New Mel King Training Helps Public Housing Residents Find Their Voice

April 24th, 2017 by Sarah Byrnes

Residents of public housing have long been fighting for a voice in decision-making at their Local Housing Authorities. In 2014, residents and their advocates scored a big win when Massachusetts passed a new law requiring each Local Housing Authority (LHA) to have a resident on its Board of Directors.

The law also requires training for residents, and to address this need the Mel King Institute was brought on to design and run the first-ever statewide training program for residents of public housing. Recently, we piloted our brand new two-day training with thirteen Resident LHA Board Members. During Day 1, when asked why it’s important to have a resident on the Board, Cedric Flowers of Charlton immediately piped up, “Because it’s my home!” Others chimed in as well: “Because I see what’s really going on,” and, “Because this is my day-to-day life. For other Board Members, it’s more abstract.”

Two experienced Resident Board Members shared “lessons learned” with the full group. “I feel like it’s my job to educate both sides, the Board and the residents,” explained Jessica Quinoñez of Springfield. “I educate the rest of the Board about what it is like to actually live in housing. And I educate the residents about what it is actually like to run a housing authority.” Jessica encourages residents, for example, to save energy by taking their air conditioning units out of the windows in the winter, and about how to follow the “chain of command” when they have a maintenance request. She keeps firm boundaries—often a challenge for Resident Board Members—by meeting with residents in the community room rather than her own home.

Karen Hughey, a Board Member in Needham, told a story about encouraging Board Members to get more connected with residents. “I encouraged them to come to our Monday muffin mornings,” she said. “The Board Members tend to wear suits and seem intimidating, but when residents got to know them over muffins, they got to see them as just regular people. And the Board Members got a better sense of who is living here in housing.”

There are 240 LHAs in Massachusetts. Each is governed by a 5-member Board (except for Boston, which has a unique governance structure). Cities already have residents on their Boards, and many towns have already elected residents to the Board in town-wide elections. The remaining towns will add a tenant to their Board in elections in 2018 or beyond, pending regulations from DHCD.

Resident Board Members sometimes report being told they are not allowed to vote on certain measures, or that their duties are different from “regular” Board Members. Correcting this misinformation, and boosting confidence, is a major part of the training. Allowing folks to form peer-to-peer connections and learn from each other is another.

And many Board Members, both residents and non-residents, report feeling pressure to “rubber stamp” documents such as budgets and Capitol Improvement Plans that their Executive Directors present. By improving their understanding of these documents, Resident Board Members become empowered to ask questions and ensure that the documents align with their priorities.

By the end of the training, residents were excited to go home and get to work. “I have a lot of new questions for my LHA’s Director,” said one. “No more rubber stamping for me.”

The LHA Resident Board Member Training plans to officially launch in late May. The Public Housing Training Program will offer this training throughout the state in 2017 and beyond.


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Advocates Push for Grassroots Involvement in Community Preservation Act at Council Hearing

March 23rd, 2017 by

Joe Kriesberg, MA Association Community Development Corps,
Greg Galer, Boston Preservation Alliance,
Linda Orel, The Trust for Public Land,
Cortina Vann, MA Affordable Housing Alliance,


BOSTON – The Yes for a Better Boston (YBB) alliance, which helped pass the Community Preservation Act (CPA) in Boston on the November 8, 2016 election, is calling for grassroots involvement in CPA implementation in Boston at a City Council hearing on March 23. YBB is a broad and diverse coalition of groups working with the Walsh Administration and City Councilors to ensure that the implementation of CPA is transparent, equitable and accountable to all Boston residents.

CPA, which passed with 74% voter support, will help Boston to create new affordable homes, preserve open space and historic sites, and develop outdoor recreational opportunities. Funds will be generated by 1% property tax surcharge matched by a statewide trust fund, with exemptions for low-income homeowners and the first $100,000 of property value. The typical Boston homeowner will pay about $24 per year towards this investment, and the City will generate approximately $20 million every year for CPA projects.

At Thursday’s hearing, the Government Operations Committee will accept testimony on the CPA Ordinance, which will spell out the membership on Boston’s first nine-member Community Preservation Committee (CPC). CPC members are expected to be appointed later this spring so they can administer the CPA program that launches on July 1. The CPA ordinance will define the committee's composition, length of member terms, how the four "at large" positions will be appointed, as well as outlining the committee’s responsibilities.

