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Affordable housing industry must make voter registration a priority

Last weekʼs week’s Iowa Caucus officially marked the beginning of the 2020 presidential election cycle, which impacts the lives of millions of New Yorkers and tens of millions of Americans who desperately need affordable housing.

Several leading candidates have outlined policies to combat the national housing crisis — good news.

However, solving the affordability crisis will require making sure that economically vulnerable Americans are encouraged to become advocates and thus, voters.

This is where our industry can make a real difference.

In May 2019, the New York State Association for Affordable Housing (NYSAFAH) partnered with the League of Women Voters to launch its voter registration initiative in New York City. In September the program was expanded to New York’s upstate region.

The result was that New York’s property managers collectively connected to thousands of residents through our voter registration training program.

Once trained to do so, property managers harnessed their ability to connect with tenants by hosting on-site registration drives across the state.

During this outreach, trainees were able to answer questions about voting, assist residents with the registration process, and empower them with the tools needed to cast ballots in November. By providing direct voter services where people live, we can reach an expanded number of New Yorkers.

This work is important because, unfortunately, low-income Americans, who are also most in need of affordable housing, are less likely to vote than wealthier residents.

Consider a recent study from the Center for American Progress, which found that Americans earning less than $50,000 annually are significantly less likely to exercise their right to vote than those earning above that threshold.

Add in other factors, like race and education, and these disparities only grow more dramatic.

Voter turnout is a profound national problem. When more Americans vote, the entire country benefits from a stronger democracy that is more responsive to a variety of needs. Higher rates of voter participation should encourage all current and future candidates to take our housing crisis seriously.

Our voter registration program is easily replicable across the United States and we encourage our counterparts in all fifty states to launch similar initiatives.

Housing organizations are uniquely positioned to connect to hundreds of thousands of residents and can work with local non-partisan voter registration organizations to launch similar programming. Our Voter Registration Initiative Handbook (viewable here) can help other organizations in this process.

We encourage affordable housing stakeholders to use these materials to build their own campaigns in service to the strengthening of our American democracy.

The first step to delivering Americans quality affordable housing, is shining a light on the ongoing crisis.

Following, and most importantly, is to ensure that those most affected by the crisis are positioned to exercise their fundamental right to vote.

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