Alumni Spotlight: Grace Chung, MPA '15

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Grace Chung, MPA '15, currently leads a pilot initiative to respond to New York City's scarce land for development and soaring housing costs with the Local Initiatives Support Corporation in New York City, a nonprofit organization that attempts to forge resilient and inclusive communities across the country. In this interview, Grace discusses her career as well as her time at Fels.

Where are you working now, and what is the mission of your organization?

I work with the NYC Office of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), a national nonprofit organizations whose mission is to forge resilient and inclusive communities across U.S. I started as an intern with the Philadelphia office while I was at Fels, and after graduation, was hired as a full-time Community Development Officer with the NYC office. Since founded in 1980, LISC NYC has helped to build and preserve nearly 40,000 units of affordable housing, while supporting a network of community based organizations across the city to address health inequity, environmental sustainability and economic development in low-income communities.

What position do you hold, and what work does it entail?  

The housing environment has changed significantly since LISC NYC was founded nearly four decades ago: land for new development is scarce and housing costs have soared, making NYC one of the most expensive cities in the world. I am leading a pilot initiative that responds to this crisis by helping faith based organizations develop affordable housing and new community space on their land. A partnership with the City, the New York Land Opportunity Program (NYLOP) helps faith based organizations evaluate their land, determine development feasibility, and partner with an experienced developer partner to make their visions a reality. To date, the program has reached hundreds of individuals through informational workshops, and earlier this month, the first four churches in this pilot initiative issued Request for Proposals (RFPs) to identify developer partners. The program has been widely covered in media including the Wall Street Journal, dozens of local publications, and most recently, Affordable Housing Finance Magazine. In addition to my role with NYLOP, I am responsible for writing grants and reports, engaging LISC NYC’s philanthropic partners throughout the year and cultivating new relationships. It’s never a dull day!

How did you become interested in this work?  

By living and working in cities, it is impossible to ignore that even as development and investment is pouring back into cities, serious inequalities persist—not just in housing, but also in terms of life expectancy, income, education, and job opportunities. In NYC for example, there has never been so much housing, yet homelessness is at an all-time high, with over 60,000 reported homeless in the last count.

How has Fels helped you in your career?

What makes Fels really special is that as a small program it is very personal, and alumni and professors really go out of their way to support students. Everyone that I reached out to, even if it was a cold call, was so generous with their time and often it was through these relationships that I learned about job opportunities, including the one where I am working today. Beyond the job hunt, many of these contacts continue to be important people that I know I can turn to for guidance and sharing ideas.

What was your favorite Fels course and why?

In my first semester, the Politics of Housing and Urban Development sparked my passion for affordable housing, and I continue to consider Professor John Kromer as a mentor in the field. One of the most practical courses was Public Speaking with Buck Benedict, which equipped me to comfortably speak in front of crowds and interview with the media.

What advice do you have for current Fels students?

We all come to Fels because we are deeply passionate about something that is impacting our communities. The job you get out of school doesn’t have to be the only avenue for influencing the change you want to see. By the time you graduate you will have a master’s degree (something less than 8% of the U.S. population has) and practical skills that can be applied to so many other movements and causes—whether global, or right in your own neighborhood.

Fels Institute of Government

The Fels Institute of Government
3814 Walnut St. 
Philadelphia, PA 19104

(215) 898-7326
felsinstitute@sas.upenn.edu

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