Summer Intern Reflection: Innovation and Advocacy in Chicago’s Housing Sector

This blog post was written by Reine Rambert, a 2019 BPI Summer Intern who will enter her second year in the Master of Public Policy program at Harvard Kennedy School in the fall.

To those familiar with the American housing sector’s contemporary landscape, the existence of complex affordability and accessibility issues plaguing many American cities is common knowledge. In more recent years, however, social advocates, researchers, and policymakers have started to more deeply examine the barriers that make the pursuit of housing even more challenging—interactions with the criminal legal system and periods of incarceration.

ACT Court graduate Tyrone speaks at the graduation ceremony as ACT Court Judge Neera Walsh and the ACT Court Probation Officers Joe and Caitlin look on.
Cook County’s Access to Community Treatment (ACT) Court graduate Tyrone speaks at the graduation ceremony as Judge Neera Walsh and Court Probation Officers Joe and Caitlin look on. Photo courtesy of Chicago Appleseed.

As a Master of Public Policy student, with personal exposure through friends and family to this issue, I was drawn to an internship that enabled me to pursue policy research in support of solutions in this domain. For this reason, I embarked on a ten-week summer internship at BPI, an organization with a long-standing history of housing advocacy, with the support of a fellowship from Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. My internship experience at BPI became an eye-opening and rewarding experience for several reasons.

First, instead of being inundated with exclusively negative information on barriers to safe and stable housing in Chicago, I learned that there was encouraging evidence on legislative change, cross-sector collaboration, and non-profit driven innovation to increase housing opportunities for individuals with criminal backgrounds.

Second it was gratifying to witness the thought leadership and experimentation in this space that BPI is contributing. As an intern, I had the opportunity to participate in BPI’s kick-off of the Partnership for Housing Access pilot, which aims to support individuals who have come into contact with the Cook County criminal legal system for reasons tied to substance-abuse and were successfully diverted for treatment and rehabilitation.

With funding support from the Chicago Community Trust, and the combined expertise of the Housing Authority of Cook County, BPI, Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC), and the Cook County Problem-Solving Drug Court, individuals participating in this pilot program receive case management support coupled with housing vouchers to increase their chances of attaining and maintaining stable housing. While there is undoubtedly more work to be done to address the profound barriers in this space, I was motivated and inspired to see the dedication of numerous Chicagoans working to research and develop such solutions. As a result, my summer experience reaffirmed my interest in returning to Chicago to work on critical, social issues impacting quality of life.

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