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.

Making a Splash in Policy: A Policy Intern during the Trump Administration

May 19, 2017
By Natalie Brown, former NLIHC policy intern

Natalie Brown - Policy Intern

Natalie Brown, policy intern with Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL)

Being at NLIHC has been one of the most immersive and incredible experiences a policy intern could ever ask for. Not kidding. Because I know with twisted absolute certainty that I would not trade my first time working in Washington D.C. for any other time than now. Why? Because I have learned more while fighting against majority interests than I could have while comfortably defending them.

I applied to be a policy intern at NLIHC for a variety of reasons, but one of my biggest aims was to explore a policy realm I had less experience in. During my coursework at Cornell, I had studied a variety of entitlement programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and SNAP which made my belief in their importance resolute. A piece felt missing, and that piece was an understanding of the importance of housing, which could fairly be considered the most important part in the security of low-income families. NLIHC’s mission of supporting socially just policy that promotes access to housing to those with the greatest needs greatly appealed to me, and I was blessed with the opportunity to hit the floor running this January.

The facts I learned about the affordable housing crisis were staggering. Nationwide there are 35 units affordable and available for every 100 extremely low income Americans. Waitlists to receive help are in the thousands in many cities. Only one-quarter of those who qualify for housing assistance receives aid. And so our job was to spread the message. Attending meetings on Capitol Hill with the Policy Team to talk with Congressional staff about these issues was invigorating: I had never imagined I would be this close to the people crafting policies changing the lives of everyday Americans. I learned more than I ever thought I would, and I am confident I will use it in future work and advocacy.

To conclude, I’d like to talk about the three most poignant truths about policy during my time interning in D.C.

  1. Change is less like water being poured out a pitcher and more like miraculous tiny drips and splashes. Every optimistic and starry-eyed Political Science major wants to come to Washington to see the curtains drawn back on what our government does. To watch big changes pour out of the doors of the Congressional chambers and to bask in the glow of them. I was no exception. Peculiarly, being here has shown me that big changes take time. Even though the idea of quick solutions is encouraging, there is no doubt that Congressional staffers and members put so much time and effort into the work they do in order to craft the solutions they believe in. For the job to be done right, quick-fixes just are not good enough. If for example, Congress allocated one trillion dollars in a block grant to a good cause (affordable housing, to be especially pertinent) with no mechanisms for oversight or no thought about what the disbursement guidelines will be, funds could easily be misused in a variety of different ways that could not only not solve the problem but exacerbate it. Policy, though expansive, should be carefully crafted and not taken lightly in order to be effective.
  2. Do your homework. Knowledge is power! Understanding the issues is the first step in solving them. When I first stepped into the office, the first thing I was instructed to do was to read up on housing programs, and I could not believe how large the issues are. As an advocacy organization, we strive to provide facts and data to offices so they can make the most informed policies and decisions. So even someone who is not an advocate but just wants to have a policy position should search for facts far and wide in order to come to a decision.
  3. Compromise is inescapable. If the government was about always getting what you want, life would be simple (and would lose almost all of its intrigue). Compromise is inevitable, and a big part of a long term strategy. In today’s climate, it may be tempting to retreat to one side of the aisle and not entertain the idea of a middle ground. But that gives up the fight entirely! Find middle ground when possible while still fighting for what’s right. This doesn’t work when an issue is black-and-white, but in many cases having support on both sides is better than fighting alone.

Throughout my time as an intern at NLIHC, I have had the opportunity to delve into affordable housing policy. It’s been a better primer than I ever could have asked for. Being here when tax reform has reemerged onto center stage and in the midst budget battles has been incredible. Being here when the fight is just beginning has been amazing and I cannot thank NLIHC enough for the opportunity to fight alongside you.

President Obama’s move to commute prison sentences highlights affordable housing needs of people with criminal records

November 9, 2016
By Jacob Schmidt, NLIHC Policy Intern
Jacob Schmidt, Policy Intern

President Obama and his administration have led the charge in pushing for criminal justice reform and has commuted a total of 872 inmates since 2014. He granted clemency to another 98 inmates at the end of last month and has now commuted more individuals than the past 11 presidents combined. Through these commutations, President Obama has sought to correct some of the harms created by harsh federal laws that require mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses.

