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University partnership works to create affordable housing in South Bend

| Monday, November 22, 2021

Four students participated in an internship through Notre Dame’s Center for Civic Innovation (CCI) this past summer to create affordable housing in the local community. 

According to its mission statement, the primary goal of the CCI is “to promote the common good by building partnerships between Notre Dame faculty, staff and community organizations that foster innovative research and educational programs.”

While the CCI focuses on a wide variety of community investment initiatives, the primary focus of this specific program was working with South Bend to create more affordable housing in five areas of the city: the Near Northwest side, the Near West Side, Kennedy Park, the Southeast Side and Rum Village. 

CCI internship program manager Lauren Lounsbury noted collaboration between the City of South Bend, numerous mentors and the interns was vital to the success of the initiative.

“Liz Meredith and Tim Corcoran from [the city’s] planning [office] had this project with this specific Sears catalog of houses and pre-approved building plans,” Lounsbury said. “They were working with consultants who wanted student involvement so they thought [working with Notre Dame’s CCI] was a good partnership.”

Lounsbury said that she “helped the students on a regular basis” but the project was “very student driven.” Managing director for the Fitzgerald Institute for Real Estate Jason Arnold also served as a mentor to students. Various private consultants and city planners met with students to offer insights as well.

While the city has been working on the project for several years, interns collaborated with the planners and consultants to share their insights for eight weeks during this past summer. 

Lounsbury noted the primary goal of interns was to “test the consultants’ designs to see if they would work on lots in South Bend.”

While the consultants were making the site designs, Lounsbury said they “wanted the interns to really test their work.”

In addition to testing feasibility of the plans, interns sought to increase the energy efficiency of the plans. The goal of testing of these plans was to reduce soft costs and augment sustainability for homebuyers in the long-run, Lounsbury said.

Isabella Botello, a third year architecture student with a real estate minor, discovered the internship opportunity when she was emailed by Arnold. The project opened Botello’s mind to “the affordable housing realm of architecture” which she hadn’t thought about before the internship, she said.

Botello said her favorite part was seeing the final project and being able to present it together with her teammates. She also noted she was shocked by what the group delivered in a good way.

Sophomore Angelique Mbabazi a civil engineering major from Rwanda, learned about the internship from her first year advisor. She liked that the project would help a lot of people.

“The fact that this project was impact-based is something that resonates with me the most,” Mbabzi said.

Mbabazi knows her experience on this impact-based project will help her when she returns to her community in Rwanda.

“My country is a developing country,” she said. “This is something I can actually go back and apply … The main goal [of my career as a civil engineer] is to have an impact in my community.”

Lounsbury believes this project was vital because students “learned a lot about the community of South Bend, interacted with professionals who care deeply about South Bend and got to see more of the local community outside of what they may be experiencing at the University.”

Lounsbury hopes the interns view South Bend as “more than just a place where their university is located or where they even grew up their whole lives but didn’t get to really experience it.”

The program did change the Botello’s perspective of the South Bend community, she said.

“As we always say Notre Dame is a little bubble sometimes,” Botello said. “I guess I never thought about other people outside of Notre Dame in the surrounding neighborhoods … It was a realization moment for me. And there’s so much work to be done.”

Botello and Mbabazi both agreed that communication between the interns and their supervisors was their main challenge. They both believed that the internship improved their abilities to clearly express their thoughts to professionals.

Lounsbury believes that the interns should walk away with a sense of confidence because they were willing to “think critically, work hard and stick with something to solve a problem.”

Mbabazi noted that she now has the skills to solve problems wherever she lives. 

“If I’m living in a place where there is a problem, I should actually try to fix the problem,” Mbabazi said.

Lounsbury knows her main takeaway was relationship building.

“There’s a lot of value in taking time to really build relationships and to get to know the people that live in the community,” she said.

Botello encouraged students to reach out to the Center for Civic Innovation.

“They’re wonderful and it was really an amazing experience.”

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