Time to Drop the Mic at City Council Meetings

Celebrating NAHREP familia, cultura, politics, and grassroots action

May 6, 2021

Qué onda mi gente?!

If you tuned in to the NAHREP Housing Policy Summit or saw the social media posts, you heard that the LA South Bay Chapter won Advocacy Chapter of the Year. One of the main reasons? The board collectively attended and spoke at over 40 city council meetings in 2020! They showed up and dropped the mic.

Low housing inventory is the number one barrier Latinos face in their quest toward homeownership. I know the majority of you experience it every day as first-time homebuyers search for a home in their price range and engage in painful bidding wars. According to our report, homeowner vacancy rates in 2020 dropped for the seventh consecutive year to 1.0 percent, the lowest rate ever recorded by the U.S. Census Bureau. We complain about low inventory all of the time, but complaining to the wind doesn’t do anything.

Many of you have participated in our push to include housing production as part of the national Congressional Infrastructure Package. However, a short-term strategy to creating more housing inventory includes becoming aware of how your mayor and city council approves housing developments or makes changes to zoning laws that ensure more housing is built for “the missing middle.” Becoming aware of what’s going on and holding elected officials accountable is the first step.

MAKING CITY COUNCIL MEETINGS A PART OF YOUR ROUTINE

While the country is in the process of opening back up, for the past year, city council meetings have happened virtually, making it easier for you to make a public comment. Whether virtual or in-person, all you have to do is share your stories and urge city officials to do something about the underproduction of housing.

It is so much easier than you think. See below for a step-by-step guide:

  1. Find out when the next city council meeting is going to be held. Go to your city website and search for a schedule of city council meetings; most are held twice a month. Put these meetings on your calendar and make it a point to show up every once in a while. Better yet, break it up with members of your chapter so at least one person is attending once a month. NIMBYs  (or Not in My Backyard activists) who don’t want anything built ever constantly show up. However, folks who are pro-housing production do not. We have to change that. Build it into your business plan, or make it part of your chapter board bonding time! City council meetings and Margaritas afterward?
  2. Check out the agenda for the meeting. A week before each meeting, the city council releases the agenda. Find out if they’re going to be talking about land use, housing developments, or city planning, and make sure you or someone in your chapter shows up. If those topics aren’t on the agenda, make a public comment urging the city council to add them.
  3. Show up, and sign up to speak. Most city council meetings require you to sign up at least 15 minutes before the start of the meeting. Try to sign up online, or arrive 30 minutes early to do so in person.
  4. Go to the microphone and speak up! Every city council meeting will have a period of “public comment” where you can share a concern or speak about what you want your city officials to be doing. This is where you can talk about what you and your clients are experiencing in terms of low housing inventory. Pro-tip: Dress professionally so people take you seriously.
  5. State your name and where you live. It’s important to establish yourself as a constituent (you vote in that district/city). When you introduce yourself, state the area of the city you live in.
  6. Voice your opinion. Talk to the city council as a whole. Don’t be disorderly or verbally attack anyone and don’t use your time to promote your business. Use the data in the NAHREP State of Hispanic Homeownership Report, that’s what it’s there for! Here’s a sample of what to say:
    “We have a severe housing shortage in our city. Homeownership is the number one way working families build wealth. However, many families I deal with as a real estate agent/loan officer are cut out of the homebuying process altogether because the shortage in housing is resulting in exuberant housing prices. (Share a story). What are you doing to address this problem at the city level? We can’t afford to not do anything. We need to build more homes.”
  7. Speak for no more than 3 minutes. Someone will give you a 30-second warning when you’ve almost reached the 3-minute mark. Note that council members might not answer or talk back to you while they’re presenting, but they may respond more broadly later in the meeting about the issue.

Half the battle is showing up. It’s amazing how many silly laws get passed in cities because someone showed up and spoke up. Speak up. You have more power than you think. And this issue isn’t silly!

Un abrazo familia.

About Noerena Limón

Noerena Limón is NAHREP’s Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Industry Relations. Noerena heads the organization’s policy and advocacy efforts on issues ranging from homeownership, housing inventory, credit access and immigration.

Prior to joining NAHREP, Noerena spent six years at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and served as a political appointee under President Obama in the White House Office of Political Affairs.