When Academics Meets Real-Life

By Lindsey Otto, Communications & Graphic Design Intern

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From left to right: Katherine Randall, Research Intern; Aubrey Kearney, Policy Intern; and Lindsey Otto, Communications/Graphic Design Intern

When I started as the Communications/Graphic Design intern at NLIHC, I had no idea what to expect. Finishing my first year at the University of Arizona, I decided to jump right in and spend my summer getting some real world experience in my field of study. I am currently a Communications and Studio Art student and while I have many years of graphic design experience, I had barely dipped my toes into the world of communications. I am originally from northern Virginia so my search for summer positions started in D.C. When I came across NLIHC I thought, what better way to cultivate these skills than by working towards social justice in the heart of the nation’s capital? The more I researched the organization, the easier it was to see how absolutely dedicated they are to something that was worth fighting for (doesn’t everyone deserve a safe and affordable place to call home?). Needless to say, I was eager for the chance to see the concepts I’d learned in my courses come to life and I am so grateful for the opportunity that NLIHC gave me to do so.

I began my nine-week position in the midst of the 2017 Out of Reach launch, their largest annual research report. I was tasked with making various infographics from this research and the statistics I was provided with from the report, quite frankly, shocked me. I had little knowledge of the struggle that average Americans go through just to pay rent, let alone the magnitude of that struggle. It’s a heartbreaking reality for hardworking people all over the country. So while I had initially expected to learn about color swatches and media correspondence, I learned a lot about the crisis that persists in this country as well. Working at NLIHC has not only provided me with insight into potential career directions but also with a fresh perspective on the immense importance of being socially aware and active.

From the very beginning, I absorbed all I could about the nuances of communications and design. I was welcomed by a spirited office full of people passionate about what they do. Every day was something new, from creating promotional posters to updating various websites to scheduling social media posts. It is a dynamic atmosphere and what I’ve enjoyed most is working collaboratively with members of the team, specifically in preparation for the Our Homes, Our Voices campaign promoting the National Housing Week of Action. For this effort, I was able to create promotional posters, rally posters, graphics, and other images to promote the various events, which aided more organizations from across the country to jump on board with the campaign. It was incredibly exciting to see so many different people from so many different places come together (as well as reusing/retweeting my designs to do so!).

In sum, I am eager to delve back into my studies with such a valuable experience under my belt. NLIHC has equipped me with so many skills that I fully intend on carrying with me into my future pursuits. Yet as my internship quickly approaches its end, one of the most important things I’ve learned is that when a passion for people is met with a dedication to advocacy, monumental change is not too far behind.


Lindsey interned with NLIHC from late June to early August.

My Rewards as an NLIHC Summer Intern

By Bianca Guerrero, NLIHC Field and Communications Intern

My goal this summer was to learn what the affordable housing crisis looks like across the United States and to see what communities and organizations are doing to address it. After three months interning with the Tenant Protection Unit, a New York State agency that protects rent-regulated residents, I knew I wanted to continue working on housing issues. Dipping my feet in advocacy and organizing on a national level after graduating from college seemed like a good next step and an internship with NLIHC offered just that.

Working at an organization that centers around extremely low income communities have been very rewarding, especially in a political climate that jeopardizing very poor communities’ wellbeing. As a communications intern, I got a firm grasp on what the organization is fighting for. I saw our values and messaging spread during, for example, press calls with Rep. Keith Ellison when NLIHC’s 2017 Out of Reach report was released. Incorporating data from our reports in tweets about HUD hearings on the Trump budget and the #OurHomesOurVoices campaign familiarized me with just how pressing the crisis is. I learned that organizing is truly a team effort. Pulling state-specific outlets from media lists, tracking reporter contacts, and reaching out to civic engagement platforms for the communications team was critical to making sure the National Week of Action was a success.

The field team gave me understanding of what it means to organize. Researching issues and writing articles for Memo to Members to highlight the work and success of our state partners in Minnesota, Vermont, Illinois, and Georgia taught me what obstacles other communities were facing, the solutions they devised to address them, and the work it took to achieve said solutions. Diving into the Advocates Guide’s information on housing programs gave me a sense of what resources are at stake in the Trump and Congressional budgets. Cleaning up membership lists, updating contact information, and checking our website links were also part of my internship. The field team always made clear why this less glamorous work was critical to improving its advocacy efforts.

