parametrix inspired people blog

Affordable Housing in Chicago: Culminating my Master’s Degree with 6 Weeks of Service Learning and Research

Michael Baker | 8-16-2018

University of Utah ChicagoLAB 2018 participants. Photo courtesy of ChicagoLAB.

Salt Lake City Parametrix employee-owner, Michael Baker recently completed his Master of City and Metropolitan Planning degree at the University of Utah with the help of Parametrix’s educational benefit program.To culminate his degree, Michael participated in ChicagoLAB – an intensive summer research studio and service learning course in which students spent 6 weeks in Chicago meeting with local practitioners, networking and researching planning issues that matter to the city. This year, the project focused on maintaining housing affordability in Chicago’s Puerto Rican and Latino neighborhoods.

In cities everywhere, renters and homeowners are experiencing the increasing pressure of rising housing costs. In Chicago, the construction of the 606 Trail and linear park—like New York’s Highline Trail—sparked skyrocketing property values, displacing the vibrant Puerto Rican community nearby. ChicagoLAB sponsoring organization, “The Puerto Rican Agenda” as well as three partnering non-profit housing developers, are working to promote neighborhood stability by increasing the supply of affordable housing.

During my time in Chicago, my team and I had the opportunity to meet with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and the Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University. Those meetings revealed that policies and programs designed to confront community-displacement pressures are not one-size-fits-all and need to be tailored to the unique needs of an area. Well-intentioned infrastructure projects, championed by community activists, can have the unintended effect of reducing housing affordability nearby. Areas with concentrations of families, renters, older adults, and housing-burdened individuals (spending more than 25% of income on housing) are the most vulnerable to gentrification through the economic displacement of current residents. I would like to stress the importance of not discounting the tangible benefit that these programs and projects have for the recipients of this support despite the magnitude of the need.

The 6-week course concluded with the 2018 Affordable Housing Summit, where my team and I presented preliminary findings from the research alongside a day of panel discussions.

The team also had the opportunity to visit the American Planning Association’s (APA) headquarters and was featured in APA’s August/September 2018 newsletter.

Earning my master’s degree has been a longtime goal and could not have happened without the support of my fellow employee-owners at Parametrix. Since the City and Metropolitan Planning program at the University of Utah primarily trains a local workforce, it was a great opportunity to meet future project teammates and the next generation of clients. I hope to apply the takeaways from my culminating Professional Project/pseudo-thesis to benefit our ongoing TravelWise work for the Utah Department of Transportation. It is surreal to be done with my education. I cannot wait to leverage my new skills as I further explore project management and hopefully earn an American Institute of Certified Planners designation.

About the Author
Michael Baker is a transportation planner with experience in both the public and private sector clients throughout Utah. He has expertise in geospatial mapping, graphic design, visual communication, data analysis, document preparation, public involvement, and facilitation.