Public Housing Resident Organizing and Participation Toolkit

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Overview and Common Terms


This toolkit is designed for public housing residents interested in creating or supporting a resident council.

Whether you are newly beginning a resident council or have a long-term resident organization, we hope these materials will benefit you and your organization. These materials may also be helpful for housing authorities and community organizations interested in better engaging with public housing residents. The toolkit does not apply to formerly public housing that has been converted through the RAD process.

The toolkit has four parts:

  • Guides for organizing and running an effective resident council
  • Sample, customizable, documents to help you formally establish and run your resident council
  • Tools for the effective use of tenant participation funds
  • Case studies and profiles of resident councils and PHAs that support resident organizing and participation across the country

Common Terms

While many different types of tenants can benefit from getting organized, this guide is focused on residents in traditional public housing funded by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Here are some common terms used throughout the guide:

  • HUD - the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is a federal agency funded by Congress from tax-payer money. HUD does not own the housing you live in. Instead, HUD provides funding for many kinds of housing programs - including public housing. Laws passed by Congress and regulations passed by HUD create many rights and responsibilities for the housing authorities, HUD funds, and the residents who live in public housing.
  • Public Housing - public housing is rental housing that is owned by a government entity and maintained as affordable for low-income residents. Some state or local governments fund public housing, but most funding comes from HUD. The law that provides this funding is the Housing Act of 1937, which has been amended many times since it was originally passed. This guide focuses on residents in HUD-funded public housing.
  • Housing Authority - often called a Public Housing Authority (or Agency) or PHA. If you live in public housing, the housing authority is your landlord. The housing authority owns the building and receives funding from rent and government subsidies (provided by HUD). Some housing authorities are part of a city or county government, and report to elected leaders like a mayor or county commissioners. Most housing authorities exist apart from other government structures and have a board of commissioners who have final authority. Some agencies do not have the words “housing authority” in their name - for example, the Los Angeles County Development Authority (LACDA) is a housing authority.
  • Resident Council - sometimes called a resident association or tenant association. The resident council represents residents of public housing and can negotiate and work with the housing authority (landlord) and with other groups to improve housing and the lives of its members (the residents).