YBB hopes to participate in the nomination process of the four “at large” positions. Grassroots involvement will ensure credibility and transparency, alleviate potential concerns about politicizing grant making decisions, increase the chance that grants will be made equitably throughout the City, and better meet the needs of those in underserved neighborhoods.

“This is a special opportunity to fund historic preservation and park projects, while creating much-needed affordable homes for families, seniors and veterans, and producing jobs,” said Joseph Kriesberg, West Roxbury resident, President of the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations. “Involving Boston’s grassroots in appointing members of the CPC, and making sure funds are distributed equitably is critical to a successful CPA program in Boston.”

    YBB is also advocating for:
  • Public access to CPC decisions, activities, projects and hearings;
  • Public reports that describe grants, including a map showing the geographic distribution of CPA projects;
  • An independent CPA Office with dedicated staff overseen by the CPC, and housed in a neutral department in the City;
  • Public hearings held by the CPC in neighborhoods throughout the City;
  • Term limits for CPC members to enable active participation of new members and to bring new ideas and experiences to the CPC;
  • Determination of allocation of CPA revenues to be done on an annual basis based on input from public hearings, data on need, and number of “shovel-ready” projects.

"The effort to pass and now implement CPA has, from the beginning, been a remarkably cooperative effort between the historic preservation, parks, and affordable housing communities,” said Greg Galer, executive director of the Boston Preservation Alliance. “We support a process for selecting CPC members who are passionate about projects that don't just meet these needs in individual but who encourage projects that cross and merge these boundaries. Affordable housing in adapted and preserved historic buildings and the restoration of historic parks will benefit all neighborhoods of the city."

YBB will continue to work with officials in the Walsh Administration and City Council to ensure that CPA is implemented in fairly and equitably.

To learn more about the Community Preservation Act, CLICK HERE.

To research examples of CPA projects in the 172 Massachusetts cities and towns that have adopted CPA, CLICK HERE.

The Yes for a Better Boston Steering Committee includes Allston-Brighton CDC, Boston Park Advocates, Boston Preservation Alliance, Chinese Progressive Association, Emerald Necklace Conservancy, Friends of the Public Garden, Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, Historic Boston, Inc., Mass Affordable Housing Alliance, Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants, Mass Association of Community Development Corp, New England United for Justice, Right to the City Boston, and The Trust for Public Land.

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OneHolyoke CDC Teams with Attorney General’s Office to Turn Blight into Opportunity

March 21st, 2017 by Don Bianchi

The Oxford Dictionary defines “Initiative” as “an act or strategy intended to resolve a difficulty or improve a situation; a fresh approach to something,” an apt description for The Attorney General’s Abandoned Housing Initiative (AHI).  AHI is a partnership among the Attorney General (AG), municipalities, the courts, and private organizations, including CDCs, to address seriously blighted properties whose owners are neglecting them.

As described on the AG’s website, blighted properties, abandoned by their owners in residential areas, create safety hazards, attract crime, and lower property values. AHI uses the enforcement authority of the State Sanitary Code to turn these properties around.  Working in close partnership with cities and towns, the AGO seeks out delinquent owners of abandoned residential property and encourages them to voluntarily repair their properties and make them secure.  If owners refuse, then AGO attorneys will petition the relevant court to appoint a receiver to bring the property up to code.

One such property, a single-family home at 140 Beech Street in Holyoke, had been abandoned years before.  The bank was taking no action on its mortgage, the roof was failing, and all the plumbing was stolen.  When the Springfield Housing Court appointed OneHolyoke CDC as Receiver and they first made entry, job one was removing over 100 used hypodermic needles laying throughout the interior.  The CDC’s cost estimate to simply bring the house to compliance with the State Sanitary Code exceeded what they could sell it for.  Enter the City of Holyoke’s Office of Community Development, which provided the needed subsidy using Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to upgrade the home into an attractive, livable, and marketable residence.  Once on the path to almost certain demolition, this beautiful home will be sold this spring to a young family of four, who could only access homeownership through a program like this.

