Russell Star-Lack first became interested in housing during college, when he was researching and documenting the history of housing discrimination in the Twin Cities. He wanted to put his knowledge to good use and thought that “AmeriCorps seemed like a great way to transition from that work into the field of affordable housing activism.”
This year, Russell is serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA with the Chicago Rehab Network (or CRN), a coalition of community-based organizations dedicated to rehabilitating communities without displacement and building a strong affordable and accessible housing development movement. CRN engages in policy advocacy at the city, state, and federal level; hosts trainings to build capacity amongst their coalition; and publishes relevant findings from their affordable housing research.
Russell’s role at CRN has been “split between outreach, research, and capacity building functions.” His longest ongoing project is supporting facilitating the Empowerment Series, an annual series of courses CRN provides for new affordable housing developers covering all aspects of the development process. This initiative hasn’t been hindered by going virtual during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Russell says he “has had the opportunity to strengthen my virtual skillset.” However, there is still certain things that are missing from the all-remote work, such as a broader understanding of CRN’s operation. “I do feel like I have less of a picture of all the functions of our organization than I would have if we worked in person,” he shares.
One aspect of CRN’s work that Russell has been able to dive into is housing co-operatives (co-ops). This past year, one of CRN’s largest initiatives has been launching a program designed to support housing cooperatives. “I knew very little about this kind of affordable housing and its history going into this position, but after working on this initiative, I strongly believe Co-Ops will have a strong role to play in keeping housing affordable in gentrifying areas of Chicago and other cities across the country.”
AmeriCorps is a national service program that connects people and organizations to help end poverty and strengthen communities. Since 2010, Housing Action has managed a network of AmeriCorps members in the VISTA program, with up to 30 full-year AmeriCorps members and 30+ AmeriCorps Summer Associates serving each year. As an AmeriCorps member, you help nonprofit organizations build their capacity to meet community needs by improving and expanding their services and creating new programs.
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