NOAAH @ 25 Years

NOAAH Co-Founder Michael Kelly

“The end is reconciliation: the end is redemption: the end is the creation of the beloved community.” -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., December 3, 1956

A day on, not a day off. A workday set aside to form an organization dedicated to creating a beloved community recognizing the symbiotic interconnection of all people. Remembering Martin Luther King Jr. Day 25 years ago in New Orleans, Louisiana.

After months of planning, people of all colors from across the country gathered to discuss the vision, the mission, and the structure of an organization dedicated to the preservation and production of affordable and public housing, and to recognize that our individual well-being was inextricably linked to the wellbeing of others, particularly the poor, elderly, and disadvantaged. 

This National Day of Service and remembrance of MLK was the official birthday of NOAAH, but its conception was years in the making. Those of us who work to provide a home for low-income families across the country ached to find a ‘home’ for ourselves. An organization that recognized our needs and nurtured our professional and personal development. Our people need to be able to care for themselves if they are expected to care for others.

For decades, public and assisted housing agencies nationwide were managed by white leadership even though people of color occupied the housing. With the advent of innovative strategies and tools available to create and preserve housing affordability there came the need and opportunity to nurture industry leaders.

In 1995, the HUD inspector general’s office singled out for audit three Black-led public housing agencies in cities with Black mayors out of the hundreds of housing authorities across the United States. We had to ask, “What’s up with that?” 

Although we believed for years that we should have a central organizational home, it was this action by HUD that led the birth of this group.

In the packed New Orleans hotel ballroom, the guiding principles of NOAAH were forged: Social Justice Advocacy, Leadership Development, Community Engagement, and Fellowship. Apropos to the tradition of people of color, we recognized the accomplishments of those who came before us. The elders in the room were given audience to provide their vision and to articulate the challenge and opportunity before us. Heroic individuals stepped up to provide valuable legal work and others rose to offer critical financial assistance. NOAAH was born.

Little did any of us know that the vision created that day would so quickly become incarnate. 

NOAAH leaders quickly became advisors to members of the Congressional Black Caucus on housing issues and policy.  NOAAH participated in the HUD negotiations to change the public housing funding system and was instrumental in guaranteeing a higher percentage of funds for resident empowerment and employment.

NOAAH sought out and encouraged talented young men and women that worked in public and nonprofit agencies to participate in regular membership meetings. Through this interaction and accessibility, many of these young people developed their skills and are now leading agencies and organizations across the country.

NOAAH commemorated outstanding public housing administrators and recognized their contributions to the industry.

NOAAH became the mechanism for public housing resident leaders from across the country to gather from and strengthen each other under the model of “iron sharpening iron.”

NOAAH provided forums for meaningful engagement between City leaders and the communities during times of crisis.

Working for the interest of the poor, underserved, and under-represented communities is a challenging and thankless job. Having an organization that understands these difficulties and provides support, resources, and professional and
personal encouragement is invaluable.

These are just a few of the innumerable examples of how our members embody these values. We continue to strive for excellence in our work and in the future of affordable housing for people of all colors.

I remember that MLK Day 25 years ago. I also remember the laughter, the excitement, and the joy that filled that New Orleans hotel ballroom that soon became the National Organization of African Americans in Housing- our home and our beloved community.

Michael Kelly
Co- Founder, NOAAH

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