Here’s how Receivership works.  When a municipality invites the AG’s office to intervene, and the court concurs, the AG will invite the owner to meet, with the hope of reaching an agreement to address the property’s repair needs. If these negotiations fail, and owners do not respond to complaints, the State Sanitary Code permits the AG and/or the municipality to petition the court to appoint a receiver.  The State Code allows the receiver to place a lien against the property for all costs incurred by the receiver during the project, which is given a priority over all existing liens, except municipal liens.  At the conclusion of the receivership, which is generally six months to one year, the owner may reimburse the receiver for costs and clear the lien.  If the owner cannot or will not pay the costs, the receiver can foreclose on the lien, and the property is sold at auction to the highest bidder.

The need for aggressive action on blighted properties persists, as some communities have still not recovered fully from the effects of the foreclosure crisis. When Attorney General Maura Healey announced the expansion of AHI in 2016, she noted that “in the wake of the foreclosure crisis, the rehabilitation of abandoned properties is the next important phase of our recovery for families and our communities.  Abandoned properties are public safety hazards, reduce property values, and hinder economic development.” AHI operates in 88 cities and towns statewide.

The success of AHI in Holyoke is one example of the effectiveness of targeted, collaborative effort.  Michael Moriarty, the Director of OneHolyoke CDC, cites their role as a Receiver for 140 Beech Street in Holyoke as one of the proudest moments of his career.  Thanks to a resolute Attorney General, determined municipal officials, proactive courts, and responsible receivers stepping up, municipalities have a strong tool to tackle a sometimes-intractable problem, and offer opportunities to families needing quality, affordable homes.

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DHCD and MassHousing Launch Community Scale Housing Initiative

March 2nd, 2017 by Don Bianchi

The Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and MassHousing issued a Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) for the Community Scale Housing Initiative (CSHI). This is a great opportunity for sponsors of smaller rental projects (5-20 units) to have these projects considered outside of the DHCD Tax Credit Rental Rounds.

MACDC has long advocated for a separate funding round for these community-scale projects.  These more modest scale projects are necessary if the Commonwealth is to see affordable housing built in more communities in Massachusetts, including suburban areas with little or no affordable housing, rural areas where the smaller scale is more appropriate, and infill locations in Gateway Cities where small projects can have a catalytic impact on neighborhoods.  MACDC’s analysis of data from DHCD’s last seven “regular” rental rounds (excluding rounds dedicated to supportive housing) demonstrates the challenges that smaller projects face in these rounds focused on tax credit projects.  Of the almost 10,000 units awarded funding in these seven rental rounds, dating back to 2011, less than 3% of the units were in projects of fewer than 20 units which did not utilize low income housing tax credits.

This should change with the launch of CSHI.  Under the NOFA, production projects of at least 5, but no more than 20 rental units, located in communities outside of Boston, are eligible.  Units are considered affordable if targeted to households with incomes at or below 80% of area median income.  The maximum subsidy per CSHI affordable unit is $150,000 if project-based rental assistance is sought, and $200,000 otherwise, with the maximum project subsidy of $1 million.  Projects must be ready to proceed to closing and construction within 12 months of award.  CSHI will make $10 million available from a combination of an allocation of $5 million from DHCD’s Housing Stabilization Fund and $5 million in new money from MassHousing’s Opportunity Fund.

DHCD and MassHousing will hold an information session on March 15 at 11:30 a.m., in the dining room of Shillman House at 49 Edmands Road in Framingham.  Anyone interested in attending this session should email Bertha Borin at DHCD to reserve a seat.  Those with questions about the NOFA can contact Lynn Shields at MassHousing at 617-854-1381.

MACDC President and CEO Joe Kriesberg praised the launch of the new program.  “Community scale projects are incredibly valuable in urban, rural and suburban communities, but are currently difficult to finance in an affordable housing system oriented around the Low Income Housing Tax Credit.  Tax credit deals typically require 20 or more units, and securing the resources necessary for these smaller projects is difficult, even with their reasonable development costs. The Community Scale Housing Initiative program is a smart way to overcome these challenges, so we can build cost effective homes that fit nicely into the existing neighborhood context and market.  MACDC thanks MassHousing, the Department of Housing and Community Development, and the Baker Administration for their creative approach to this challenge, and for their response to the need for such a program that has been expressed by MACDC and others.”

