An Advocate’s Success at the Capitol

By Bill Reinke, Executive Director, Central Minnesota Housing Partnership

I visited the capitol last week with Julie Johnson from Minnesota Housing Partnership to seek support from legislators for the state low-income housing tax credit proposal. I was pleasantly surprised by how responsive and knowledgeable of affordable housing the new members are. The conversations were definitely worthwhile; the legislators were all civil and friendly, if not always supportive of the issue at hand. They seemed willing to do what they could.

Before the trip, Julie and I worked out a strategy on who to meet with. She stressed the idea of making a local district/constituent connection which gave me some focus and I thought additional credibility. I looked up all the Senators and Representatives in the counties where we work, using the state legislature’s web page, District Information.

I went over district maps found on the web page and noted the housing Central Minnesota Housing Partnership has developed and is developing in their districts. There’s only so much time for visits in St. Paul, so I prioritized the members by whose districts have the most activity and relevant committee assignments.

Some members we talked with by pulling them out of session. For others, I called their staff, and mentioned I would like to talk with them about affordable housing and the projects we worked on or are working on (with specific names and locations) in their district. If the members were in committee, some of the staff offered to take me to the committee to meet with them or to set up an appointment.

During the meetings, I engaged members in conversation about our activity in their districts and explored what they wanted to know. The members seemed very interested in whether we were doing housing for the “elderly.” In most cases we were working on family projects, so I mentioned that seniors can live in those projects among the rest of the community, or talked about senior housing we had in their district. In one case the uncle of a member had donated a Rural Development property to us several years ago, which I didn’t realize until I mentioned the property to the member. In a couple of other cases, they already knew about a project we’re working on in their district.

After discussing district projects, I talked about the state housing tax credit proposal. I pointed out that the environment for federal credits was competitive and a state program would allow for more projects, including ones we are working on or plan to work on in their district.

I’m writing follow-up thank you letters with information about the specific projects and issues we talked about. I plan on including the MHP Legislative District Profiles on housing.

As a result of Bill Reinke’s work, Senator Brown (16) cosponsored the state housing tax credit proposal. Thanks, Bill!