I feel very grateful for the opportunity to work at NLIHC. This experience has equipped me to continue working on affordable housing issues back home in New York City and has also helped me become a better team player. Lisa, Sarah, James, and Joey have served as great examples. I always felt comfortable asking questions and voicing concerns or support for ideas. Their instructions and goals were always clear and they let me know my work was important. NLIHC’s location in Washington, D.C. was great because it gave me access to webinars and information sessions hosted by the Center for American Progress, National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, and Urban Institute. I was able to learn what other organizations are doing to further the fight against homelessness and to protect the LGBTQ community, women, and others in this issue area. I do feel like I accomplished my goal of learning what the affordable housing crisis looks like across the country and what folks are doing to end it. I’m excited to take what I’ve learned back home!


Bianca Guerrero graduated in May from Columbia University as a political science major. Next year she will be an Urban Fellow with New York City government. She is passionate about cities, and more specifically the experiences of low income immigrant communities in urban housing.

Growing Up With and Without Housing Assistance: The Backstory Behind Rachel Robinson’s Advocacy

By Rachel Robinson, Neighbors United for Progress Social Media Director & Housing Advocate Advisor

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When you live in low income housing or communities, sometimes you get lucky but sometimes you don’t. Growing up poor, my family moved from neighborhood to neighborhood, from hotel to motel like it was normal. My siblings and I felt like Child Protective Services (CPS) were our friend when we knew they were not. My neighborhoods had a lot of drama, gun and other violence, and drug activity. We resorted to handling issues in the ‘hood or within the projects because police would most likely treat us like suspects. These and other conditions of my experiences with low income housing are why I became a housing advocate.

Living with my brothers and grandmother on the outskirts of Austin, Texas was a blessing. Oak Hill, the family-oriented neighborhood we called home, was beautiful, full of playgrounds, schools, and stores. The community had plenty of resources and families had back yards. Oak Hill was a low income community at its finest: the crime rate was low and use of drugs was rare there.

In the 1990s, my grandmother decided she wanted to move into public housing in Bouldin Creek, a neighborhood closer to the inner city. While we didn’t have much privacy due to monthly check-ins from the housing authority, we did have access to the city and to bus routes. Bouldin Creek turned out to be very different from Oak Hill: it was in one of the most violent neighborhoods in south Austin. Rapes, gang activity, drunk driving, and fights were common. However, there was a bright side: with our new address I was able to enroll in a prestigious school where I flourished as a competitive student.

Winter brought tough times for my family. My grandma couldn’t take care of us anymore due to losing her job, so my siblings and I went to live with my mom, who struggled with drug problems. She lived in an abandoned hotel without lights, water, or working toilets. Worried for my brothers, I did everything under the sun to make money to provide school clothes, hot food, and other necessities. My mother is beautiful and smart, but drugs took over her life. CPS interviewed us constantly but never removed us from our mother. While we did not want to be taken away, what we were going through was not right.

My mother eventually ended up in jail, so my family was separated and displaced once again. My aunt took me into her home in a trailer park that felt like the projects.  I attended the poorest and most embarrassing school I have ever been in: it had bugs, holes in the walls, and textbooks in dire condition. In the ninth grade, I ended up getting pregnant. Teen mom was added to the list of labels already applied to me:  black, woman, crack baby, welfare and food-stamp user, a prostitute. I felt like these titles would never change unless I changed them, so I did. I got an apartment, won custody of my child, and eventually graduated with two kids.

Later, I moved to Mason Manor, one of the most dangerous and violent projects in Texas. The living conditions weren’t great: there was a lot of rust, roaches, maintenance issues, faulty air conditioning, and a host of other problems. We lived there for three weeks before moving to live with family. Eventually, we moved into a market-rate apartment in another poor area. This apartment was infested with centipedes, roaches, bees, and other critters. While I didn’t want to live there, we stayed for two years.

We moved to a duplex run by a slumlord, where roaches were embedded into the closets, doors, and any opening or cracks. The windows lacked screens and didn’t lock; the driveway was in awful shape. The tub filled with backflow from the sewer and toilet, so some days we couldn’t take a bath. One day, the breaker caught fire and we lost power in half the house for about two months.

At 28 years old, I was homeless. My entire family of six was living in my suburban and on couches for nine months before finding help from the Foundation for the Homeless. They found a three-bedroom, one and a half bath home with utilities paid for and rent of $1,350 a month. It didn’t matter if we were in market-rate or public housing, we always felt like being low income was the issue. Sometimes we got lucky, sometimes we didn’t. The neighborhoods I lived in were usually drug infested and prone to violence. I was too scared to let my kids play outside and I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Our landlords rarely treated us with respect, convinced that they were giving us a hand out so we should pay our rent and be quiet.

