“If you don’t have a home, if you don’t have a safe place to live, it impacts every single other aspect of your world.” – Lauren Heberle, PhD, University of Louisville
In November, voters in the city of Louisville will elect a new mayor and Metro Council. University of Louisville social scientist Lauren Heberle and the Metropolitan Housing Coalition, Louisville’s affordable housing advocacy group, are ready.
MHC’s 2022 State of Metropolitan Housing Report, titled “Toward a Just Future in Uncertain Times,” was released in June. It is the latest annual MHC report written by Heberle, director of the University of Louisville Center for Environmental Policy & Management in the College of Arts & Sciences, along with graduate student researchers.
Heberle has contributed to the report since 2006 and written it for more than a decade. Kelly Kinahan, a former UofL assistant professor in the Department of Urban and Public Affairs, was co-author since 2017. (Kinahan has since left the university.)
The report, at 90 pages, is the longest and most comprehensive ever, designed to be the go-to document for newly elected Louisville leaders who need current information on housing.
The MHC report is normally published in November, but its schedule was thrown off by the Covid-19 pandemic. That gave MHC and Heberle’s team the chance to “do a real deep dive” before the November election, she said.
“If you don’t have it documented, it makes it harder to hold folks accountable or keep moving it forward, especially in something as complicated as housing,” Heberle said.
The current report will serve as a road map for the new administration. It is jam-packed with tables, charts, maps and graphics used to help MHC and others advocate for housing changes in Louisville.
UofL students also contribute mightily to the report, with several taking a lead on data analysis every year. Some are undergraduate students, some are graduate students. Some are sociology majors, while others are from urban and public affairs.
This applied research is a “way of teaching them how to make sense and talk about the importance of research for policy change, for social change, for social justice,” Heberle said.
“Figuring out how to understand this complicated structure of funding and policy that comes down from the federal government and shapes how Louisville is able to function is a really important learning opportunity for our students,” she added. Students have used their experience working on the report to help them apply for jobs, she said.
Tony Curtis, executive director of MHC, noted the many years Heberle has worked on the report.
“Producing this report is not only important to drive the fair, accessible and affordable housing conversation in Louisville and making the best housing data and analysis available for policymakers, advocates, and the community, it is a research and educational tool that Lauren uses to teach her UofL students and give those students the opportunity to engage in research that has real community impact,” Curtis said. “This is the beauty of the State of Metropolitan Housing Report collaboration between MHC, Lauren and her team.”
There have been some years that the report focused on research topics suggested by Heberle or her students, while other years the report is in response to a specific need or request that MHC has, such as preparing for upcoming legislation.
“They’ve understood the value of working with students and have seen that work to their benefit over the years,” Heberle said of MHC, “and have been really supportive of our students in that work.”
As director of the Center for Environmental Policy & Management in A&S, Heberle might have two or three graduate students working with her on the MHC report or another project each semester.
Students bring different interests and talents to the project. “I’ve had folks come to the table saying, ‘I want to learn how to make better maps,’” she said, and they produced maps for the report. Additionally, she and her students often work closely with UofL’s Center for Geographic Information Sciences (GIS) and the Kentucky State Data Center.
Learning how to obtain and report federal census data is a big part of compiling the report. Students learn how to put the information that is available — which fluctuates — into a form that MHC can use for its needs — which also fluctuates.
“That’s a learning experience for students,” she said.
Heberle also leads community engagement for the Superfund Research Center created at UofL about five years ago to support research on the cardiometabolic effects of volatile organic chemicals (VOCs). As a social scientist, her focus is community engagement, or working with the public affected by the sites. UofL is one of several universities that conduct research or outreach on the sites across the United States.