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Civic engagement essential for improving community health, well-being


Civic engagement is an essential component in building healthier, more resilient communities. When people get involved with local organizations and participate in activities like volunteering and voting, it promotes social cohesion, fosters collaboration, improves community access to resources and supports the adoption of equitable policies and legislation that help address issues like food insecurity and inadequate housing.

Through our Advancing Health Equity and Housing initiative, we have been working with housing and health justice organizers (i.e. grassroots organizations, intermediaries, legal service organizations, housing builders, community development corporations, and health departments) since 2018 to identify innovative community-generated multisector solutions to improve health outcomes, housing affordability and quality.

In August 2023, during an in-person convening, our partners formed five peer-led and self-directed affinity groups to deepen and advance their respective work while collaborating to advance more systemic changes. The affinity groups decided on the following topic areas: community health workers, organizing and advocacy, health care investments, healthy housing options, and community ownership models. As the affinity groups have met to share and discuss various solutions and barriers within the housing space over the last few months, non-partisan civic engagement is a topic that comes up frequently.

By using data and real stories to identify, inform, and address community problems, our partners have been successful in pushing for continuous improvement within the communities where they live and work. For example, WE ACT for Environmental Justice started a campaign in 2021 during the mayoral and city council elections that has continued around ongoing nonpartisan civic engagement work, which holds New York candidates and elected officials accountable on environmental justice issues including the right to healthy homes. Groups like Chicanos Por La Causa (CPLC) found that meeting people face-to-face helped them while learning how to empower those directly impacted by housing issues through useful tools for public advocacy and implementation approaches.

In January 2024, Atlanta Regional Collaborative for Health Improvement (ARCHI) hosted an “Invert The Burden” roundtable to engage key partners including government agencies, foundation leaders, and healthcare leaders to discuss their work towards better and more equitable health outcomes in Atlanta, including their Health-Housing Collaborative and Metro Atlanta Cities Wellbeing Initiative.

During a recent visit to Hope Community in Minnesota, we learned about the Parks and Power program where grassroots community organizers have been working with the city of Minneapolis Parks Department. By collecting racial equity metrics, they have been able to increase and more equitably distribute funding and the number of park programs offered in the Phillips neighborhood and other neighborhoods in the city after observing that there was variation in the dedicated funding and number programs offered within the city’s neighborhoods.

Other examples include the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) working with their neighborhood members to determine how public parcel land will be utilized in addition to working within coalitions at the city and state level around inclusionary zoning laws.

In addition, our partners continue to talk about various types of tenant protections. Jane Place, a Right to the City (RTTC) member in New Orleans, shared a few of these stories during the RTTC Assembly in February 2024. Programs like Right to Counsel keep tenants in their homes because of a law that was passed in 2021 by New Orleans City Council to provide free legal help and representation to all city residents facing eviction. In addition, a step-by-step guide in the form of a comic book has been used to help tenants understand their rights and offer advice.

Urban Habitat has taken another approach. In the Bay Area of California, they continue to work together with state and local government to create or strengthen ordinances around tenant anti-harassment, rent stabilization, and just case for eviction and working to increase the funding, capacity, and policies that support community-driven land and housing models.

Many of our partner organizations were established and continue to exist because they saw the needs within their communities and wanted to fill gaps where municipalities did not see the need or deem social determinants of health like housing to be important issues.

As housing instability continues to increase in many areas of the country, there are people and organizations advancing innovative and effective strategies that are making significant impacts on our housing crisis. Yet we know there is so much more that is needed to scale their efforts.

Nonpartisan civic engagement is a powerful tool. By mobilizing residents and helping to educate and inform public officials, organizations can influence decision-making and continue to improve the health and well-being of entire communities.