Meet Our Interns: Mary Donoghue

The National Low Income Housing Coalition is fortunate to have great interns every semester and summer. Our fall interns have been with us for a few weeks and are excited to share their experiences at the Coalition with you. Think interning with the Coalition might be for you? You’re in luck! We’re now accepting applicants for spring 2013 internships.

I’ve been interested in housing for as long as I can remember. Growing up in Chicago’s northern suburbs, there were, and continue to be, intense fights over affordable housing every few years. Seeing so many people opposed to any sort of affordable housing always puzzled me. In 2008 I moved to Washington, D.C. to attend American University, and quickly tuned in to arguments about the city’s recent demographic changes, the mayor’s policies and new developments that were popping up all across the city. A lot of the arguments had to do with rising costs, displacement and other housing issues.

Intrigued by these debates, I started to take classes on community development, geography, social policy and more. I declared a major in sociology and American studies, and eventually wrote my undergraduate thesis on gentrification in D.C. After spending my final semester completing that project, I knew I wanted to take part in further research on housing, policy, poverty and how they intersect. The only problem? I didn’t have much experience, especially with quantitative research. Up to that point, my focus was on activism and community organizing, both on and off campus.

While looking for a job over the summer, I came across a post on for internships with the National Low Income Housing Coalition. After reading more about NLIHC, I knew I needed to apply to be a research intern. I knew that, if I got the internship, the research I did would go toward promoting socially just policy.  At the start of my internship, I was immediately involved in an important project: updating an NLIHC report cataloguing state-funded rental assistance programs. For this project I contacted program officials across the country to find out more about their programs and then interviewed administrators by phone and email.

In addition to this project, I participate in the everyday activities of NLIHC in many ways. I help answer questions and data requests from state partners, and I write articles about current research for the weekly newsletter, Memo to Members, a task that the total research nerd in me loves. At NLIHC, I’ve been able to hone both my qualitative and quantitative research skills, which will serve me well in the future, as I plan to start graduate school in the fall. Perhaps most importantly, working with NLIHC constantly reaffirms my belief that decent, affordable housing is fundamental to other aspects of life: health, safety, well-being, employment, education access and more.

My internship is still in progress, but so far, being a research intern these past few months has really been a great experience. The research team and the rest of the staff at NLIHC are supportive and always willing to answers the questions I inevitably have about both housing policy and research methods. To those seeking internships: if you are at all interested in housing, social justice, research or any combination of those subjects, definitely apply to NLIHC. In addition to developing valuable research skills, you will learn more about the intricacies of affordable housing, have the chance to attend meetings and events all around town and of course, you’ll get to work with some great people!

It’s No Time to Cut Housing

An editorial in today’s New York Times chides lawmakers for considering cuts to HUD programs and asks Congress to “shor[e] up the precious few federal programs that provide affordable housing for the poor, the elderly and the disabled” in this time of record homelessness and continuing economic instability.

The Times outlines the challenges facing public housing and other HUD programs: a $25 billion backlog in repair that has been building since the 1990s; the House funding proposal for HUD which would make deep cuts to vouchers and other programs; and the funding bill debated by the Senate last week which would make even deeper cuts to programs serving extremely low income households.

Cuts to Tenant Based Rental Assistance (vouchers) and Project Based Rental Assistance are of particular concern. As we reported in Memo to Members, the Senate bill “would not provide sufficient funding to renew all vouchers in use in the Tenant Based Rental Assistance program,” and “would also cut TBRA Administrative Fee to $1.4 billion, which is $250 million lower than the President’s request. The National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials reports cuts in Administrative Fees will force PHAs to reduce staff, which could result in slower voucher processing, decreasing the number of vouchers in use and, ultimately, a loss of vouchers.”

Project Based Rental Assistance would fare no better, with insufficient funding provided by the Senate bill. A too-low level of funding means “HUD would either have to fund some contracts and not others, or would have to provide short-term contracts instead of full-year contracts. Providing short-term contracts diminishes participating property owners’ confidence in the program and encourages contract opt-outs.”

Cuts to HUD programs of the magnitude proposed would have a devastating impact on the most vulnerable individuals and families in our community. In the long term, continued cuts of this nature would cripple the decades of investment our nation has made in ensuring our lowest income neighbors have access to safe, decent, affordable housing. We must let our Members of Congress know that this is no time to abandon those in the greatest need.