Thursday, August 20, 2015

An internship that connects research and practice, local and national

by Emma Tinsley, National Housing Conference 

As my internship at NHC’s Center for Housing Policy comes to an end, I’ve been reflecting on my original skepticism about working in housing policy in Washington, D.C. My decision to get a master’s degree in urban planning was rooted in my love for local policy and the role lower-level policy decisions play in our everyday lives, and I was worried all D.C. policy work would be centered on federal politics. To my pleasant surprise, NHC and its Center for Housing Policy successfully engage all policy levels and acknowledge the diversity of place.

During my internship, I conducted research for a website on inclusionary housing policies that will launch later this year. I’ve always had a strong interest in issues of segregation and access to opportunity, and working on the site gave me the chance to research several policies that address these challenges. Through my research for the site, I was able to explore innovative ideas, from manufactured housing to demolition taxes, that promote inclusive, diverse communities that are accessible to all people, not just the most well-off.

I quickly found that, even in the nation’s capital, I was able to engage with localized policies which respond to the unique set of problems of each place. Local policy is compelling to me because it is where innovation takes place– a traditionally suburban town in Washington state can experiment with zoning code regulations to promote new and unexpected housing types, a city in Illinois can effectively use never-before-seen strategies to fund affordable housing development and a regional collaboration in metro Chicago has the chance to change the way the federal government approaches housing mobility challenges. Local policy can simultaneously touch the individual while making a national impact,  an extremely intriguing quality.

Aside from learning about a plethora of local policies, I was able to further grapple with the intersection of research and practical, on-the-ground work. The Center for Housing Policy is a wonderful place to explore this intersection as the Center strives to inform practice, as well as allow practice to inform its work. Like much of NHC’s other research work, the inclusionary housing policy site is a mosaic of best practices, informed by academic study as well as real-life experiences.

I also discovered that D.C. is a wonderful place to be an intern. Before this opportunity, I would not have imagined myself in this city, but I have found that the benefits of being in the capital far outweigh the costs (looking at you, D.C. rents). Not only are you amongst some extremely motivated and innovative people, but you’ve got access to great (and free!) museums, amazing food, AN ADULT BALL PIT, and maybe some of the best happy hours on the planet. There is no shortage of thought-provoking events and beautiful row houses, and while the Metro isn’t always the most reliable, it’s always worth the trip.

This glimpse into the “housing community” has solidified my interest in the housing field and I know that, whether I work in research, policy or programming, I will be part of an impressively collaborative and dedicated community. This graduate research internship has opened my eyes to a number of opportunities, as it allowed me to explore innovative policies in some unexpected places. Although I would like to someday make my way back to the Mitten (Michigan), I can now see myself engaging with people and places all over the country. 

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