At age 14, I learned that where I live is important. Escaping poverty would be hard, but I knew I had to try. I went to school and got a certification in Medical Billing & Coding.  I’m also a licensed hair stylist. Even so, people assume things because of my address in a low income neighborhood. I want more for my kids: I do not want them to live my childhood realities. They are why I am a housing advocate: I push for better affordable housing in hopes of changing their futures.


Rachel is now the social media director and housing advocate advisor of Neighbors United for Progress (NUP). NUP is a group of neighbors who came together to focus on the betterment of their community and to raise awareness in the areas of affordable housing, crime and safety, and youth development.

Read about NUP’s 2017 NLIHC Organizer Award nomination at: https://hfront.org/category/organizer-awards/ 

Housing Advocates Gather in D.C. to Protest Trump’s Budget

By Benjamin Miller, NLIHC field intern

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NAHT protesters in front of Trump International Hotel

Housing advocates from around the country gathered outside of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. on June 27 to protest President Trump’s proposed FY’18 budget. The budget includes a $7.7 billion or 15% cut to HUD and a complete elimination of the national Housing Trust Fund, the Community Development Block Grant program, and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, among others. The rally was coordinated by the National Alliance of HUD Tenants (NAHT) and co-sponsored by Empower D.C. Most at the rally were also attendees at NAHT’s annual conference in Washington, and many are themselves public housing residents or recipients of other federal housing assistance programs, in addition to other federal safety net programs that the president’s budget proposes slashing.

The budget proposal would be devastating to the millions of many low income households who benefit from HUD-administered housing programs. Megan Hustings, interim director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, spoke at the rally and expressed agitation by the budget proposal. Pointing to the history of this moment, Hustings noted that the proposed slashing of the HUD budget has not happened since 1981, with the first federal budget implemented by former President Ronald Reagan—and the clear and immediate impact of that budget was a nationwide surge in homelessness.

Many of the day’s speakers shared the belief that housing is an essential human right. Charlotte Delgado, a board member of NAHT said in her speech, “Donald Trump has demolished the right to have a decent life…Housing is a basic human right.” Speakers also addressed the fact that the U.S. is the wealthiest country in the world, yet our federal budgets year after year still do not make housing accessible and available to all of our nation’s most vulnerable families.

Another spokesperson for NAHT said “You can’t get rid of poor people, you have to make poor people equal people…you can’t trap people in poverty, you have to give us a path out.” The same NAHT representative stated that all of the paths out of poverty starts with a stable home.

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Another point that was echoed in speeches and protest signs was that our multimillionaire president is himself a public housing resident. In fact, he does not pay any portion of his income toward the cost of living in the White House—an ironic observation, given the protest’s location in front of the gilded-sign reading “Trump International Hotel.” This point was intended to highlight that one piece of the president’s budget proposal includes a policy change whereby public housing residents would move from paying 30% to 35% of their already limited monthly income rent. In total, approximately 50 attended Tuesday morning’s rally, after which NAHT conference attendees traveled up Pennsylvania Avenue for an afternoon of lobby meetings on Capitol Hill with Members of Congress.

My Time as an Intern with NLIHC

By Hannah Keith, former communications & graphic design intern

I admit before I joined NLIHC I knew little about the housing crisis in American and how serious it is. As both of my parents work for the government they have always told me the importance of being socially responsible. Being able to be a part of NLIHC has been an eye-opening experience for me. One morning while I was on the way to work I saw a lady upset as someone had stolen her metro card. As she looked flustered I asked her if she needed help, but there wasn’t anything we could do about the situation.  She would find a way to get to work.  Then I thought back to what NLIHC’s President & CEO Diane Yentel said, that many people are “one emergency, one broken-down car, one illness, one missed day of work away from not being able to pay their rent.” As I hopped on the metro car I thought about that and the daily struggle so many others face each day.

One of the most memorable experiences I encountered in my time with NLIHC was being able to be a part of the 2017 Housing Policy Forum. Everything from preparing for it and seeing the time and effort my coworkers put into it really showed me how much each and everyone cares about the cause.  I enjoyed most importantly having the opportunity to hear the voices of those who live in low-income housing and how the housing crisis affects them.

NLIHC Staff at 2017 Housing Policy Forum

Hannah (far right) & staff at 2017 NLIHC Housing Policy Forum

I graduated from High Point University with a degree in communications and a minor in graphic design. Being a part of the Communications team has taught me many skills that I can carry along with me in my career path as I learn how to better create digital media. It only took me a few days though, working with such great NLIHC staff, listening in on meetings and, it seemed, everything they talked about, for me to also become a passionate low-income housing advocate – and I will always be one.