voting AND HOUSING JUSTICE
Why Engage in Election Work?
Affordable homes are built with ballots every bit as much as they are built with bricks and drywall. To build the political will for housing solutions, renters and advocates must demonstrate our power as a significant voting bloc.
However, the same communities that face the greatest barriers to securing stable, accessible, affordable housing also face the greatest barriers to voting. Long lines at the polls, voter ID laws, transportation barriers, language inaccessibility, voter intimidation, and other obstacles--not to mention skepticism towards the political process and doubt that the outcome of elections will have an impact in their communities--can all deter low-income people from casting their ballots.
Census data confirm that low-income voters are registered and vote at lower rates than higher income citizens. While 82% of people with household incomes above $100,000 were registered to vote in 2022 and 67% voted, just 57% of people with incomes below $20,000 were registered, and only 33% actually voted. (U.S. Census Bureau, Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2022, April 2023)
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 major disasters may face especially tough barriers to voting.
Nonprofit organizations, which benefit from close ties with their clients, are trusted messengers that can reach communities historically excluded from the political process and help their clients cast their ballots with confidence.
Nonprofits that have implemented voter engagement projects have identified several benefits of doing so:
Community members 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 renters.
Influential relationships are built with elected officials.
Residents develop leadership skills.
Residents can meet community service requirements, if applicable.
Positive press is earned for the program or project.
Research shows that nonprofit organizations' nonpartisan voter engagement initiatives are successful at reaching the lowest-income people. According to Nonprofit VOTE, low-income voters who were engaged by nonprofits in the 2020 presidential election had a voter turnout rate 7 percentage points higher than that of comparable low-income renters who were not engaged by nonprofits.
Collectively, we have the power to close the voter turnout gap and demonstrate that renters are an important political constituency. The resources contained on the Our Homes, Our Votes website are designed to help nonprofits, tenant leaders, housing providers, and other advocates achieve this goal.