Since 2017, Funders for Housing and Opportunity (FHO), a funder collaborative that believes a stable, affordable home is the foundation for health, opportunity, and justice, has directed about a third of its $17 million in grants to policy advocacy and organizing. This strand of FHO’s work has advanced 103 housing policies (with 52 enacted) and although FHO funds aren’t used for lobbying, helped to preserve and leverage more than $124 billion in public investments. 

We asked FHO member Amy Gillman of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to set the context for interviews with Liz Ryan Murray of the Alliance for Housing Justice (AHJ) and Mike Koprowski of Opportunity Starts at Home (OSAH) who offer insights into national and local policy advocacy and organizing efforts that are changing the housing system. Responses have been edited and combined for length and continuity.

Amy Gillman: RWJF is committed to improving health and health equity in the United States, and we know society can’t achieve health equity without addressing barriers to safe, stable, and affordable housing. Robust research demonstrates that high-quality housing in a thriving community is associated with improved physical and mental health, educational and developmental outcomes for children, and financial security and economic mobility for families.

The lasting impact of our country’s discriminatory housing and lending practices has led to widespread racial residential segregation and concentrated poverty, and differential access to community conditions that promote health such as high-quality schools, clean air, parks and open spaces, and job opportunities. People of color living in neighborhoods once subjected to redlining are more likely to live shorter lives, have lower incomes, and be burdened by the cost of rent. COVID-19 has exacerbated this crisis, and the country’s recent racial reckoning has heightened awareness of the need for racially equitable housing policies to support healthier communities.

To help realize this aim, RWJF funds a range of approaches including organizing and advocacy, policy research and development, and technical assistance and peer learning opportunities for local policy makers. We support policy change to address immediate housing needs such as the risk of eviction or displacement, and are committed to advancing long-term structural change in housing and community development policies, practices, and financing systems to address and reverse the historical lack of investment in communities with low income and communities of color.

We also work with peer philanthropies on policy, advocacy, and organizing to pool grants, co-invest capital, and collaborate on learning opportunities for funders and the field. RWJF and FHO fund both grasstops advocacy and grassroots organizing and make connections across these groups—which helps to align work at the national, state, and community levels—so these efforts reinforce each other and have more impact. This support enables advocates to scale partnerships and to have collective influence, rather than operating in silos.

Read the full article about advocating for housing policies by Amy Gillman, Liz Ryan Murray, and Mike Koprowski at Stanford Social Innovation Review.