Housing Champions 2020: The Importance of the Action Fund and Getting Leaders Elected 

Written by Emily Strange, QuEST Fellow

You may know that there are two organizations working closely with one another to advocate and organize for housing justice at the state level: the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance (Housing Alliance) and the Washington Housing Alliance Action Fund (Action Fund). But why is having two distinct organizations necessary? How do they work to support each other? What makes them unique from one another?

The answer lies in the nonprofit tax structure. Essentially, a 501(c)(3) non-profit (Housing Alliance) isn’t allowed to endorse candidates for office and engage in political work. However, when people donate to a 501(c)(3) they will be able to write that donation off their taxes. A 501(c)(4) non-profit (Action Fund) can endorse candidates and engage in political work, like helping to canvass for endorsed candidates. However, when someone donates to a 501(c)(4), they are unable to write this donation off their taxes. You can learn more about the differences here. But these two types of organizations can work together. For example, the boards of the Housing Alliance and the Action Fund both vote jointly on the legislative agenda before session starts. The Resident Action Project itself is funded by both the Housing Alliance (c3) and the Action Fund(c4). Working together, the Housing Alliance can advocate for better policies, and the Action Fund can help elect housing champions to then make it easier to get that housing policy work done.

In order to find out more about the work of the Action Fund, I asked Caroline Lopez, Director of Organizing for the Washington Housing Alliance Action Fund, a few questions:

Why is the Action Fund important to the work of the Housing Alliance?   

The Action Fund supports the housing justice issues that the Housing Alliance and its members, including RAP, advocates for throughout the year. However, the Action Fund has a specific role to register voters, educate candidates running for office, as well as elected officials, and hold lawmakers accountable to their words. The Action Fund endorses candidates who have been or affirm to be Housing Champions, in that they share the vision of housing justice in our state policies and budget. We work with members to elect those Housing Champions to office. Through this process, we can let new candidates know about the policies we’re working on, find out their stance and hold them accountable to the communities those policies impact once they’re elected.

What are the steps to the endorsement process? 

We’ve elected to have an Endorsement Committee that includes people outside the board membership. This year, we’ve added two RAP Steering Committee members, Jennifer Bereskin and Brook Fadley, as well as RAP supporter and social worker, Sean Blackwell. They will join Action Fund board members from across the state in reviewing candidate endorsement applications. The application mainly asks questions about where the candidate stands on housing justice issues and policies that affect people with low income, renters and people without homes. The Endorsement Committee makes recommendations and interviews candidates as needed. These recommendations are sent to the Action Fund board members who then cast a final vote.

How is equity factored into the endorsement process? 

Within the questionnaire, we ask how candidates are reaching out to and supporting Communities of Color, and how the candidates plan on reducing racial inequities around housing issues. We specifically ask about policies that are directly related to racial justice, equity for those most impacted, and housing discrimination.

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