Affordable-housing advocate aims to grow

Chris Estes
Chris Estes

Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — Two million North Carolinians, or 750,000 households in the state, pay over 30 percent of their income for housing or live in housing that is substandard, according to census data.

Working to provide resources and advocacy to promote quality affordable housing for low-to-moderate income people throughout the state is the focus of the North Carolina Housing Coalition.

Formed in 1988, the statewide group has roughly 150 members, most of them organizations, and serves as a resource and referral network for people in crisis, a clearinghouse for best practices and research data on housing issues, and a central advocacy voice.

Now, after a year of planning, the Raleigh-based group aims to expand its work, increase its staff and diversify its fundraising.

In planning to grow, the coalition is building on a turnaround effort it began five-and-a-half years ago in the midst of a financial crisis.

When Chris Estes became its executive director in September 2003, the coalition had only enough revenue to continue operating for roughly a month-and-a-half, he says.

“We were in crisis mode to figure out how to survive and grow,” he says.

The group’s annual budget, which at the time totaled roughly $250,000, has grown to an estimated $1.3 million this year.

With three people working full-time and one working half-time to support its core operations, the coalition also employs five people paid through federal and state funds to support a project that helps local homeless agencies fulfill their reporting requirements to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Having stabilized its funding and operations, the coalition a year ago asked Armstrong McGuire Philanthropic Advisory Group in Raleigh to help it work with its staff, board, members and funders in thinking about how to improve its services.

“Our constituents wanted us to do more to increase our voice and impact,” Estes says.

With the outside consultant providing a needed push, the planning effort was critical to get the board more involved in the work of the organization, Estes says.

The effort to manage the group’s financial crisis resulted in an organization driven by its staff, he says.

The coalition now aims to expand the training, education and technical assistance it provides to local communities; to increase its research to advance advocacy and shape public opinion; and to develop and carry out a communications effort to improve awareness and understanding of affordable-housing issues and expand its membership.

To do all that, the coalition plans to add two staff positions, including one that will handle fundraising and communications, and one to handle policy work and outreach, including working on the organization’s legislative agenda and working with local groups.

That also would include more active staff presence in Asheville, Charlotte and Raleigh, all of which face significant housing issues but lack staffed local affordable-housing
advocacy groups, Estes says.

The coalition plans to seek support for that work from local community foundations.

To support the expansion, the coalition plans this spring to launch its first-ever annual fund campaign, which aims to raise $25,000.

The group also plans to increase its membership dues by charging higher dues to its larger members.

And the coalition also will continue its advocacy work, including efforts to increase trusts created by state and federal lawmakers that provide funds for affordable housing.

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