Last summer, I had the privilege to serve as a Policy Intern for the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (you can find tips and tricks on how to secure a summer internship here). A year into CAREs funding from the federal government, the department continued to hear from partner agencies that a subpopulation of renters in Massachusetts could not access support. Known as encargados, these tenants were not listed on a lease and therefore, did not exist in the eyes of the law. This made them ineligible for CAREs support. Most landlords are unaware that these individuals even live on their property, as tenants sign the leases and then rent the space (often at a higher rate) to others. Tenants needed to secure landlord approval to attain rent assistance during the pandemic.
As a Policy Intern, my primary responsibility was to explore and research this issue and propose a policy recommendation to the entire department at the conclusion of my internship. I started by reviewing the current housing policies in Massachusetts and conducting a preliminary search on state-level protocols. After understanding the landscape, I interviewed key stakeholders and partner agencies on the ground to find out their perspectives on best practices. This was not only an invaluable step, but necessary in the process. A policy maker can suggest and implement what they may think is best, but without community input and support, the policy will not succeed. Once I collected all the pertinent information, I met with colleagues to both brainstorm and process as a collective. Finally, I aggregated all of the data and produced a recommendation for the department to use as a foundation for any official decision on how to best support encargados.
Going into the internship, I felt a bout of imposter syndrome. Who was I to recommend a state policy? Yet, by the end of my two months with the department, I was the expert on the matter. I soon came to realize that the purpose of my work was less about the actual syntax of the recommendation, and more about exposing this gap in Massachusetts’s housing policy. This was not just a classroom simulation or assignment, I was in the field working on a recommendation that could benefit hundreds of people. A majority of people in the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development were unaware of this housing inequity and being able to champion it for the state was an honor and a unforgettable experience.