Why Engage in Election Work?
Affordable homes are built with ballots every bit as much as they are built with bricks and drywall. Advocates for expanded housing affordability need to be a significant voting block.
Raising housing on the national agenda will happen only when candidates for elected office understand that the issue of affordable housing is important to voters. At the same time, it is vital that low-income voters understand how the decisions made by federal elected officials directly affect their lives, know how to register to vote, and know how to get to the polls on Election Day.
Census data confirm that low-income voters are registered and vote at lower rates than higher income citizens. While 87% of people with incomes over $100,000 were registered to vote in 2020 and 83% voted, just 60% of people with incomes below $20,000 were registered, and only 49% actually voted (U.S. Census Bureau. Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2020, April 2021)
Low-income people face several challenges to voting such as less-flexible work schedules that may not allow time off to vote; more difficulty obtaining legal identification; transportation impediments that may make getting to the polls more difficult; and a greater likelihood of misinformation about their rights as voters. People experiencing homelessness, returning citizens, and survivors of natural disasters may face especially tough barriers to voting.
Nonprofit organizations, which benefit from close ties with their clients, are a natural fit in helping people overcome these challenges. Nonprofits that have implemented voter engagement projects have identified several benefits of doing so:
Residents engage in civic life and learn how decisions of elected officials affect their lives.
The issue of homelessness and housing scarcity is elevated in public debate.
Elected officials become educated on low-income housing issues and on how their decisions affect residents.
Influential relationships are built with elected officials.
Residents develop leadership skills.
Assists residents in meeting community service requirements, if applicable.
Positive press is earned for the program or project.