Housing major is often overlooked

This College of Design major focuses on the social science of housing.

by Emily Mongan

With only 26 undergraduates in the program, housing studies is one of the smallest majors in the University of Minnesota’s College of Design.

Housing studies focuses on the study of housing policy, residential environmental health and analysis of social and economic interactions in rural, suburban and urban communities.

Ann Ziebarth, a professor in the housing studies program, said students often overlook the major because it’s in the College of Design.

“I think [students] think the College of Design is about making things, but we’re about the social science of housing,” Ziebarth said.

What separates the program from other housing-centric majors like architecture is its focus on the social aspects of housing, such as health, safety and access to shelter for people of all income levels.

The idea of helping people in a variety of economic situations find affordable housing is what drew fifth-year senior Kate Kilp to the housing studies major. She said she would like to work with a nonprofit organization like Habitat for Humanity or Urban Homeworks upon graduating.

“Ultimately the goal of whatever I want to do is find people affordable housing and work on a community-level scale.” Kilp said.

Upon graduating, about 65 percent of housing studies majors entered a paid position related to their field of study, a 2009 University survey found. These paid positions, which include a variety of jobs in the fields like mortgage brokerage, real estate, city planning and housing inspection, range in income from $28,800 to $39,000, according to the survey.

Alumni of the housing studies major will return to campus Wednesday for a social event and discussion panel hosted by the Housing Organization for University Students, a student group. The purpose of the panel, and organizations such as HOUS, is to bring attention to the often-overlooked housing studies major.

The event will also be an opportunity for housing studies majors and other interested students to speak with alumni of the housing studies program.

The panel will feature five graduates of the housing studies program, including Sarah Bellefuil, the housing programs officer for the Minnesota Housing Partnership. Bellefuil stressed the importance of current students taking advantage of the resources and internships presented to them.

“I think there’s an availability of internships in the housing world, either with a nonprofit, a for-profit or a government agency,” said Bellefuil, who interned in Jamaica with the Jamaican National Heritage Trust.

Randi Livon, a mortgage banker also taking part in the alumni panel, said her advice to students is to not shy away from jobs that seem “beneath” them. Livon completed two internships at the start of her career, including one in Hopkins, Minn., working with a federal housing program that helps senior citizens and people with disabilities pay rent.

Livon also plans to advise students at the panel to get as much experience as they can.

“It’s all about experience,” she said.

The HOUS alumni discussion panel begins at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday in 22 McNeal Hall. It’s open to anyone interested in
housing studies.