get decision makers thinking about housing issues
Too often, affordable homes are ignored in the public debate leading up to elections. To elevate housing solutions on the national agenda, candidates for elected office must understand that the issue of affordable housing is important to voters. Elections provide a fantastic opportunity to get decision-makers to think about housing. During election season, it is important to engage with candidates early and often. When engaging with candidates, be sure to stay nonpartisan.
Below are a few tips for hosting a successful candidate forum—one of many candidate engagement activities that you may choose to organize. The Voter & Candidate Engagement Toolkit includes comprehensive resources for town hall meetings, candidate questionnaires, site visits, voter guides, and other candidate engagement activities.
Quick Tips for Successful Candidate Forums
1. Keep it nonpartisan
This means inviting all the candidates for an elected position, and not just the Democrat and the Republican. Inviting only the major parties shows partisan preference to those two groups.
2. Build a coalition
You can generate a larger audience and guarantee more candidates accept your invitation by having more groups involved in hosting the event. Caution: one issue with having too many groups involved in hosting is you might not have enough time to focus specifically on housing.
3. Bring the cameras
Do your best to get commitments from media outlets to broadcast the event or cover it in their publications. Use live-streaming options such as Facebook or consider posting recordings to your website or your blog. Let the candidates know the media has been invited.
4. Follow-ups are essential
Be sure to have a sign-in table where you can collect contact information of attendees. This table should also have voter registration forms for people who have not yet registered.
5. Materials and fact sheets
Provide information to attendees and candidates in advance so that the conversation starts from an informed perspective with the most recent data available about the housing shortage and homelessness in your community.
6. Curate the questions
A fully open Q&A can often get off topic or even unruly. Ask attendees to write their questions on note cards as they arrive. Arrange for some of your volunteers to go through the cards to pick the ones that are most interesting, relevant, and timely.
7. Give the candidates time
The candidates for office are making time available during their very busy campaign schedule. Be sure to offer them time at both the beginning and end of the forum to discuss their vision and campaign in their own terms.
8. Make it easy to attend
When organizing events where many attendees are likely to be low-income, always consider barriers that can be addressed to get people in the room. Offer food or childcare services, which can often be coordinated through volunteers. If you have the capacity, organize carpools to the event to boost attendance.