While President Obama should be commended for these efforts, the next question we as a nation need to be thinking about is: what housing and supportive services will be available to people exiting prisons and jails to ensure their smooth transition back to society?

Without addressing the housing needs of the reentry population, more and more of these recently released individuals will fall into homelessness.

Katina Smith had her sentence commuted in 2015 and was lucky enough to have a family who had the means to welcome her back home. Katina, who happens to be the mother of Demaryius Thomas, a Pro Bowl wide receiver for the Denver Broncos, said, “If it wasn’t for God and for my son being in the position he’s in and my sister being able to help me, I could have easily been homeless.”

If our country is serious about reducing its prison populations, we must provide formerly incarcerated individuals with housing to act as a stabilizing platform where they can get back on their feet; otherwise, they’ll likely end up back in prison. Affordable housing has been shown to reduce recidivism rates among the reentry population.

Justice-involved individuals face too many barriers in accessing affordable housing. Many public housing authorities (PHAs) bar individuals with criminal records from living in federally-assisted housing. Housing providers may also use unreasonably long lookback periods into applicants’ criminal history, and often neglect to provide opportunities for applicants to show that they’ve rehabilitated and can be good tenants. The use of discretionary policy making disproportionately impact people of color and people with disabilities.

Fortunately, HUD has taken steps to advise landlords, including PHAs, that tenant screening policies imposing blanket bans on people with criminal records likely violate the Fair Housing Act. Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) has also introduced legislation, the Fair Chance at Housing Act (H.R. 5085), that seeks to reform the way federally-assisted housing providers can screen or evict a household based on criminal history.

As we approach a new Congress and Administration, NLIHC and our partners in the Reentry and Housing Coalition, will continue to raise awareness about the housing needs of people with criminal records. Until we ensure people have a stable and affordable place to call home after leaving incarceration, efforts in reforming our criminal justice system will not be fully realized.

Women and Trauma-Informed Care: A Congressional Briefing

Carmela DeCandia presents data on homeless women and trauma, demonstrating that 93% of mothers had a history of trauma leading many to be diagnosed with PTSD. (PHOTO: NLIHC)

Carmela DeCandia presents data on homeless women and trauma, demonstrating that 93% of mothers had a history of trauma leading many to be diagnosed with PTSD. (PHOTO: NLIHC)

By Sylvia Deyo

The National Coalition for the Homeless and the Congressional Homelessness Caucus recently hosted a briefing on Women and Trauma-Informed Care. The panel discussed the trauma of homelessness and the lack of aid and services available to homeless mothers and families in addressing these traumatic experiences.

The presenters stated that studies show that 93% of homeless mothers have experienced trauma in their lives, impeding their ability to provide a stable home, regardless of the housing services they receive. Additionally, over half of all homeless children are under the age of six and are traumatized by their homeless situation during a critical development period. The panel emphasized that in addition to housing assistance, trauma-informed care at an organizational level is essential for the well-being of these families. Trauma-informed care teaches service providers to notice and understand the impact of trauma on their clients as opposed to reacting confrontationally to problem behaviors.

The panelists included Cheryl Sharp Senior Advisor of Trauma-Informed Services at the National Council for Behavioral Health, Barbara Anderson Executive Director of Haven House Services, Jennifer Perlman Coordinator of Trauma Informed Care at the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, and Leah Harris Trauma Informed Care Specialist at the National Association for State Mental Health Program Directors. Carmela DeCandia, the Director of Child and Family Initiatives at the Center for Social Innovation, moderated the discussion.

