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Who We Are

Roshanak Mehdipanah

Director

Roshanak Mehdipanah (she/her) is an Associate Professor in the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education in the School of Public Health. She completed her PhD at the University of Pompeu Fabra, Spain and her MS from the School of Public Health and Health Systems at the University of Waterloo, Canada. Her research focuses on how urban policies, particularly related to the built environment, impact health and health inequities of individuals, neighborhoods and cities. Dr. Mehdipanah has brought particular attention to how housing policies and real estate markets shape health inequities among individuals and across neighborhoods. Through community-based participatory research that is supported through grants from the NIH, the WHO, and foundations, she has developed an understanding of how housing is a determinant in health, and has established how housing instability exacerbates health risks.

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Mara Cecilia Ostfeld

Faculty Research Advisor

Dr. Mara Cecilia Ostfeld (she/her) is the Faculty Research Advisor of the Housing Solutions for Health Equity initiative. She also serves as the Associate Faculty Director of Poverty Solutions, the research director at the Center for Racial Justice, and an Assistant Research Scientist in the Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. In addition, Mara is a faculty lead at the Detroit Metro Area Communities Study - an ongoing representative survey of Detroit households that asks residents about their expectations, perceptions, priorities and aspirations. She is an expert in survey research and the analysis of public opinion, with a particular focus on the relationship between race, gender, media and political attitudes. Her work has been published in journals that include Social Forces, Political Behavior, Political Psychology and Political Communication, and been funded by places including the National Science Foundation and the Russell Sage Foundation. Mara is the primary investigator of the Puerto Rico Public Opinion Lab with the University of Puerto Rico in which they are implementing the first representative study of political attitudes in Puerto Rico. During national elections, Mara also works as an analyst at NBC and Telemundo.

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Melika Belhaj

Program Manager

Melika Belhaj (she/her) is the Program Manager of the Housing Solutions for Health Equity initiative (HSHE). Melika received a Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) from Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning and a Bachelor of Arts in Community Development and Indigenous Nations Studies from Portland State University. During her time at Taubman College, Melika worked as a research assistant for Dr. Margi Dewar during which time she studied low-income home ownership programs. Melika has a rich professional background in community-based work that weaves together the values of public health and equitable cities in both Southeast Michigan and the Pacific Northwest. She is interested in identifying and understanding root causes of housing insecurity and being a part of long-term solutions that support housing security and generational wealth development for Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities.

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Kate Brantley

Research Area Specialist

Kate Brantley (they/them) is a Research Area Specialist at the Housing Solutions for Health Equity initiative (HSHE). Kate received an MSW in Interpersonal Practice from the U-M School of Social Work. Before joining the HSHE team, Kate managed the housing stability and homelessness agenda at Poverty Solutions. In partnership with Dr. Alexa Eisenberg, Kate has studied eviction injustice in Detroit and co-authored papers evaluating the impact of COVID-19 eviction response measures on tenants’ housing stability. As a graduate student, Kate worked as a student clinician in community mental health. They are committed to structural change that affirms housing as a human right and disrupts the trauma caused by housing injustice.

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Hannah Rubens

Research Assistant

Hannah Rubens (she/her) is a graduate student in the University of Michigan School of Public Health’s Health Behavior and Health Education program. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Health Science from Santa Clara University where she was involved in numerous research projects and community-facing work opportunities related to health equity and health education. Her interest in the built environment as a key driver of health disparities ignited during her time working for Santa Clara County at the COVID-19 Emergency Operations Center. Her work involved assisting in the development of a county-wide case management program to provide resources to families most impacted by the pandemic. Stemming from these experiences, her research interests center the role of place within the social and structural conditions that impact health and behavior, as well as the relationship between urban planning, public policy, and public health to structurally mitigate spatial health inequities.

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Caitlin Lynch

Research Assistant

Caitlin Lynch (she/her) is a junior undergraduate student majoring in Environment and minoring in Public Policy and Spanish. Caitlin became interested in housing policy after interning at Bridging Neighborhoods, an organization in Southwest Detroit that runs housing and home repair programs for people affected by environmental justice. In this role she researched Community Benefits Agreements, conducted interviews of residents in English and Spanish, and worked on program evaluation. Prior to this, she worked as an Educator at the Leslie Science and Nature Center. Caitlin is excited to pursue climate-related work and feels passionately about building diverse climate coalitions that connect Michigan’s rural and urban communities. 

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Eliyas Asfaw

Research Assistant

Eliyas Asfaw (he/him) is a medical student at the University of Michigan and holds a bachelor's degree in Public Health, also from U-M. During his undergraduate studies, he conducted research on modeling risk factors of HPV infections under Dr. Meza. Additionally, he studied the impact of COVID-19 on undergraduate students under Dr. Mehdipanah. He has strong interest in quantifiably understanding the impact of key determinants of health. Prior to returning to U-M for his medical education, he worked as a management consultant in the banking and manufacturing sector.

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Sarah Small

Research Assistant

Sarah Small (she/her) is an MD/MPH student at the University of Michigan. She graduated with her BA in Anthropology from Washington University in St. Louis in 2019. For her undergraduate thesis, she studied the history of urban planning and racial segregation in St. Louis and interviewed residents of a historically Black neighborhood about plans for a new large-scale development project. She then spent a year as an AmeriCorps volunteer at a Community Development Corporation in St. Louis organizing youth sports. In medical school, Sarah is a co-director of Wolverine Street Medicine, which works with unsheltered and unhoused individuals in Washtenaw County and Detroit. Sarah believes that recognizing how racism, the built environment, and other social determinants lead to health disparities is vital for her career as a primary care physician. She is interested in combining her medical practice with community engaged interventions to address health and neighborhood disparities.

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