FORWARD: Issue #5: Housing
From the Guest Editor
Staying Power mural in process. This project prompted review and implementation of the Fair Chance Housing ordinance and led to multiple symposia, shifting the frameworks of cultural, political, and economic power on an institutional level. Read about it. Photo by Yomani Mapp.
Imagining Solutions and Inspiring Change
The Role of Artists in Addressing the Housing Crisis
By Paul Singh
The nation is in a housing crisis. Arguably, we have been in this state since at least the Great Recession of 2007–2009. Yet limited supply, soaring demand, and rapidly rising prices during the ongoing pandemic have made matters worse. According to the 2022 State of the Nation’s Housing report from Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, the supply of homes on the market has reached new lows, many lower-income households and households of color struggle to pay their rents, and the persistent homeownership gap between white households and households of color—particularly Black households—remains a challenge. In many cities where moratoria have ended, evictions are on the rise. For too many, especially the most vulnerable in our society, housing is expensive, scarce, and impermanent.
The nation is in a housing crisis.
On the one hand, given the magnitude and severity of the issue, housing is at the forefront of public consciousness. On the other, the scale of the challenge may make it seem intractable. While there are promising approaches underway in many localities to expand the supply of affordable housing, there are also countervailing forces—such as rising costs, NIMBYism, restrictive regulations, and limited public resources—that can limit the impact of these efforts. Especially during a time when ill feeling due to political and social divisions is rife, the path towards shared solutions may be unclear.
Crises can lead to despondency and despair, but they can also catalyze empathy, creativity, and action.
Crises can lead to despondency and despair, but they can also catalyze empathy, creativity, and action. As shown in the pages that follow, this has been demonstrated by partnerships among artists, affordable housing advocates, and community developers. These partnerships have used art and creative expression to elevate awareness of the urgency of the affordability crisis, raise the voices of those directly impacted, and challenge us to consider new approaches.
Although these types of partnerships are not new, they have been gaining momentum recently. In 2016, a field scan commissioned by ArtPlace America found that “arts strategies that engage topics of housing, neighborhood, and community can help to interpret, identify, and communicate important dynamics in powerful and unique ways. Artists, by working to express situations through non-verbal, non-analytical strategies, can help to unearth important conditions, encouraging identification, empathy, and understanding of common barriers and problems and the impacts of them.”
Since that report was published, a wide range of community-based organizations, arts and cultural institutions, individual artists, funders, federal agencies, and national intermediaries, including NeighborWorks America, have continued to advance and support work at the intersection of art, housing, and community development. These efforts have sought to leverage arts, culture, and creativity to advance community goals, including expanding access to high-quality, affordable, stable housing.
When I was invited to serve as the guest editor for this issue of FORWARD, I saw an opportunity to highlight projects and partnerships that have raised visibility and spurred action around critical housing issues. I was especially interested in featuring examples that approach these issues in a comprehensive and resident-led way. In the case studies that follow, you will read about impressive partnerships that have led to connection, understanding, and actionable housing strategies. These case studies are organized into three themes:
- Illuminating housing issues: A Prairie Homeless Companion, The Myth of Affordability in the RGV, and Inequity for Sale
- Imagining new housing solutions: The Most Beautiful Home…Maybe, and Staying Power
- Community-led change: Soft, and the Community Stories Project
Crucially, these partnerships address housing issues through public art, performance, and storytelling that center the experiences, voices, and priorities of community members themselves. In my experience partnering with organizations to advance work at the intersection of arts, culture, and community development, these are the types of efforts that can lead to long-term change. It’s my hope that these case studies inspire even further collaboration between artists and housing partners in support of creating affordable, stable, and inclusive homes and communities.
Notes from a July 2022 community meeting for the Community Stories Project; resident storytelling is resulting in physical manifestations of a historic sense of place in San Francisco, California. Photo courtesy Mercy Housing. Read about it.
A Prairie Homeless Companion radio production cast, in 2019. An artist-led process exploring rural homelessness in three southwestern Minnesota communities resulted in a live and virtual theater production that illuminated hidden characteristics of rural homelessness. Photo courtesy zAmya Theater Project. Read about it.
It’s my hope that these case studies inspire even further collaboration between artists and housing partners in support of creating affordable, stable, and inclusive homes and communities.
The summaries of projects on the following pages are meant to inspire you to recognize the feasibility and possible impact of similar collaborations in your own communities. You'll also find helpful tools in this issue's Toolkit.
As vice president of Community Initiatives, Paul Singh leads NeighborWorks America's support for comprehensive community development efforts; these efforts build vibrant local communities, providing equitable opportunities for people to thrive. Prior to joining NeighborWorks, Singh was a program officer at LISC, where he managed multiple programs delivering technical assistance and training to nonprofits. Singh began working in community development at Historic Saint Paul. He has a master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Minnesota and an undergraduate degree from Macalester College.
with Paul Singh, Dr. Lisa Yun Lee, Tiff Beatty, Mark Valdez, and Jenn Lamb A FORWARD series panel conversation about how artists are helping to address the housing crisis. Panelists include Dr. Lisa Yun Lee and Tiff Beatty of the National Public Housing Museum and featured interviewees for FORWARD 5; artist Mark Valdez, who is also the co-creator of The Most Beautiful Home... Maybe; and Jennifer Lamb of Southwest Minnesota Housing Services, who helped create the play and podcast, A Prairie Homeless Companion.
Amidst a national housing crisis, artists continue to push for bold solutions that aim at alleviating the root causes of housing instability and inequity. Learn how artists are partnering with housing organizations and others to make changes to help bring about housing justice. Watch the recording of this conversation, which was held via Zoom on Tuesday, November 15, 2022.
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FORWARD: Issue #5
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