Representative Alcee Hastings (D-FL), host of the briefing, opens discussion speaking about the lack of interest in trauma-informed care by colleagues and the overwhelming funding for military spending over social services. (PHOTO: NLIHC)

Representative Alcee Hastings (D-FL), host of the briefing, opens discussion speaking about the lack of interest in trauma-informed care by colleagues and the overwhelming funding for military spending over social services. (PHOTO: NLIHC)

In addition to discussing the merits of trauma-informed care, the panel debunked common misconceptions about homeless people and the causes of their homelessness. Most of the American population generally attributes homelessness to laziness or addiction, but an often ignored factor is previous trauma or abuse. Jennifer Perlman spoke about Toxic Childhood Stress and the resulting dissociation in concealing trauma as a key cause for addiction and behavioral problems. All panelists emphasized the need for services that help people understand how these traumatic histories have affected their present situations. In order to address the trauma, care must focus on overall physical and psychological safety, the availability of choice and treatment in the decisions of the clients, and the avoidance of confrontational approaches to healing.

Cheryl Sharp stated that “stressed brains don’t learn,” when explaining the importance of stability and support in the health of children experiencing homelessness.

Leah Harris spoke further about policy steps that need to be taken in order to begin instituting widespread trauma-informed care in homeless services. She cited King County’s policy of reallocating funds from closing prisons to early intervention programs in schools. This program was successful because it allowed for early intervention in young children to address the negative social determinants of health that come with trauma and homelessness. The panel closed on the call to action of the young generation of advocates and Congressional staff to implement these programs because America “created homelessness through poor domestic policy,” and it is our job to end it.

Sylvia_edited

Sylvia Deyo, a native to the Washington, DC, area, is NLIHC’s Field Intern. She attends Macalester College in Minnesota where her major is International Studies. She plans to continue her housing policy education in the next three years of college.

An Intern’s Interest in Affordable Housing

photoBy: Lela Schwartz

I grew up in the San Joaquin Valley of California, one of the poorest regions in the nation. For many years, I did not realize that the crumbling infrastructure and inadequate school systems were not at par with the national standard, and even definitely not the case compared to the rest of California.

Stockton, Bakersfield, Merced—all are interchangeable punch lines to classic (and classist) jokes that Californians grow up on. Either that, or my whole valley is erased in the typical SoCal-NorCal dichotomy. In many ways, my hometown (Fresno, fifth largest city in the state) is representative of the US in the enormous disparity of income and the standard of living of its residents. We suffer from massive brain drain, little federal funding (as a region that is technically defined as metropolitan, we miss out on funding for rural realities), and a drought that is hurting our main source of revenue: agriculture.

Despite all this—or perhaps because of it—studying housing did not appeal to me until halfway into my time at the University of California at Davis. I’m an International Relations major and making a difference in the world meant running away from home for awhile, away from the dead-end mentality that can be pervasive in Fresno. During my sophomore year, I decided to add a Community Development minor to my degree. A few classes in, I became more and more interested in redlining, public housing history, and modern segregation. Surprisingly, the San Joaquin Valley was used as a case study frequently. I learned more about the social issues of my home than I was ever taught in high school.

I applied to the National Low Income Housing Coalition at the suggestion of my housing professor and thankfully was offered the summer Field intern position. At NLIHC, I have learned about the different viewpoints on how to end homelessness (such as the United for Homes campaign) as well as methods of sustaining affordable housing. I have primarily worked on writing an upcoming issue of Tenant Talk, a quarterly newsletter highlighting recent successes and ways of organizing for tenant advocacy groups. The Field team is a great fit for anyone with a passion for outreach, making interpersonal connections with others working in affordable and fair housing, and ensuring that anyone who wants to advocate for people in low income housing has the information and resources to do so.

Though I do not intend to change my major, the necessity of affordable housing is a topic I can integrate into future research or field work for both domestic and international issues. Interning at NLIHC has helped me better understand the struggle my home is facing and the part my community and I can play in fixing it.

Lela is a senior at the University of California, Davis, studying International Relations with minors in Community Development and Human Rights. Lela has past experience performing community engagement projects in South Africa through study abroad, and upon completing her degree she hopes to work in refugees’ rights, housing, and protections.