Case Making: Building a Pathway to Implementation

By von Nkosi, M. | Partners in Community and Economic Development, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Case Making: Building a Pathway to Implementation


von Nkosi, M., Partners in Community and Economic Development


In the following article, M. von Nkosi, former director of the Mixed Income Communities Initiative (MICI) at the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership (ANDP), shares his recent experience as a case study of how to move an agenda forward--whether it involves housing, transportation or health issues--by leading from a place of shared vision.

How do you move an agenda? How do you get people to buy in and support your cause so you can have an impact on regional change?

Combining a dedicated staff, volunteers from grassroots to Fortune 500, topflight consultants and strong financial support from philanthropic organizations and corporations, MICI has worked tirelessly to provide solid facts and figures about the need for more affordable housing in the Atlanta region. Over the past 10 years the organization has presented its findings to the business community, policy makers and the public at large. The discussion that follows presents some of the tools we used to help persuade our audience that this issue needs their immediate attention.

Funding and synergistic circumstances

MICI grew out of a solid, nonprofit organization, ANDP. Led by charismatic founder, president and CEO Hattie B. Dorsey (recently retired), ANDP supports affordable housing through real estate development, lending and advocacy. ANDP provided long-term resources for MICI totaling about $800,000. Additional funds, including an initial kick-off of $150,000 from the Terwilliger Family foundation in 1998 along with planning and matching grants from the Ford Foundation, have helped sustain and advance the work over time.

Several additional circumstances contributed to the synergy: A post-Olympic "bounce" in 1996 gave momentum to our efforts. The region's negative EPA designation brought attention to the need for change. In addition, other housing advocates and nonprofits were working on the issue of affordable housing, such as community development corporations (CDCs) and the Atlanta Community Food Bank, which for more than 10 years has hosted a monthly forum on housing affordability. Strong, charismatic, visionary leadership inside and outside of ANDP, supported by internal and external funds, helped foster a collaborative process. These foundational underpinnings lent added credibility to the housing affordability movement and allowed for strong buy-in by partners, volunteers and consultants.

Recruiting and keeping stakeholders at the table: building an atmosphere of safe space

Recognizing that the uneven growth of Atlanta profoundly affects the quality of life for all of the region's residents, ANDP established MICI in 1998 to focus attention on and promote dialogue about the connections between affordable housing and quality-of-life issues. It was clear from the very beginning that to move the agenda forward, it would be necessary to convene key economic and political stakeholders, as well as other advocacy groups, around the table to make sure that mixed-income housing became a basic component of regional planning.

By February of 2007, the network of individuals who comprised the MICI Committee had grown from about 5 people in 1998 to about 70, representing nearly as many organizations. The goal of the MICI committee was not to get everyone to agree about every decision, but to encourage people with different points of view to discuss the issues and come up with solutions to be considered by a wider audience. It was tantamount to MICI's success to make sure that major employers, planners, developers, environmental groups and others understood how affordable housing affected their concerns so they could take the message to their constituencies and make their own arguments.

Throughout the process, MICI committee members became our ambassadors and spokespersons by presenting reliable data to support their positions on the need for mixed-income and affordable housing. They spoke to people who trusted and liked them, and this created instant credibility. …

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