I have an embarrassing confession: Despite having spent two years studying public administration, last week I attended and spoke at my very first City Council meeting. There were a lot of emotions involved for me: guilt that I had not done this before; exhilaration at standing in front of the room and addressing the council; fear that protestors in the audience were there to protest me; pride in the mission of my organization; and a little starstruck when I stood next to the Mayor to accept the Affordable Housing Week proclamation and shook his hand.
I have to admit, it was a great first experience. I made it through my whole statement, despite my heart pounding because of my inexplicable but life-long fear of public speaking. There was polite applause after my comments, and nobody spoke in opposition to affordable housing in their community. I received the signed proclamation, as anticipated. It all went very smoothly.
I couldn’t help but think about how advocating for affordable housing was not always like this. Even just a couple of years ago, I would have been faced with adamant opposition to building affordable housing in some communities (for a dramatic example, go watch Show me a Hero on HBO).
Not now. As King County grows rapidly up and out, and as inequality and homelessness reach crisis levels, attitudes are changing. People even applauded after I thanked the Council for their part in bringing affordable housing to their community. Suddenly, more cities genuinely want to be a part of a solution, and are ready to work with organizations and welcome affordable housing into their jurisdictions. Not everyone is there yet—there is still hesitation amongst some community members, but I can feel the change happening around us. I can sense that people are beginning to understand how important it is to support the most vulnerable in our communities, and that investing in preventing homelessness is infinitely better than trying to address it after the fact. While I’m somewhat disappointed that it has taken us until 2016 to get to this place, I am grateful that we are on our way to sound public policy around housing and acceptance of our neighbors with lower-incomes.
I am full of gratitude and optimism today. And as we celebrate Affordable Housing Week, I look forward to participating in more productive conversations on this topic.
~Kathryn Jacoby, Operations Coordinator