Creative Community Engagement


Our engagment process is focused around the following core values:
 Work toward equal access.
Collaborate with the spirit of a place.
 Build hyperlocal.
 Design for shared stewardship.
Move at the pace of trust. Include all community voices.

As a team we were interested in strategies that combine affordable housing, rural communities, creative engagement, and community participation. We believe that arts and culturally-based strategies are critical to community planning efforts. Our practice utilizes the arts to cultivate connections within communities and to foster a sense of pride. Art is not only a way to reflect the character of a community, but also a tool to navigate tough issues that are linked to development, social justice, and equity in rural places.

Funded through a grant from Partnership Art, an initiative of Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership and funded by ArtPlace America, the Healthy Housing Initiative was developed to creatively increase household outreach and knowledge to available housing resources in St. James, Minnesota.

As artists and architects that work in civic engagement, we incorporated the following arts-based strategies in our process.
  • Organize: Identify relevant community leaders in order to prioritize goals in consideration of specific issues.

  • Bridge: Deliberately spend time within informal community settings for one-on-one conversational research with individuals that wouldn’t otherwise be present at typical programming and town events. Recognize underrepresented local populations and build their involvement into future programming.

  • Stabilize: Use funding to support and compensate community leaders and program participants for their time and input in the process. Hold ourselves accountable for follow-through with
    the programming so that trust is built between the partnering organizations and inclusion is the standard. Create a direct and relatable document of implementation strategies for the City of St. James to ensure successful programmatic development.

From these strategies, we created a toolkit for creative collaborative engagement between the St. James Housing Committee and other organizations/residents in town. These tools are used to bridge gaps between resources and provide assistance to households in need. By creating community ownership and commitment to what is happening in the initiative, the community experiences the process so that they can move forward together. This collaboration also builds capacity in the region, so that city leaders are aware of how these tools can help them in their work.

Beyond the creative collaborative engagement tools and outreach tactics, we compiled a semi-comprehensive resource guide to all of the available housing resources. We’ve also detailed ten (10) implementation strategies for more successful housing programming hosted by Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership and City of St. James Housing Committee.

Community Engagement, 2017

During a year-long research period, Homeboat interviewed community members and developed strategies for increasing outreach and accessibility to housing resources in a rural community in southwest Minnesota. 

Workshops, interviews, and hangouts in St. James

Founded as a railroad town in 1870, it is now the county seat and home to 4,605 people. St James has three large meat processing plants and with this, has brought in a wave of cultural diversity going back three generations. The makeup of St. James willl soon be 50% Latino. We collaborated closely with La Convivencia Hispana, a local Latino lead organization, to help bring housing resources to this largely underserved group of people.

Through an extensive engagement process, we created a toolkit for creative collaborative engagement between the St. James Housing Committee and other organizations/residents in town, specifically those households with limited English language skills. These tools are used to bridge gaps between resources and provide assistance to households in need. We started the process by trying to get to know everyone, calling over 100 people in town before we arrived and having a conversation, always sure to ask: What’s your favorite restaurant in town? Who else should we be talking to? It wasn’t revealed that we were talking to the mayor until 10 minutes into our initial conversation. Now we’re friends.

A cultural place-­based civic engagement strategy, called the Community Advocate Program, was introduced to increase household outreach and education for housing rehab needs and resources, particularly to underserved Latino households. Thirty-four (34) Healthy Housing Assessments were completed on single-family homes in St. James, many of which had critical needs; safety supplies, such as smoke/CO detectors, were distributed and outreach was provided in regards to available resources that would help household address larger and more chronic rehab. One of the Community Advocates has become the first Latino representative on the City's Housing Committee as a result of this effort.

Through our effort, the City has established a local Fix-Up Fund Program with $25,000 of Local Funds (repaid SCDP dollars meeting the threshold of "local funds") to address small but necessary repairs identified in the HHAs. Also, the City is coordinating Handyman Workshops and Home Maintenance Workshops, in both English and Spanish, to help address some of the concerns that emerged over lack of household knowledge or availability of contractors/handymen to address home repair and maintenance needs. Anyone completing the Handyman certification workshop will be added to a directory available to homeowners in need of minor repair work. The City has put together a local Resource Guide, identifying various resources for homeowners and renters in St. James.

Community Engagement

We created and printed a series of Healthy Housing Handbooks for the St. James community. The Handbook is broken into four sections: Engagement Tools, Implementation Strategies, Handyman and Advocate Programs, and a Housing Resource Guide.

The St. James Housing Committee used the publication as a workbook, strategically working through the implementation strategies and engagement tools. Within less than six months, they had organized the housing advocates and secured signifigant funding for local housing programs, facilitated handyman trainings, launched a local handyman program, established a low-interest home repair fund, and worked with volunteers and neighbors on light home maitenance projects. 

Hello Hola Neighbor Vecino


After a successful Healthy Housing Initiative, Homeboat was invited back to build on the Community Advocate Program. Though a community engagement and research process Homeboat created a framework for a sustainable and replicable Community Advocate Program (CAP). The St. James Advocate Program helps connect important resources, information and opportunities to individuals and families in their community. The advocates play a critical role in connecting residents who are new to the community or have limited English language skills to information and resources.

Community Engagement

After another year of research and follow-up interviews with the St. James community, Homeboat hosted a bilinguarl workshop and training for neighbors interested in local advocacy.

The workshop included a social dinner before a training that dug into the different ways that local advocacy programs work. Case studies from around the country were used to illustrated the power of neighbors working together. We discussed the work of housing advocates in St. James and the greater impact their work has had in the region. After presentations, we broke into three groups to workshop different strategies for how to build a program best suited to the St. James community. This workshop and our previous research and interviews informed the publication of the Community Advocate Handbook.

St. James Advocacy Workshop