Public Housing Resident Councils: How to Encourage Resident Participation

By Diane Anastos

tenant empowerment.jpgAnyone who has ever volunteered with a community council, a nonprofit board or a nonprofit organization is familiar with turnover; the complaint that it’s always the same people doing all of the work and the personality conflict that crop up.  As the Resident Initiatives Coordinator for the St. Paul Public Housing Agency in Minnesota, I encountered the same issues with public housing resident councils.

One of my responsibilities is to coach our City Wide Resident Council of the City of St. Paul officers, who represent the four family site developments under our wing. Residents living at St. Paul Public Housing sites represent cultures from all over the world. They also have a lot in common: coping with poverty; facing barriers such as access to health care, transportation and child care. Some face language barriers. But, they also have many strengths: life experience; talents, determination,  and motivation to be self-sufficient and live independently.

I point this out when I talk to residents about their site councils and the opportunity to serve. Most residents express a lot of interest in their neighbors and desire to learn more about them or ask about activities that offer learning opportunities and build community. Some residents say they would love to serve and be a leader BUT-they don’t have any time because they work so many hours; their children are involved in sports  or educational programs or transportation is an issue.

If I detect leadership qualities, I spend time getting to know the resident and sharing the many benefits of being involved:

  • You build trust among your neighbors by learning more about them, their interests, challenges and find things in common;
  • You develop listening skills, contribute ideas that may lead to more tightly-knit community;
  • You educate yourself by learning about other cultures and traditions;
  • You can help by offering a service in need: child care, teaching someone to sew, paint or build something;
  • You build self-confidence;
  • You learn to work with others and how to work out differences;
  • You gain skills to use in a job;
  • You set a good example for your children;
  • You develop resilience and be a source of inspiration to others;
  • You learn how to problem solve and more about your own strengths through training;
  • You can build morale, help to reduce conflict, fear and;
  • Increase your sense of well-being.

Leaders influence decision making which allows them to have more say about their their needs and desires. Public Housing Resident Leaders are no different.  Educate your residents about what it means to be a leader and think about, What if…….

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