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Announcing the Winter 2023 Housing Solutions Student Essay Contest Winners

The Winter 2023 Housing Solutions Student Essay Contest called for student essays to discuss or propose housing policies, programs, interventions, or market forces that impact affordable housing, healthy housing, safe neighborhoods, and/or vibrant and equitable cities. We were fortunate to receive many high quality essays highlighting the expertise of the University of Michigan student body and we are now excited to announce the graduate and undergraduate section winners!

Graduate Section Winner: Maya Barnes

Maya’s essay, As American as Apple Pie: Zoning, the Key to Improving Affordable Housing Development? Or Its Greatest Barrier?, examined the origins of zoning and the current research surrounding land use reform. Zoning is a hot topic among urbanists and an important consideration for racial justice reform. While most scholars agree that our current system is not working, there is not a clear consensus on where to go next. Drawing on the current scholarship, the essay discussed zoning reform ideas such as upzoning, transit-oriented development, and abolishing zoning all together. The author drew connections between our current housing shortage and common zoning methods used across localities. A case study of Houston, Texas, a city without any official zoning policy, highlighted the potential impacts of removing formal zoning in a city. Using a comprehensive review of current land use research and identifying Houston as a case, the essay suggested recommendations for reform that includes addressing the historically racist legacies of zoning.

Maya is a dual-degree graduate student in the School of Public Health and Taubman College. She is deeply interested in the relationship between the built environment and health, particularly how historic discriminatory housing policies have created social inequities. Maya’s recent projects have been local to Southeast Michigan. She worked on an age-friendly housing and zoning project with Plymouth Township, and developed a sustainability strategic plan with the City of Dearborn Department of Public Health. As a Massachusetts native, Maya is excited to return home this summer and assist the Boston Planning & Development Agency on neighborhood and community planning initiatives.

Undergraduate Section Winner: Adare Cario

Adare’s essay, Racial Housing Segregation: Causes, Consequences, & Interventions, explored racial residential segregation as a fundamental source of the racial wealth gap and posed policies and interventions that can begin to address this geographic inequity. The essay documented the long history of racial residential segregation, including redlining and the fair housing act, and the implications of this history on housing opportunities today. Housing segregation results in structural inequalities and differential opportunities in job attainment, wealth accumulation, educational opportunities, and community resources based on race. To address this system of injustice, the essay identified solutions such as increasing housing choice voucher access as a method to improve economic mobility and reforming the zoning system to expand affordable housing options in communities. Recognizing the limitations of current solutions and the necessity of new ones, this paper called for more research to understand how to advance racial justice in the housing system.

Adare is a fourth-year undergraduate student at University of Michigan’s School of Public Health. She became interested in the housing field after starting her internship with the Research Experiences for Undergraduates program, funded through the National Science Foundation, where she explored the topic of socio-mobility. In this role, she researched the health impacts of autonomous vehicles (AVs) compared to other mobility options in order to investigate the comprehension of vulnerable populations on AV adoption related to accessibility and social equity. She plans to further examine the health impacts of urban environments and the societal aspects of socio-mobility implications on housing.

Congratulations, Maya and Adare!


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