MACDC appreciates the efforts of its members and allies in working with MACDC to achieve this victory in securing the launch of this valuable program.

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Community Development under President Trump: Six Issues to Watch and Engage

February 24th, 2017 by Joe Kriesberg

In the four months since the election, I have been asked countless times what I think the impact of the Trump Administration and the Republican Congress will be on community development.  I have had a hard time developing a coherent answer to this question, or even a coherent path to finding an answer.  In part, like many Americans, I have been more focused on dozens of other concerns like the future of our planet and our democracy.  The first month has given us many reasons to be fearful, but also reasons to be hopeful, as so many people have raised their voices in opposition to regressive policies.  So, having had some time to reflect, I thought I would offer a few thoughts about what the future may hold and what we can do to shape it.  I believe there are six areas that should be of top concern to community developers:

1. Domestic Spending:  It is abundantly clear that the entire domestic budget is at risk. The President and Congress want a dramatic increase in military spending and large tax cuts.  Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are consuming larger and larger portions of the federal budget and any reductions in those programs are also likely to hurt low-income people the most.  The bottom line is that the so-called Non-Defense Discretionary Budget is vulnerable to massive cuts, especially in light of statutory spending caps that need to be lifted.

Community developers are rightly concerned with many specific budget line items, such as Section 8, CDBG, HOME, Homeownership Counseling, the Community Economic Development program, the CDFI program, NeighborWorks America, AmeriCorps, HUD Section 4 and more. Each of these requires attention and we must fight for them on their own merits. But all of these programs are competing with other vital programs in a zero-sum game unless we can join forces with others to protect overall domestic spending.  We must fight to lift the cap on domestic spending.  In fact, our best hope might be to secure a continuing resolution (CR) for the balance of this fiscal year and for future fiscal years.  A CR would likely impose relatively modest (albeit still damaging) cuts across the board, rather than a new budget that eliminates, or slashes key programs. 

2. Tax Policy:  I refuse to call the proposed changes to our tax laws “Tax Reform” unless and until we see that the changes will make our taxes more equitable and fair. Sadly, such an outcome is unlikely with tax cuts likely to favor the wealthy and drain resources from key programs (see issue #1 above!).

For community developers, there are both threats and opportunities in a potential overhaul of our tax laws.  The Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) is already negatively impacted by the mere prospect of lower corporate taxes.  Ultimately, I think it has strong support in Congress, but we need to fight to expand and improve this program and mitigate the unintended impact of other potential changes in corporate taxes.  Thankfully, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch is a lead sponsor of the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act. Because of the leadership of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, there also appears to be growing momentum to reform the Mortgage Interest Deduction to focus it more effectively on low- and moderate-income homeowners. This is essential.  We need to make sure that any savings is reallocated to affordable housing.  A tax bill would also be a chance to permanently extend the New Market Tax Credit. Finally, we need to fight to preserve, if not expand, the Earned Income Tax Credit.

3. Infrastructure:  President Trump said he wants a major infrastructure program, although there seems to be less immediate appetite for this in Congress.  If this does gain momentum, we need to fight to ensure that housing and community development are part of the program.

4. Financial Regulation – It is clear that President Trump and Congress want to eliminate many of the safeguards and regulations established after the Great Recession. We need to aggressively fight to preserve some of the most important protections, in particular, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Community Reinvestment Act.  Thankfully, while the CFPB is under a full-scale attack, at the moment, I have not heard too much about CRA being threatened.

5. Immigration – Immigrants have been at the heart of the community development movement for decades, as we work together to create welcoming communities for everyone. That said, immigration policy has not been on our agenda – at least not during my 20+ years at MACDC.  It is time for that to change.

Community developers need to join with the immigrant community to fight for smart, fair, humane policies.  That is why MACDC has endorsed the Safe Communities Act in Massachusetts to make sure the Commonwealth supports our immigrant neighbors.

6. Voting Rights – There is a clear agenda to restrict voting rights across the country.  False allegations of voter fraud are merely a ruse designed to justify new restrictions on voting. Inevitably, these restrictions impact low-income communities and communities of color the most.  Voter suppression combined with politicized gerrymandering could distort our democracy for years to come. If we cannot protect the right of people to vote in fair elections, our work on these other issues may not matter.

