15-1 Building Power through Resident Organizing Networks

By Lindsay Duvall, NLIHC

When they see the blue shirts walking into the Capitol, they know we’re there for business,” reflects Maria Hernandez, a Residents United Network (RUN) steering committee member representing San Diego. “Ten years ago, there were just a few of us. Now, there’s a lot more of us.”

RUN was the first of four Resident Organizing Networks (RONs) developed by national organization Community Change in partnership with statewide advocacy groups. Maria joined RUN because she felt blessed to have an affordable home and wanted to ensure that others, especially single parents like herself, had similar opportunities. Through RUN, Maria built rapport with state legislators and learned who to call for answers. She’s been a part of numerous campaigns, from the 2017 enactment of California’s largest investment in affordable housing, to efforts to ban source-of-income discrimination, to the current fight against the criminalization of homelessness. In addition to her leadership role with RUN, Maria now sits on several other organizations’ boards and committees – a key leadership development strategy that can truly build shared power with impacted residents.

The RONs – located in California, Washington, Oregon, and Louisiana – aim to center the wisdom of people with lived experiences of housing insecurity and homelessness in statewide advocacy and legislative processes. While the theory of change for each RON is the same, the strategies differ from state to state, based on member priorities, allied partners, the state legislative process, and other factors. Flexibility has been key to the success of the RONs in both building resident power and achieving legislative wins.

“It’s hard for [policy makers] to tell us what they need when they’ve never experienced it,” explains Duaa-Rahemaah Hunter, statewide organizer for the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance and Resident Action Project (RAP). Duaa-Rahemmah joined RAP after being a housing case manager because she wanted to change the policies that were holding her clients back. She travels to every corner of the state to meet with residents and support their advocacy. She is intentional in creating diversity within RAP and loves to find creative ways for residents to participate in RAP’s legislative campaigns. Duaa-Rahemmah recalls one action where, after many tenants received “rent increase notices,” RAP leaders handed these notices over to their state elected officials to drive home the urgency that too many Washingtonians were unable to pay rent.

“When we speak truth to power, and we do it all together, it gives me goosebumps,” says Katy Heins, one of the organizers who helped set up the RONs. She loves hearing residents reflect on their power and on being part of a team that is building the kind of world they want to see.

Learn more about the inspiring work of the RAP and other Organizing Networks:

Residents United Network (CA):

Resident Action Project (WA):

Residents Organizing for Change (OR):

Residents Organized for Housing Louisiana: