While sitting in a Yale political science class, students can learn about the intricate workings of government and the law. But for some students at Yale, these lessons in civics transcend the confines of the lecture halls.
By actively engaging in New Haven’s political scene, these students are able to put their theoretical knowledge into practice, and thereby acquire a rich understanding of how the government functions.
Bethany Lacina is one such student. A senior in Ezra Stiles majoring in Ethics, Politics, and Economics, she has gained a firsthand glimpse into city politics by working for the New Haven Housing Authority.
“I wanted to see what was happening in this agency which had been failing for so long and was now said to be having a renaissance,” Lacina said.
Making the morning coffee run and camping out by the photocopy machine are not on Lacina’s agenda at the Housing Authority. Describing her work as “exciting,” Lacina debunked the prevalent notion of a staid bureaucracy with endless paper trails.
“Students never do administrative tasks,” Lacina said. “Rather, we choose independent projects which usually relate to new authority initiatives or major redevelopments.”
She added that creative ideas are not merely proposed, but instead actually carried out.
“My work has not simply been about endless exploratory committees and open forums,” Lacina said. “Projects move to completion and have some impact.”
In her first project, Lacina helped bring about a change in the housing authority’s policies concerning the admission and eviction of tenants. She performed research to ensure that the authority’s regulations were in compliance with the law. Afterward, housing authority staff, community advocates, and tenants were able to suggest revisions of the policies that corresponded to their needs.
Ever since she first began working in the fall of 2000, Lacina has contributed her time and energy to the housing authority each term. She currently works between six to eight hours per week.
Matthew Onek LAW ’02 is another Yale student who has deepened his knowledge of governmental institutions by working for the housing authority. His current project involves project-based Section Eight vouchers, which are vouchers given directly to a landlord rather than to tenants. The vouchers are then applied toward the rent of an apartment.
Housing Authority Director Robert Solomon said he hopes to set aside a total of 100 project-based vouchers.
“To me, this is one of the most exciting things we’ve done,” Solomon said. “It’s much more of a supply-side than demand-side program.”
Onek could not be reached for comment.
Stephen Yandle, associate dean at the Law School who will become the new director of the housing authority in June, believes the relationship between students and New Haven is mutually beneficial.
“My impressions are that this is a great opportunity for both students and the housing authority [and in turn New Haven],” Yandle wrote in an e-mail. “In particular the unique interdisciplinary nature of the clinic is quite exciting.”