Your Voice Is Powerful

HRB has heard directly from members of City Council and Planning Commission that letters from constituents inform their actions. Let them know you want to see more affordable housing on Bainbridge Island and give them the courage and clarity to act.

HRB sends out Advocacy Alerts when housing-related issues are on the agenda at City Hall, and we need you to stand up for housing by writing a letter or making public comment. They contain background information, a recommended action, and key points in support of that action. But drafting a letter or speaking out at a  meeting can be a daunting task. So we’ve provided a template for letter writing with plenty of examples to help you capture the facts and share your lived experience. It is intended to dovetail with an Advocacy Alert (note that the examples below are generic and are not tied to a particular alert). We’ve also provided some guidelines for making public comment. Our hope is that these materials will inspire and guide—not dictate. To produce the most effective communication, we encourage you to draw on your own knowledge base and personal writing and speaking style.

Sample Letter

Dear [City Council, Planning Commission, or whomever your intended recipient],

Make it easy on your busy reader and get straight to business.

Prompts:

  • What is the specific legislation or initiative you are writing about?
  • What would you like the recipient to do?
  • Refer to the “Action” section in the latest Advocacy Alert.

Examples:

  • I am writing to express my support for an increased density bonus at Bethany Lutheran Church which would allow for 21 units.
  • Please vote to pass the ordinance drafted by Planning Commission that would grant an increased density bonus to Bethany Lutheran Church.

If you’ve got the time, elaborate. If not, stick with the above. There’s nothing wrong with brevity.

Prompts:

  • Why is this action important?
  • What benefit will it produce?
  • Refer to the “Key Points” section of the Advocacy Alert.

Examples:

  • I am writing to express my support for an increased density bonus at Bethany Lutheran Church. This project will create much-needed housing for low-income households, many of whom perform essential jobs on Bainbridge Island and cannot afford to live here. Our community will be all the stronger when people with diverse skills and experience can live, work, and learn together. 
  • Please vote to pass ordinance 2022-02, granting an increased density bonus to Bethany Lutheran Church. The smaller, closer-set homes permitted by the ordinance will reduce home costs and environmental impact while making maximum headway on the affordable housing crisis.

In a community as small as ours, making that personal connection to the island and the issue boosts your credibility and helps you penetrate the heart and mind of your reader.

Prompts:

  • How has your life or that of your friends, family and neighbors been affected by the lack of affordable housing?
  • How has the community changed as a result of the cost and availability of housing?
  • Have you seen people leave or be kept away, people with ties to the community or backgrounds that might enrich it?

Examples:

  • I have been a teacher on the island for over two decades. I had the good fortune to move to Bainbridge when prices where low. I ride my bike to school and enjoy living in the community I serve, running into my students and their families at the library and the supermarket and integrating hyperlocal knowledge of Bainbridge into my curriculum. But a teacher’s pay cannot compete with a lawyer’s, and many of my colleagues are not so fortunate. They live off island where real estate is cheaper and make daily commutes that are hard on them and the environment and often impossible in difficult weather.
  • I was born on Bainbridge 88 years ago. People say they don’t want the island to change, but that’s impossible. It changes with each newcomer and each new home, regardless of the income earned and the price paid. Let’s build affordable homes to make good and necessary changechange that will make it possible for our community to welcome its essential workers and welcome back the children who grew up here.

Tell the reader why they should follow your recommendation.

Prompts:

  • Why is the action important, effective, and appropriate?
  • Refer to the “Key Points” section in the latest Advocacy Alert.

Examples:

  • By granting Bethany Lutheran Church a density bonus you are making good on your promise to serve the community. I have viewed the conceptual site plan and listened to expert testimony. Twenty-one units on the church’s 8-plus-acre property is appropriate both in terms of sewer capacity and the density of nearby development. In light of ever-rising construction costs, please act quickly.
  • The ordinance before you holds great potential. Let’s view our municipal code as a living document, one that responds to the changing needs of the community. The Comprehensive Plan and the report by the Affordable Housing Task Force call for innovation solutions to our island’s affordable housing crisis. A density bonus at Bethany Lutheran and involvement by a nonprofit outside the housing arena are indeed innovative. This is too good an opportunity to pass up.

Thank the reader for their service, their time, or accomplishments while in office. Let them know that you will continue to track this issue and their actions.

Prompts:

  • How has City Council or Planning Commission acted in a way that you support?
  • Will you be attending the next meeting?

Examples:

  • Thank you for responding to this need with creativity, flexibility, and vision. I look forward to seeing the outcome of this Tuesday’s meeting.
  • Thank you for considering this letter. I appreciate the work you do for the community. I’ll be there next Tuesday to stand up for housing.

Sincerely,

Your Name
Your Address
Phone number (optional)

Public Comment

To make public comment you must follow certain protocols. Generally, City Council or Planning Commission will invite the public to give comment during a specified public comment agenda item. Residents are given three minutes to speak and are not typically asked clarifying questions about the content of their public comment. Comments from the public do not need to be perfect, but it is still best to prepare so that you’ve got your facts straight and your timing down.

Read this guide to Council meetings produced by the city.

Public comment is essentially a letter delivered orally. As such, we recommend you follow the format for the body paragraphs (1-4) described in detail above and summarized below.

Introduce yourself

Hello, I am [name] and I live on/at [address/area].

State what you want to happen

This is your opportunity to call the people you are addressing to action. Make your ask as specific as possible. If you are commenting on a specific policy, name it. If there is action they can take, call for it. HRB will include a recommended action in our Advocacy Alerts, so look to those for guidance.

Describe why affordable housing matters to you

This is your opportunity to share why this issue is important to you. Public comments are powerful because they are personal not because they are perfect.

State why this issue should matter to this council, advisory board, or elected official

Now that you’ve shared your personal connection, make it clear why this issue should matter to the elected officials or advisory board. How does this issue impact the city? Why do they need to do something about it? HRB incudes key points in our Advocacy Alerts—look to these for guidance.

Thank the council, advisory board, or elected official

Whether you are addressing elected officials or volunteer advisory board members, it’s important to thank them for their public service. Keep this simple.

  • Write or type your comments, rather than extemporizing.
  • Practice reading them aloud once or twice.
  • Time yourself to be sure that you do not exceed three minutes.
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