Saturday, May 15, 2010

Housing Initiatives Passed

I am happy to announce that the Affordable Housing Task Force of Waukesha County was able to get a 61 unit affordable housing multi unit project through the plan commission in the city of Oconomowoc, WI, as well as allowing a temporary housing unit retain its zoning permit in the city of Waukesha, WI.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Pulling the Cart Before the Horse?

So, it is looking like our effort to get a housing trust fund passed in Waukesha County might stall due to internal strategy disputes. The problem: Some of us want to focus on pushing through a housing trust fund, but the problem with this strategy is that no one can agree on the policy details and others just want to push for affordable housing and once we have public traction then focus on the policy details. Personally, I favor the latter because to me it doesn't make sense to focus on the details of a housing trust fund policy if we don't even know that we have enough public support for it. Moreover, I think we may never get our grassroots effort underway if we keep constantly bickering over the specifics of a policy (which they have for about a year and a half now) that the politicians/public will eventually alter once we do cultivate the public support. Lesson for activists: Do not pull the cart (policy proposals) before the horse (needed public support) if you want to be successful.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Poor: An Invisible Social Class

So, I had a meeting today with our fellow affordable housing task force members to review our strategy after collecting some of our petitions (we received about 500 signatures so far). I was surprised to hear one of our members dismiss the petition results once I told them that we got signatures from people at food pantries. He said that county supervisors won't recognize their signatures because "food pantry people" don't pay taxes so we should try to get signatures from the "representative community". Besides being appalled by his comments, it was even more amazing at the muted reaction from everyone else (considering that these are folks who advocate for affordable housing). The poor has truly become an invisible class in America. With the rich in power and politicians tripping over each other to cater to the middle class, who will speak for the poor?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Spies Among Us?

Today at our affordable housing task force meeting there was one well dressed guy who seemed to take on the role of an obstructionist. He seemed to try to steer us off of our agenda and he steamrolled over other people's opinions. Later, it was revealed that he worked for the county and that there is strong suspicion amongst our leaders that the county sent him to keep an eye on our meetings. This serves as a reminder to activists everywhere that moles can be sent to infiltrate our ranks with the goal of destroying what we seek to change so be careful!!!!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The A-Student Mentality and How It Kills

So we had a meeting with the county executive and not so surprisingly he shot down our proposal for a housing trust fund. However, the surprising part was how quick our task force members went into "A-student" mode:

Task Force Member: "Well, what can we do to improve our proposal?"
County Executive: "You need to find better funding sources."
TFM: "OK, we will find more funding sources and then schedule a follow up meeting with you."

Although this conversation might seem OK, when you consider that the task force has been working on this issue for over two years and had several meetings with both the county executive as well as other county supervisors, this reaction is inexcusable. Unfortunately, too many people were brought up in a school system that says, "if you work hard enough on your homework then you will get the results you want from your teacher" which is not necessarily true (and at times can be debilitating) in the real world. In this case, we could bring a perfect proposal to him and he still would reject it because of his politics. So, we have to seek to change something outside of the classic "teacher-student" dynamic in order to change his behavior. But our task force seems a little cool to the idea of mounting an aggressive and serious grassroots campaign to place external pressure on our elected officials.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Proper Partnership Etiquette

I'm kinda peeved today. We had a meeting with a key county supervisor for the housing trust fund scheduled and our non-profit partner (who shall remain nameless) decided to unilaterally cancel the meeting literally a couple hours before the meeting via email!!!

I think it is time to review proper partnership etiquette:

1. DO NOT unilaterally make critical decisions to a grassroots campaign without FIRST discussing it with your other stakeholders.

2. DO NOT notify the other attendees of a cancellation only hours before the meeting takes place.

3. DO NOT inform other attendees of a cancellation via EMAIL....always give a courtesy call.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Housing Trust Funds

Affordable housing activists might find the concept of a housing trust fund interesting. A county sponsored housing trust fund provides county monies for the following:

1. Construction of new affordable housing
2. Rehabilitation of existing housing
3. Land acquisition for new construction
4. Accessibility modifications (for people with disabilities)
5. Housing related supportive services (i.e. housing counseling, case management, etc.)

The county would have an oversight committee to administer the fund and grant monies based on a competitive application process. Possible funding sources include the following:
1. A small increase in the real estate transfer tax
2. A county sales tax of .1 percent
3. Two cents per $1,000 of property taxes
4. Employer tax deductible contributions

When most people think of affordable housing they instantly conjure up images of huge projects. Nowadays, this isn't the case. These places are all affordable housing complexes:

The Silvernail, Waukesha, WI

Deer Creek Village, New Berlin, WI

Breezewood Village, Hartland, WI

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

New Online Petition Tool continues to create internet tools to advance grassroots work. You can now create an online petition for netizens to sign and it will automatically be sent to the email inbox of your targeted elected official. The petition is at

A couple of things you should know before jumping into it:

* Currently there is no way to limit who can sign the petition. This isn't good for local efforts dealing with local officials who may not be interested in the opinion of someone from Italy on a local matter.

* This tool is probably most effective for issues related to multinational businesses or global organizational leaders such as the UN or World Bank.

* It enables for quick and nimble mass organization on issues impacting nations across a broad spectrum.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Organizing in a Conservative County II

So we decided to pursue a low key grassroots strategy that entails getting petitions out to churches, calling county supervisors, and meeting with supervisors one on one. Waukesha County is pretty cool to the idea of "in your face" activism so we are adjusting our strategy and tactics to fit within this framework. I drove around Waukesha County today dropping off petitions and found that mostly Catholic churches and some food pantries were receptive while most politely denied to pass the petition. The greatest challenges we will face will be finding a suitable funding source for the housing trust to provide monies for affordable housing (the good people of Waukesha do not enjoy tax increases) and convincing elected officials that affordable housing is a problem.

An interesting aspect of organizing around affordable housing in Waukesha County are the people who are behind the effort as well as the people who are most affected by it. The face of people struggling with housing is not single mothers, minorities, and working class people, but rather teachers, daycare workers, pastors, middle management people, etc. Also, the people driving the change are mostly non profit folks (many of whom do not even live in the county such as myself). One of our goals is to increase the participation of the actual county residents who are being affected by housing, but due to Waukesha's subdued political climate, most people do not want to "ruffle any feathers." So, it will be interesting to see how this campaign unfolds. We also have a website for our campaign at

Email Quilen with your questions, comments, or random outbursts about your organizing or activism work at

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Organizing in a Conservative County

I recently got a new job as a community organizer with Community Action Coalition is Madison, WI (I've taken a bit of an organizing hiatus). It is a stimulus funded position and I am responsible for organizing a grassroots campaign in Waukesha County to establish a housing trust fund to provide county monies for affordable housing initiatives such as starter homes, apartments, senior housing etc. This effort is unique because Waukesha is the wealthiest county in Wisconsin. The median home value is $250,000 which clearly prices out many service level professionals such as teachers, daycare workers, church pastors, etc. Because of this high bar for housing, 40 percent of the workforce live outside of the county primarily in Milwaukee and Jefferson counties. This drains potential monies that could be spent on local businesses in Waukesha but are spent in neighboring counties since housing is more affordable there. I will track my progress in my new job in this blog.

Email Quilen with your questions, comments, or random outbursts about your organizing or activism work at