To shape the outcome of these debates, community developers must find common cause with those who share our values of community, inclusion and opportunity.  We must nurture civil discourse locally and nationally that is grounded in facts, respect, compassion and humility.

MACDC will be making its voice heard as a member of the New England Housing Network through which we will be meeting with our Representatives and Senators locally and planning trips to Washington, DC.  We are also bringing a large contingent to the People and Places Conference in the Washington, DC area from May 31 to June 2, where we will join with hundreds of our colleagues from around the country to make our case directly to Congress and the Administration.

We hope many of you will join us.

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CITC Extension Bills Attract Support from 70 Legislators!

February 22nd, 2017 by David Bryant

An Act to promote high-impact community investment (HD 2579/SD 609), legislation to extend the Community Investment Tax Credit (CITC) program through 2025 and to incrementally grow the program during this period was introduced in the House and Senate by Rep. Stephen Kulik and Sen. Sal DiDomenico, and, to date, has received the support of 67 legislators as co-sponsors – listed below.

(Note: Please review, and if your representative or senator is not listed, you may still contact them and ask them to co-sponsor the Senate version (SD 609).)

We look forward to working with all of you to pass this legislation in the current legislative session and to advancing this dynamic, community-based investment program.

Co-sponsors (as of 3/15/17):

  • Rep. Bud Williams
  • Rep. David T. Vieira
  • Rep. John W. Scibak
  • Rep. Robert M. Koczera
  • Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose
  • Rep. Todd M. Smola
  • Rep. Aaron Vega
  • Rep. Adrian Madaro
  • Rep. Angelo J. Puppolo, Jr.
  • Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante
  • Rep. Antonio F. D. Cabral
  • Rep. Brian M. Ashe
  • Rep. Byron Rushing
  • Rep. Chris Walsh
  • Rep. Colleen M. Garry
  • Rep. Daniel Cullinane
  • Rep. Daniel M. Donahue
  • Rep. Denise Provost
  • Rep. Diana DiZoglio
  • Rep. Dylan Fernandes
  • Rep. Edward F. Coppinger
  • Rep. Elizabeth A. Malia
  • Rep. Evandro C. Carvalho
  • Rep. Jay D. Livingstone
  • Rep. Jay R. Kaufman
  • Rep. Jennifer E. Benson
  • Rep. Jerald A. Parisella
  • Rep. Joan Meschino
  • Rep. John J. Lawn, Jr.
  • Rep. Jonathan Hecht
  • Rep. Jose F. Tosado
  • Rep. Joseph F. Wagner
  • Rep. Juana Matias
  • Rep. Kevin G. Honan
  • Rep. Marjorie C. Decker
  • Rep. Mary S. Keefe
  • Rep. Michael J. Finn
  • Rep. Mike Connolly
  • Rep. Patricia A. Haddad
  • Rep. Paul A. Schmid, III
  • Rep. Paul Tucker
  • Rep. Randy Hunt
  • Rep. Sarah K. Peake
  • Rep. Stephen Kulik
  • Rep. Tackey Chan
  • Rep. William Smitty Pignatelli
  • Rep. Claire D. Cronin
  • Rep. James J. O'Day
  • Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez
  • Rep. Natalie Higgins
  • Rep. Sean Garballey
  • Rep. Russell Holmes
  • Rep. Daniel Hunt
  • Rep. Josh Cutler
  • Rep. Frank Moran
  • Sen. Mark Montigny
  • Sen. Anne M. Gobi
  • Sen. Barbara A. L'Italien
  • Sen. Eric P. Lesser
  • Sen. James B. Eldridge
  • Sen. Jennifer L. Flanagan
  • Sen. Joan B. Lovely
  • Sen. Julian Cyr
  • Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry
  • Sen. Michael F. Rush
  • Sen. Sal N. DiDomenico
  • Sen. William N. Brownsberger
  • Sen. Harriet Chandler
  • Sen. John Keenan
  • Sen. Bruce Tarr
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Doughnuts with Your Delegation

February 21st, 2017 by Pamela Bender

It’s February and CDCs across Massachusetts are inviting their state legislators to meet with them in their neighborhoods.  Legislators, CDC staff, board and community members get together over coffee to discuss what bills and state budget items will help their community thrive. So far 10 CDCs have held these meetings, which MACDC calls “Doughnuts with your Delegation” and many more are planned.  These meetings are win-win events.  Legislators learn about what is happening in their district and how they can help.  CDCs can showcase the work they are doing and learn what their legislators are focusing on. Most importantly, participants are building relationships with each other.  These relationships are what really makes good policy happen.


