In August, NAHRO hit a major advocacy milestone by sending nearly 13,000 letters to Congress and the White House urging support for affordable housing and community development programs. So what? What impact does sending a bunch of pre-written letters actually have?
Sending letters can be frustrating. Sometimes when you send a letter, you do not hear back. If you do hear back, often you receive a canned response that does not directly address the points you raised in your letter. Don’t be dismayed- your letter actually has an impact in Congressional offices, even if you don’t see it.
What Happens to Your Letter?
Once you hit “send” in NAHRO’s Advocacy Action Center or on the Advocacy Center App, your letter is emailed straight to your lawmaker. Each Congressional office is different, but typically an intern or a lower-level staffer will read each and every correspondence they receive, whether it be a hand-written note that is mailed through USPS, an email sent to the office, or a comment submitted to their web site. That staffer will make note of the topic of your letter and file it away. Offices receive a significant number of letters each day, so this process can take time, especially now.
Tip: During COVID-19, many offices have not been hiring interns, which means your letters have been read by permanent office staff. Though these staffers are likely lower level, these staff frequently are promoted within the office to take on more responsibility and legislative work. That means your letters during the pandemic could have an even larger impact on offices.
Why Did I Receive That Response?
The staffer who reviews your letter will also select a response to send back to you. These response messages are pre-drafted and approved by your lawmaker. Since offices receive so many letters, offices can’t address every single topic they are contacted about, which is why sometimes the email you receive back doesn’t quite match what you wrote to them about. Don’t get frustrated by this – get motivated!
Tip: Unless you took the time to edit the letter in NAHRO’s Advocacy Action Center (which you can do, and which we encourage!), you also sent your lawmaker a pre-drafted, non-personalized letter. So, receiving a non-personal response is fair.
Why Did We Ask You to Send So Many Letters?
The reason why we focus so much on letter goals during our advocacy campaigns is because within Congressional offices, volume matters. The more people who contact a Senate or House office about things like Section 8 Administrative Fees, the more likely the office is to actually think about what that funding does and form policy positions around the topic.
Your letter was one of 13,000 and helped to elevate affordable housing and community development within offices. Every single letter matters, even if you don’t always see how. Your letter may have pushed Congressional offices to:
- Have a conversation with the boss: Step one to getting an office to prioritize affordable housing is to get them thinking and talking about it. If you and your colleagues sent enough letters on voucher access or the Public Housing Capital Fund, the staff will alert the member of Congress that their constituents (the people who they represent in their states or Congressional districts) are talking about this issue. If the office doesn’t know enough about the topic, this can push staffers to do more research and be prepared to brief their boss. Your letters help create awareness and understanding of affordable housing policy in offices.
- Draft a specific response letter: NAHRO’s more seasoned advocates have noticed a trend in the past couple years: the pre-drafted responses to their letters they are receiving are beginning to actually address specific HUD programs rather than housing or federal funding in general. Many offices have a specific number of letters they need to receive on any given topic to draft a response to it. In the past, letters on things like Section 8 vouchers or public housing would elicit responses like “I too care about homeownership.” Not quite right. Now, we’re seeing some responses that actually articulate support for things like increasing funding for the Capital Fund. Your letters are working.
Tip: Because of the volume of letters sent in August, while you may have received a slightly off topic response over the summer, since then offices may have changed their housing responses. Try contacting your Congressional offices again to see if you sent enough letters to change their response!
- Consider Being More Active in Housing: If members of Congress think that their constituents care deeply about certain topics, that impacts the decisions they make as individual members of Congress. This can result in a lawmaker doing things like giving speeches about housing, choosing to publicly support housing legislation, drafting housing legislation, or even joining a Congressional committee that makes decisions about housing policy. The more their constituents care, the more likely the member of Congress is to prioritize housing when making these decisions. Your letters help communicate that affordable housing matters in your community. This is how we build future champions for affordable housing in Congress.
Want to Do More?
If you’re ready to take the next step in advocacy, consider calling your lawmakers’ Washington, DC offices to follow-up on your letter. You can find their office number on their web site or you can be connected directly through the Capitol switch board: 202-224-3121. When you call, ask to speak with their housing staff. Introduce yourself and your agency, ask if they’ve seen a copy of your letter (they may not have), and briefly discuss how the highlights of the letter relate back to your agency and your work. If you need more help honing your messaging before calling offices, contact NAHRO’s Director of Congressional Relations Tess Hembree (email@example.com).
Our Letters Work
Your letters create higher funding levels and meaningful policy changes for HUD programs. Since FY 2018, HUD funding has been increased every single fiscal year, even during extremely difficult fiscal climates. You’ve affected the first legislation that specifically addresses the challenges of small public housing authorities. Your letters even helped end the longest government shutdown in history.
So next time you send a letter but don’t see an immediate impact, remember that every single letter raises awareness of affordable housing and community development in Washington, DC. Thank you for doing your part.