achieved due to collaboration.
The campaign is still going on as the Rhode Island legislature runs until mid-June 2010. We do know, however, that the collaborative work is paying off as legislators are getting the message.
For more on the campaign, logon to Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless at: www.rihomeless.org