National affordable housing group to regional leaders at Vail event: Keep advocating |

National affordable housing group to regional leaders at Vail event: Keep advocating

By Randy Wyrick Vail Daily
From left are NAHRO's Sunny Shaw, Tess Hembree, Patricia Wells and moderator Julie Brewen. The national housing advocacy organization was in Vail for its annual conference.
Randy Wyrick |

VAIL — One of the country’s largest and most active affordable housing organizations gathered in Vail to encourage its members that we’re all in this together.

Hundreds of members of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials attended the Colorado state conference in Vail’s Marriott. Along with education and training, they get some encouragement that they are fighting the good fight, and not by themselves.

“You are not alone in your work. The challenges you face are faced around the country,” said Sunny Shaw, the new NAHRO president.

Shaw launched her housing career as a receptionist with a housing agency in Idaho and has seen housing from the ground and from 30,000 feet. She travels the country and says that the workforce housing issues the Vail Valley faces are not unique to Colorado.

In many places, a bartender or barista might earn $21,000 a year, but rents can run between $700 and $1,000 a bedroom, or more.

Those who may be struggling with rent are resort workers in service industry jobs. Rents are high and wages are low. It’s a problem faced by workers in expensive places all over the country, Shaw said.

For housing advocates, from the beltway to state capitals, everything matters: funding decisions, regulation changes … everything, we need to pay attention, Shaw said.

“We have a responsibility to be at the table. We don’t want to be served up on the table.

Patricia Wells, NAHRO’s national senior vice president, encouraged NAHRO members to “advocate all the time.”

Your voice matters

Voices matter, especially yours, Tess Hembree, NAHRO’s director of congressional relations, told hundreds of housing specialists during a panel discussion.

NAHRO makes it relatively uncomplicated for its members to lobby lawmakers. Just use the material on their website.

In 2018, NAHRO’s members increased the number of letters to Capitol Hill by 140% with 70% more people writing.

The longest government shutdown in American history was a problem, but not the catastrophe it could have been. While much of the media focused on the TSA and problems with air travel, NAHRO members bombarded members of congress with 3,700 letters and other communications, relaying stories of how the shutdown was affecting their clients because the rental assistance program was on the ropes.

“Congress paid attention, both sides of the aisle,” Hembree said. “Grassroots efforts can make changes.”

They’re not out of the woods yet. Following that long shutdown, the two-year federal budget cycle is up in October. The House and Senate will have to agree on a deal and members should brace themselves for potential cuts: possibly $56 billion in domestic programs and $70 billion in military spending, Hembree said.

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