Betsy Kirkpatrick, NAA’s 2021 Advocacy365 Advocate of the Year, offers 10 tips for getting started as an advocate for rental housing.
- Learn your legislators, on all levels. This is simple! There are multiple websites where you can enter your address (for state and national) and they will show you your representatives and senators. You can also easily search your city council, mayor and governor.
- Find them on social media. Most politicians will have a Facebook or Twitter profile that you can friend or follow. Friend or follow them if you can! What friends do you have in common? Do you have any knowledge of this person already? For example, I used to babysit one of my state senator’s children and have known one of my state legislators and his family my entire life. Are they connected with someone you know that can help get you an introduction?
- Sit down with your apartment association’s government affairs representative (or someone in the industry you know that is passionate about our issues) and talk through the issues. Learn the top things that affect the apartment industry on a local, state and national level. Remember that the legislative priorities might be a bit different on each level.
- Pick one to two things that you can be passionate about. I say one to two things because we have a lot of key issues, and when starting off, it is easier to focus on just a few to get your feet wet. Also, as you see above, I didn’t say one to two things that you are an expert in. EXPERTISE IS NOT NEEDED. What resonates the most with policymakers is passion. This leads me into point 5, which is...
- STORIES. For those one to two things you are passionate about, what stories do you have that help illustrate the narrative? Your legislators want anecdotes that help paint a clear picture and understand the situation, and personal stories and experiences help to humanize the issues and the industry.
- If there are specific numbers you can bring to the table, do so. One of the things I saw really pique the interest of the legislators we talked to was the definitive numbers relating to how much assistance had been applied for/received versus the outstanding debt. Those numbers really helped them fight for us in committees and inspired some legislation to be written to assist in getting Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) funds distributed.
- Go to your state and national legislative visits! Most every state does this once a year at varied times, and NAA convenes the Advocate conference every March. This is a great way to have initial discussions with your specific legislators and that opens the doors for continued relationships. Remember, you do NOT have to be the expert, but it is always more effective coming directly from a constituent in their district and you will be paired with a seasoned team to help you! Take a picture with them and tag them in it. This not only solidifies who you are to them, but if you need to get their attention for future issues, I find you always get a better response if you attach a picture with them to show previous relationship. Same goes for City Council meetings if possible!
- Respond to your local, state and national association’s call to actions. You will regularly get messages on all levels about contacting your representatives to urge them to vote on a bill or ordinance with detailed instructions about how to do so. PLEASE DO THESE. We are a huge industry that should be able to mobilize in great numbers for the good of multifamily. These are such low hurdle ways to make your voice heard and they generally take fewer than 5 minutes to complete.
- Invest in your industry. One of the biggest impacts an association can make is helping shape who gets elected to public office in the first place. Depending on your association, you might have a local, state and national fund set up to support political action on behalf of your industry. So make sure you find out which ones you have and be intentional about spreading those dollars around to the various industry-specific PACs in your area.
- Remember that these legislators are elected officials. They were voted in and their entire job is to support their constituents. Not only are we a huge support to the tax base and the local economy, WE ARE THEIR CONSTITUENTS. What matters to us should matter to them. And never be scared to sit down and have a conversation, at the end of the day they are people too. I promise you have more in common than you think.
If you are ready to start your advocacy journey, visit naahq.org/advocacy for additional resources and guidance.
Strategic Accounts Executive