This article examines how directors of community-based housing organisations (CBHOs) in the US define the role of citizen participation in their organisations. In particular, it describes how local political and administrative structures affect the scope of citizen participation in the governance and decision-making processes of CBHOs. This is an important topic since these organisations implement housing and community development programmes in urban neighbourhoods, and citizen participation has been considered important to the legitimacy of these efforts. The analysis is based on in-depth interviews with CBHO executive directors in Buffalo, New York. In particular, the executive directors of CBHOs that concentrate their efforts on the management, development and rehabilitation of affordable housing were interviewed. In addition to data from in-depth interviews, data from fieldnotes, the US census, IRS 990 forms and informal conversations with local government officials and representatives of intermediary organisations were used in the analysis. Existing theories concerning citizen participation and non-profit administration are elaborated upon and applied to CBHOs. The extent to which these organisations create opportunities for grassroots planning is considered and recommendations for expanding citizen participation are proposed.