Occidental Student Interns Help Address L.A. Housing Crisis
This summer, five Occidental College students are working to help more low-income families in Southern California find and keep affordable housing through the College's community development and housing internship program.
The five were selected out of 40 students who had applied for the full-time, 10-week program. Internship program director Peter Dreier, E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics, said the students get hands-on experience in public policy advocacy, counseling, organizing, and housing development; an insider's view of how nonprofit community organizations work; and the opportunity to find out if they want a career in building vital communities in Los Angeles.
During their internships, which began May 31 and run through August 5, students research public policy and implement projects in urban planning, real estate development, job creation, social services, and other areas. The program also has an academic component: Interns must complete assigned readings, keep journals of their experiences, write a final paper, and attend weekly on-campus seminars conducted by Dreier.
"The program is a win-win-win situation--for the students, for the community groups and constituencies they are working for, and for the College," he said. "It's a ‘win' for me, too. I enjoy mentoring the students, watching the transformations, following them through their careers at Oxy and afterwards, and knowing that for many of them, the summer internship was a life-changing experience."
The student interns (photos available upon request) are:
• Randall Hook '12, a sociology major from Compton who graduated from Woodrow Wilson Classical High School in Long Beach, is working with LINC Housing Corporation. LINC is a nonprofit that develops and builds affordable housing for senior citizens, families, and special needs populations. In his internship, Hook is helping to edit a "green" operations manual for residents and working with the city of Westminster on potential affordable housing sites.
• Uriah Johnson '13, an urban and environmental policy major from the Bronx, N.Y. and a graduate of the Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics, is interning at Los Angeles Neighborhood Housing Services, where she assists with community outreach and the organization's weekly workshops for homebuyers.
• Marissa Potasiak '13, a politics major from Irvine who graduated from Irvine High School, is interning at the Southern California Association of Non-Profit Housing. SCANPH is the umbrella trade association for affordable housing developers in the region. Postasiak is working with SCANPH on a policy campaign to promote "transit-oriented development," which encourages the construction of low-income housing near public transportation stops.
• Caitlin Ruppel '13, a politics major from Northfield, Minn., and a graduate of Northfield Public High School, is working at the East Los Angeles Community Corporation. ELAC builds affordable housing and provides access to economic development opportunities to low- and moderate-income families in Boyle Heights and East LA. Ruppel is researching the health and environmental impact of building affordable housing near freeways, among other projects, during her internship.
"I didn't expect to be thrown in right away, but I was doing research by the second day [of my internship]," she said. "I've learned a lot already."
• Khaliyah Washington '14, a diplomacy and world affairs major from Newark, N.J., and a graduate of the Loomis Chaffee School (Windsor, Conn.), is working at the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment. A multi-issue organization, the Los Angeles-based nonprofit helps struggling California homeowners victimized by predatory lending and other scams to keep their homes.
Washington is honing her grassroots activism skills by interning with the organization's Home Defenders League-a group of activist homeowners facing foreclosure. She has already helped organize a protest at the Bank of America, requesting that bank officials meet with homeowners to renegotiate their home loans.
"I made a good choice. I'm pretty passionate about helping people, and I'm learning how banks are treating people," she said. "I'm doing one-on-one meetings with homeowners and helping them write letters to banks. I feel responsible for them."
The interns each receive about $6,400, which pays for a stipend and room and board at the College for the duration of their summer internships. The program is supported by grants from the Union Bank Foundation, the Wallace Foundation, and the College politics department's Anderson Fund.