Transform Fresno- Courtesy of California Strategic Growth Council

 

Erick Diaz, MUP/MPP 2020

Summer 2019

Organization: California Housing Partnership, San Francisco, CA

Sponsor: Joint Center for Housing Studies Community Service Fellowship

 

“I finished my summer work at The California Housing Partnership last week and wanted to outline the key lessons learned throughout my time there. The key lessons revolved around the importance of teamwork, leadership, and knowing your audience.

As someone with several years of experience working in affordable housing development, it wasn’t new to learn that many stakeholders have to come together to make affordable housing communities a reality. But this summer, I learned about district initiatives that required a tremendous amount of collaboration among public agencies, nonprofits, and resident-led organizations to make these developments happen. I’ve written about the two main examples in previous post– 1) Rolland Curtis Gardens development in Los Angeles, where housing advocates and different entities at the City of LA worked closely to ensure residents weren’t displaced; and 2) the San Francisco RAD conversion in which the San Francisco Housing Authority renovated 3,400 of its public housing units.

The other example of a funding program which incentivizes stakeholders to work together was the Transformative Climate Communities Implementation Grants, which provides funding to communities most impacted by pollution to set their own strategy and projects at the local level. The projects awarded for these grants provide a comprehensive approach to reducing greenhouse gases and are made up of teams that include developers, community advocacy organizations, public agencies. It was great to see a model of funding that promotes this collaborative approach.

The other critical lesson was that leadership matters. As we all know, capital and infrastructure improvements are expensive, and many of the programs and projects mentioned above would not have been possible without the strong public support or the leadership of different nonprofit agencies across the state. This is important to keep in mind when planning students work to understand how projects get done. Every year, GSD planning students get the chance to meet planning directors at the Big City Planners Conference and taking that moment to better understand planning directors’ leadership styles and priorities is important. Students should be asking questions like: “What kind of projects do you spend resources on?” and “What are the values you are committing to in your work?” Questions like these would go a long way to helping understand how each planning department operates.

The last lesson was knowing your audience. At the Harvard Kennedy School, we spent a year learning quantitative skills that allow us to do robust statistical analysis. The quant class has problem sets where every problem ends with a two-part question: 1) In a few sentences, explain your findings to a technical/academic audience; and 2) In a few sentences, explain your findings to someone who is intelligent but not well versed in statistics. This second part was fundamental for this summer where I spent a lot of my time doing analysis of programs or abstract research questions. For items that would become public, I had to translate my findings from a technical text that explained the research methodology at length, to text which would be easily digestible (and more interesting) for an audience who was intelligent but not well versed in statistics.

These lessons will stay with me during my third (and final) year at GSD and HKS. If you are interested in learning more about my experience or discussing the Community Services Fellowship Program (CSFP), please feel free to reach out to me at ediaz@gsd.harvard.edu.”