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  • Pam Ray

Market What You Do, Not What You Need.

Attention everyone who works with or in government-funded programs: Rather than focusing on what you want or need—let’s ring in 2012 by bragging about your expertise.

It’s not easy, I know. Government-funded programs are being challenged like never before to create a new mindset and to be innovative in their problem-solving.

Public housing programs are no exception.

For years, I have focused on public policy and funding for federally subsidized housing programs and along the way created a program called Follow the Money: Building Strategic Partnerships Through Local Advocacy.

I proposed this as a new way of thinking for public housing executive directors and commissioners to help prepare them for a future that would require local collaboration. Since then, changes in government funding priorities and the local economic and housing crisis have led not only to a decade of decline in federal housing funds, but by program cuts for the current year (FY 12) equivalent to a 14 percent reduction in daily operating funds.

In addition, public housing officials face severe cuts in program administration and capital projects, and lost critically important operating reserves.

These same housing programs can expect about a 9 percent cut for FY 13 under the automatic across-the-board cuts set in law by the August 2011 Debt Agreement (aka Budget Control Act), leaving the basic housing needs of thousands of local communities floundering—and in many cases devastated.

Just like in the private sector, innovation in public-sector programs is a requirement for meeting newly defined social and business missions.

It cannot be accomplished unilaterally by public housing professionals or, for that matter, any other locally managed, government-funded program. So, what will it take?

1. Pick up the phone, walk across the street, or take a short drive to talk with other community stakeholders and start marketing your mission, strengths, and potential partnerships in light of your local community needs.

2. Dramatically shift your mindset from what you need to what you do.

For those in public housing: Talk with those you know and talk with those who need to know that you possess expertise in housing, real estate, collaborative service delivery, development, rehab, and so much more.

For those in other government-funded programs: Focus on your strengths and expertise.

3. Actions For public housing professionals (other programs can apply the same concepts) who are going through or anticipating a local crisis: I suggest three initial actions that will help shine a spotlight on your mission, your expertise/skills, and your willingness to help create solutions to move your community forward.

a) Define your strengths and roles as an agency and as individuals. The housing economy is shifting from homeownership to rental nationwide, so it is critical for you to sell your role as a skilled property manager in rental housing. Your strengths and roles will evolve from reviewing and renewing your local mission in the context of changing housing needs within your community, region, and state.

b) Create a renewed mission statement. The Federal HUD mission for local agencies is to promote safe, decent, affordable, quality housing and community development, available to all without discrimination. Locally, the mission encompasses a social and a business angle. Consider the following in rethinking what makes sense for your agency.

Local Social Mission: Public Housing Agencies are locally established. They operate as independent or semi-independent authorities or as an agency of a local or state government. Local PHAs come with a stated local social mission. Has your social mission changed?

Local Business Mission: Public housing investment operates in conjunction with the local housing market and will continue to be driven locally. National, state, or regional actions/inactions interact with the local market decisions to varying degrees. Has your business mission changed?

c) Make a list of stakeholders. Don’t let this list slip into the black hole of past New Year’s resolutions. Here are some suggestions to jump-start this list.

  • Local and state officials and those who influence them. Remember, the rubber meets the road with your local mayor or county executive; they are your frontline friend or foe.

  • Local and state agencies and key staff members (housing, social services, law enforcement, aging, community development, WIB/workforce, State Housing Finance Agency, etc.)

  • Employees, unions

  • Residents, neighborhoods

  • Service providers and nonprofit organizations

  • Local businesses/suppliers

  • Advocacy groups (housing, services, development, etc.)

  • Local schools, colleges, and universities

  • Local financial institutions/banks, FHLB Affordable Housing Program, housing and community lending programs, foundations, charities

  • Alumni within the community

  • Local and regional collaboration initiatives

  • National Community Stabilization Trust (NCST)

  • Neighborworks/Americorps/LISC

4). Market and sell your expertise. Connect with the groups listed above to state your mission, strengths, expertise, and potential partnerships in light of meeting your local community’s needs. In order for others to change their mindset toward your role in the community, you must change yours—and you must believe it. Refocus on the contributions you can make to a community with the expertise that you possess in housing, real estate, and other areas. Present yourself as solution-oriented, with the goal of creating stability for your local community.

5). Dive deep. Take risks and transform in 2012! These characteristics are required in an economy that is forcing austerity at every level of government. Make it your mantra to sell what you do—not what you need.

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