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Minneapolis Public Housing Authority benefits from ACED Fellow’s skills

new building complex with city in background

Minneapolis Public Housing Authority property (photo courtesy of MPHA)

The Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA) is one of several notable organizations hosting Stevenson Center Fellows this year. Applied Community and Economic Development Fellow Rachel Almburg is completing 11 months of professional practice with MPHA as part of her master’s degree in sociology.

All Fellows must have at least a year of relevant experience prior to joining the Stevenson Center’s graduate programs. After earning her bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from DePaul University in 2011, Almburg worked for Global Brigades in Ghana to promote health care, economic development, and access to clean water. She then returned to Chicago to serve as an AmeriCorps Member with Northwestern Settlement House, which provides youth education and other services with the goal of disrupting generational poverty.

After a year of interdisciplinary course work, Almburg is now applying her skills with MPHA’s Research and Analytics team: “Research and Analytics leverages data to better understand the needs of MPHA residents, allowing for strategic investments and innovations across the agency to improve services for the low-income population within Minneapolis.” Almburg finds the work both informative and helpful for her future career.

“The professional practice year provides the opportunity to apply the research skills strongly emphasized in the sociology graduate program.”—Rachel Almburg

MPHA’s mission is “to promote and deliver quality, well-managed homes to a diverse low income population and, with partners, contribute to the well-being of the individuals, families and community we serve.” The agency assists an impressive 26,000 people, both through public housing units and through vouchers that assist families renting units in the private market. MPHA actively works to improve the living conditions in Minneapolis by preserving and enhancing housing public units and supporting the residents’ quality of life, despite extremely scarce resources. MPHA also works with nonprofit partners to support health and wellness, education, and economic self-sufficiency.

Residents provide critical input through councils and an advisory board. As noted in MPHA’s 2019 annual plan, “MPHA must be both a leader and a listener, responding to community needs while trumpeting the irreplaceable role we play in housing people with the very lowest incomes: working parents, children, persons with disabilities, immigrants, and seniors.”

Public housing has been underfunded by the federal government for decades, despite increasing needs for affordable and quality housing. MPHA is one of just 39 housing authorities nationwide designated as Moving to Work agencies by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This status allows MPHA the flexibility to develop and implement innovative strategies tailored to the community. To provide affordable housing in a tight rental market, MPHA rehabilitates and adds units when feasible. Among many other initiatives, MPHA is piloting energy-efficiency programs that demonstrate a substantial return on investment.

“The Stevenson Fellowship presents a perfect, mutually beneficial relationship in which our agency is able to augment our staff capacity while our Fellow builds her skills in applied research. It’s a great arrangement!”—Alyssa Erickson

Another area of innovation is in research and assessment. For example, Almburg is assisting the organization in using the rapid cycle evaluation method to improve outcomes for MPHA residents, such as decreased evictions. She is also helping to manage a grant-funded mobility study with implications for public policy. Almburg notes that her work in the classroom and with MPHA will help her career postgraduation: “The professional practice year provides the opportunity to apply the research skills strongly emphasized in the sociology graduate program. Creating survey instruments as well as supporting the research design phase of a randomized control trial to determine the effects of housing mobility is a great experience to further my skill sets.”

“The Stevenson Fellowship presents a perfect, mutually beneficial relationship in which our agency is able to augment our staff capacity while our Fellow builds her skills in applied research. It’s a great arrangement!” said Alyssa Erickson, Almburg’s supervisor.

Host organizations vary from year to year and reflect the variety of Fellows’ interests and abilities. Here are some of the other organizations hosting Fellows in 2018–2019:

  • Alliance to End Homelessness in Suburban Cook County
  • Change Happens! (Houston)
  • Credit Builders Alliance (Washington, D.C.)
  • Chicago Jobs Council
  • East Central Illinois Area Agency on Aging
  • Hope Meadows
  • Housing Action Illinois
  • Housing Assistance Council (Washington, D.C.)
  • Up2Us Sports
  • W.D. Boyce Council

The Stevenson Center is now accepting applications from organizations wanting to host a Fellow in 2019–2020.

Megan Birk is the Stevenson Center’s public relations intern.

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