Kreisman Panel Discussion: Space, Equity, and Lessons Learned from the Housing Field

On Wednesday, January 16th, International House welcomed a diverse panel of speakers in partnership with the Kreisman Initiative on Housing Law & Policy. A partnership between the University of Chicago Law School, Office of Civic Engagement, and the Mansueto Institute, the Kreisman Initiative on Housing Law & Policy brings together the fields of urban science and law to advance housing scholarship and generate new ideas about cities and housing. Read about the event below in an article by Global Voices Metcalf Intern Sophie Desch.


On January 16th,  International House at the University of Chicago hosted the Kreisman Panel Discussion: Space, Equity, and Lessons Learned from the Housing Field to explore the role of housing as a driver of spatial equity. The event brought together a diverse group of panelists from across academia, policy-making, and advocacy. The panelists were  Anni Beukes, Resident Fellow at the Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation; Juan Carlos Linares, Executive Director at LUCHA, a Chicago-based affordable housing development agency; Nicole Marwell,  Associate Professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration; Marisa Novara, Vice-President of the Metropolitan Planning Council. The discussion was moderated by Ianna Kachoris Ori,  Director of Strategy and Academic Partnerships at the University of Chicago Office of Civic Engagement.

The term “spatial equity” is hard to define.  As panelist Linares joked, “When I was asked to come have a conversation about spatial equity, I thought of two reasons why I should come.  Number one, I don’t even really know what spatial equity is, right? So am I going to learn about this with my fellow panelists. But as we discussed it, I discovered we’re all working on this in [different] ways, and we’ll have that discussion today. Number two, I live right down the street so I have no reason to say no, it's an easy walk.” His quip points toward  complexities of understanding spatial equity. Given the diverse specialities of the panelists and their own interpretations of what “spatial equity” means in their field of expertise, it is unsurprising that the topic does not fit one narrow definition. Beukes remarked, “When I think about spatial equity, I think it's about neighborhoods. A neighborhood is a place where people live, where they work, where they play, where they dream. So when I think about spatial equity, I think this is what I want neighborhoods to be; to be these places that connect both public [and] private spaces in a way that give people a sense and experience of having a good life, or an opportunity for a good life.”

The sentiment of equality and opportunity is echoed  by all panelists, nevertheless manifests itself in different way throughout their work. Linares operates at the individual and family level, focusing on providing affordable housing to largely Puerto Rican, Mexican, and African American families in Chicago. Beukes, conversely, takes achieving equity to an international stage, looking at the development in slums and informal settlements across the world. In addition, Beukes incorporates  both technical expertise and lived experience to craft tools to address housing inequalities. Marwell approaches the issue of equality and opportunity from an academic perspective, interrogating how government investments are dispersed on the local, state, and federal levels and how their effectiveness can be maximized. Marwell wonders, “Do you want these investments concentrated in communities of higher need where it might be easier for people to access those services if they need them? Do you want them spread out more broadly across the city to imagine some sort of greater equity in that sense?”  Novara is interested in the nitty-gritty of policy-making, focusing on how to ensure “all communities are contributing to the city’s affordable housing needs.” She wants to ensure that “options [are opening up] to live everywhere affordably” in the process of dismantling discriminatory housing policy.

From the local to the international, the government to the grassroots, the academic to the advocate to the policymaker, each panelist approaches the challenges of achieving spatial equity in a unique way. However, one common theme recurred during the course of  conversation:the necessity for multiple perspectives to converge in achieving equity in housing. As Beukes pithly puts it, there is a need for “hard data, and rich stories.” It is necessary to breathe life into hard data that researchers gathered by marrying the data  with different lived experiences, insights, methods, and approaches that people in these communities harbor in order to inspire a meaningful change in policy. From the neighborhood resident, to the advocate, to the researcher, to the policymaker, all become part of the same apparatus for advancing spatial equity.