Deepening Our Commitment to Building Power Together

A Brief Overview of America’s Housing Crisis in 2023

The scale of America’s housing crisis, like everything else these days, is unprecedented. The most recent numbers on our country’s housing and homelessness crisis are sobering:

  • Nationally, there is a shortage of 7.3 million affordable and available apartments for Extremely Low Income (ELI) households – that is, households bringing in income 30% or less of their area’s median income.
  • For every 100 ELI renter households, there are only 33 homes affordable and available to them. 
  • Every state and congressional district is impacted and no state has an adequate supply of housing for extremely low-income households. Nearly the entire shortage of affordable homes is concentrated among extremely low-income households. 
  • In Missouri, those numbers translate to a shortage of 115,000 affordable and available homes for the 200,000 ELI households that call Missouri Home. 
  • Covid era protections and funding has come and gone and for the most part, will not be renewed. 

Our most vulnerable neighbors can no longer wait: families are increasingly becoming more housing insecure and more are being pushed over the edge into homelessness.

While continued advocacy efforts from policy makers, legislators, community advocates and leaders calling for expanded protections and funding for housing and enforcement of rights at every level of government are important, and has helped to stave off some of the most egregious threats on renter protections and programs to fund access to housing, a coherent strategy for supporting renters and even low income mortgage holders has failed to emerge. The key missing ingredient to winning significant reforms continues to be overlooked. The people most impacted – the families and individuals we advocate for – too often, are locked out of the very rooms where policy decisions that directly impact them are being made.

America’s households are being put through the wringer: continued housing cost increases, stagnant wages, the whittling away of rights and deprioritization of funding commitments towards solutions that provide stable footing for the most vulnerable among us. The fate of America’s poor and working class households may very well hinge on their own level and ability to collectively organize for improved material conditions. “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for”, as one tenant leader put it, “we’ve got to write our rights into existence”, said another during a tenant union meeting. Leaning into this political analysis, Empower Missouri is clear that investment in the leadership of those most impacted by the housing crisis is of the highest priority. This understanding led us to undertake the work of building relationships and trust with impacted communities in rural and suburban Missouri, where we frequently see the least amount of investment and representation. 

Last year, our affordable housing policy managers moved with intention to deeply listen to and understand not just the struggles and imminent needs of tenants, unhoused and housing insecure individuals – we listened and learned about our neighbors bold vision of a future where every person has access to all the things in order to thrive – access to healthy, decent housing and food, equal justice under the law and more. The year of listening has been marked by themes and stories of disempowerment and dispossession but also, righteous anger, glimmers of hope, and the willingness of people with markedly different backgrounds to work through those in order to build power together and move towards a common goal. Building tenant power through tenant unions is almost never well-favored, never guaranteed, but always necessary—to move forward in our work of making a home of the world.

In order to challenge and change injustice in our society, we must build the political power of communities directly impacted by those injustices.

We believe that the people closest to the problems are also closest to the solutions. In working with unhoused and tenant leaders over the course of the past 12 months, we learned that the political possibilities of tenant unions and organizations transcend policy wins such as rent reductions and repairs, or even rent control (which is currently still pre-empted at the state level) – tenant unions also offer a mechanism for rebuilding collective care and commitment. 

Grasping this fearful moment as both a time of deep grief AND a time for expanding our understanding of what is possible when communities work together in radical solidarity, our efforts to support the growth of tenant unions and organizations in rural and suburban Missouri represent an important step in collective attempts to move forward in our work to secure safe, accessible, truly affordable housing for all.

What’s Next

Springfield Tenants Unite and Empower Missouri will be partnering to pilot Springfield MO’s first Housing Justice Fellowship Program in an effort to build upon and strengthen the collective power of tenants. The Housing Justice Fellowship will bring together 10-15 rising leaders from the Springfield area for a six-month cohort-based program which will meet between September 2023 and March 2024. The purpose of the fellowship is to invest in the leadership and skills of impacted community members. They are already experts on their lived experiences – now is the time to equip them with the tools to translate that expertise and experience into vehicles to drive larger social change and policy reform. Housing Justice Fellows will develop advocacy, organizing and power building skills by participating in eight training sessions over six months on a range of topics that cover legislative advocacy, community organizing, strategic communications, campaign planning and more. Fellows will also gain hands-on, nuts and bolts organizing experience through group projects along with a motivated and supportive community of peers working towards the common goal of furthering housing justice in their community. 

Applications for the Fall-Spring 2023  cohort are currently being accepted and will close on August 18 2023. No previous organizing/advocacy/policy experience is necessary to become a fellow, just the motivation to learn together, build community and work collaboratively towards a just and equitable future. We are very excited about this development and will be providing periodic updates on these efforts. Stay tuned for more!

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