Public housing is crucial for many residents of Raleigh and Wake County and the local housing agency needs good workers. Saint Augustine’s University needs students to get real-world experience before graduation.
Those mutual needs are at the root of an internship the Housing Authority of the County of Wake established earlier this year with Saint Augustine’s University. The internship is an option for the Plan of Study for students majoring in criminal justice, sociology and political science.
The internship, which began in January, is paid and has a goal of leading to future employment with the housing agency. It is designed to be mutually beneficial to the agency and to the university.
“Not only does it allow professionals in the field to direct and mentor young scholars, but this particular program also gives students knowledge of what it takes to work in public service,” said Zaphon Wilson, Dean of the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences and Professor of Political Science, who helped arrange the internship.
Burnetta J. Smith, Chief Executive Officer of the county’s Housing Authority, agrees that the internship is a win-win proposition. “For us, it provides some charitable labor,” Ms. Smith said.
But it goes beyond that. The internship program helps the agency train potential future workers who not only know about the agency’s work but who also have the right mindset, she said.
“When a lot of people look at housing they think it is easy but it is a very specialized profession,” Ms. Smith said. “It is not anything a person cannot learn, however it is not something you can just walk off the street and do. … This is more than a job. It’s important to have people to care and listen with a concerned ear.”
Saint Augustine’s University landed the program through quick action.
“We called a few universities and we only got one call back,” Ms. Smith explained. “SAU took advantage of the opportunity and we are the beneficiaries. Dr. Wilson returned the call and it went on from there.”
Two SAU students are currently interning with the Housing Authority – Jasmine S. Atkins, a senior criminal justice major; and Brittany P. Jennings, a junior sociology major.
The internship gives the students insight into Housing Authority operations, Smith said. “We serve 343 families in public housing and we serve 523 families in our voucher program,” she said. Including both types of assistance, the agency serves 866 families, she added.
Atkins acknowledged she did not know much about the Housing Authority before she began the internship. “No I did not really know but once I begin going to the neighborhoods and speaking with residents, it became clear,” she said.
Among the work Atkins and Jenkins are doing is going door-to-door giving public housing residents important information. They help the residents understand their rights, such as the fact that they must get 90-day notices from a property owner under the voucher program if the property owner wants them to move out.
“Students played a big role in helping to distribute letters to the victims’ doors to help these people know they have options,” said Rosalind McClelland, the Housing Authority’s executive assistant/resident coordinator.
Not only are they learning about the laws regarding housing; they are also getting to know the residents, Atkins said.
She was surprised how willing public housing residents were to talk with her. “One lady talked with me for like 45 minutes,” Atkins said. “I spoke with one lady and her greatest fear was to get her child off to school only to come home and see a padlock on her door.”
So far, Dr. Wilson said, the internship program has been a success. He said the School of Behavioral and Social Sciences hopes to not only continue the program in the fall of 2017 but to expand it.
“Both Atkins and Jenkins are honor students and are what SAU likes to call signature SAU students who represent the college well,” Dr. Wilson said. “We are so proud of the students and hope to continue a relationship with the program. These students have created a footprint for other interns to come.”