Advocating for Change: Habitat on the Hill Recap
At Habitat La Crosse, we advocate for affordable homeownership opportunities at the city, state, and federal level. This past week, we took our advocacy to the nation’s capital, bringing with us the concerns of our beloved La Crosse community.
Habitat on the Hill is Habitat for Humanity’s signature advocacy event. Advocates, volunteers, homeowners, and supporters from across the United States engage with policymakers and advocate for policies that promote access to affordable housing. Executive Director Kahya Fox and Community Outreach Director Natalie Heneghan joined 400+ other advocates in Washington, D.C. for the annual gathering.
Day 1: Welcome to D.C.
Kahya and Natalie arrived in DC, reconnected with fellow Habitat staff from across the country, and attended a panel discussion hosted by the Urban Institute. The event—Zoning Reforms That Improve Access to Housing for All: Evidence and Lessons for Advocates—highlighted the ways current zoning codes and land use policies limit housing opportunities. Panelists shared their expertise and experience advocating for zoning reform in their own communities.
They also noted how land use policies throughout history segregated cities and excluded Black, Latinx, and other minority families from homeownership. This history is central to the La Crosse Housing Advocacy Committee’s upcoming educational program about housing discrimination in La Crosse.
Day 2: Learning from the Experts
Under the theme of “Reaching New Heights, Together,” Habitat on the Hill 2024 provided us with an unparalleled opportunity to deepen our understanding of housing challenges and explore how policy changes can advance racial equity.
One example: Jessica Lautz, Deputy Chief Economics and VP of Research at the National Association of REALTORS (NAR) unpacked lots of recent data on housing access. She added nuance to a truth all of us working in communities know: demand for housing far exceeds current supply. Did you know? The supply of available homes in 2023 is HALF of the supply in 1995. Explore all NAR’s housing statistics and reports here.
Natalie took part in a fabulous Cost of Home poster exhibition. She presented our Advocacy Committee’s current project to research the history of housing discrimination and insecurity in La Crosse. Dozens of exhibitors shared their research, policy wins, and advocacy strategies. It was a rich learning experience for all.
We ended the day by meeting with our fellow Wisconsin representatives to plan our legislative visits!
Day 3: Hill Day!
Donning our brightly colored Habitat scarves, we made our way to Capitol Hill for a day of meetings.
All together, our Wisconsin delegation visited with seven legislators’ offices:
- Representative Derrick Van Orden (WI-03)
- Representative Glenn Grothman (WI-06)
- Representative Tom Tiffany (WI-02)
- Representative Gwen Moore (WI-04)
- Representative Mike Gallagher (WI-08)
- Senator Ron Johnson
- Senator Tammy Baldwin
Our priorities were simple: boost funding for existing programs that increase the supply of homes and provide more families with the opportunity to purchase a home. These programs include the Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program (SHOP), Home Investment Partnerships Program (HOME), and USDA Section 502 Direct Loan Program. We also advocated for the Neighborhood Homes Investment Act, a bill that has bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.
It was an energizing (and exhausting!) day. Our conversations lifted up Habitat homeowner stories and highlighted the true nature of our housing crisis.
We return from Habitat on the Hill feeling inspire. And we turn our focus back to our local communities, families, and issues. We have plenty to do to make our region a welcoming, safe, and accessible place for all. Let’s get to work!
Darshida has been working to become a homeowner for years. She is a passionate nurse, a dedicated mother to four boys, and a longtime La Crosse resident. After years of hard work and unforeseen obstacles, Darshida and her family moved into their new home in spring 2023.