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Nonprofits - Yes You Can Advocate and Now's the Time

February 15th, 2017 by

Amidst the chaos of the past couple weeks there has been at least one positive change—a lot more people are starting to stand up and speak out about issues that concern them. I have personally had people seek out my advice for their first-ever calls to legislators and spoken to many first-time protestors. Many, many, more individuals have dramatically stepped up their commitments (myself included) to call, write, show up, and be a visible presence for justice in the world. 

The nonprofit sector needs to make a similar shift, organizationally. For a long time, many of us left the advocacy to the 501(c)4s, to our national organizations, to the organizing groups.

Continue reading on Rooflines


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Group pushing on an array of issues, not just affordable housing

February 15th, 2017 by Joe Kriesberg

THE ARTICLE “Affordable housing groups want in on Preservation Act” (Metro, Feb. 12) mischaracterizes the implementation of the Community Preservation Act in two significant respects. First, it describes the Yes for a Better Boston committee as a coalition of affordable housing advocates. In fact, Yes for a Better Boston, of which we are all leading members, is composed of advocates for housing, parks, green space, historic preservation, youth, arts, and a wide array of other issues. Cooperation among all causes has been and remains the coalition’s strength.

Continue reading on the Boston Globe 

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Oh, ho, ho – It’s (Not) Magic: a few principles to observe when lobbying our legislative leaders

January 19th, 2017 by David Bryant

It’s January, a new Congress has convened in Washington ahead of a new Trump Administration, and a new legislature is in place in Massachusetts. There is a swirl of activities – meetings with legislators, strategy sessions with allies, and the sharing of gossip and ideas across the spectrum – before the true crush of legislative work and budgeting begins.

As we prepare to advocate for new resources and policies with the advent of a new legislature and a new legislative session, there are certain norms to adhere to as we work through the process to build support for our favored initiatives. During these first, frenzied weeks, I spent a few hours working with a group of graduate students from Harvard’s Kennedy School on a public policy project. Essentially, I briefed the team of students on a MACDC policy issue – our desire to restore higher funding for the Small Business Technical Assistance (SBTA) program – and shared some background information about the program and the Massachusetts legislative process. Overnight, they developed an advocacy pitch and sought feedback before delivering the presentation the following day to a few retired legislators.

I joined the team as an observer, and, while both presentations went well they achieved mixed results. In one instance, they secured support for their “ask,” while the other representative was noncommittal about her support. In the subsequent debrief, the students learned important lessons about advocacy, community engagement and the legislative process. As an observer, I gained renewed insight to the process as well. There is nothing magical about lobbying our legislative leaders, and I believe there are a few basic principles to follow that may help to demystify the process:

* Be direct with your appeal and always be honest in your approach – avoid exaggerating ideas or a misstatement of actions as facts intended to resolve the issue in your favor;

* Most legislators are moved by local concerns, so it helps if you can “frame” the problem or challenge in those terms, and show support from that representative’s community;

* Be courteous and respectful throughout the process - not fawning, yet not too familiar; don’t assume you will have the same level of support because you have gained it in the past. And be wary of unintentionally showing disrespect and jeopardizing a long-term relationship with legislator(s) by making an untenable request.

* Be mindful of any good advice or suggestions that may be offered along the way as means to advance your initiative and always be open to continue the dialogue.

Our political process often seems confusing – shrouded in ceremonial rituals, daunting language and obscure procedures. Sometimes this is true, but just as often there are straightforward ways and means to convey your policy interests (in formal meetings like Lobby Day, or informally outside of the local market, or neighborhood community center) and share your story to a kind ear, to receive a favorable result. “Never believe, it’s not so.”

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