University of Mary Washington seniors Brianna Gavigan and Brian Auricchio are burning up the phone lines in an effort to shed light on housing practices. As interns with the City of Fredericksburg, they’re calling hundreds of residents to make sure housing opportunities here are fair, regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, gender/sex, familial status or disability.
The effort is instrumental to a report the city must submit to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). As part of the process, Gavigan and Auricchio must survey five percent of the Fredericksburg population, either in-person or over the phone.
They also hope that two upcoming public forums will help them fulfill their requirements.
Fredericksburg is required to submit the report every five years in order to receive federal community development block grants. In the past, the city used outside research consultants to handle the survey and report.
“It is critical that the report be completed and that it includes good input from the public,” said Marne Sherman, community development planner with the City of Fredericksburg.
Sherman said that the city has received zero reported cases of fair housing discrimination since 2007. “It raises the question of whether or not the City is doing such a good job that there is no discrimination or are people just not reporting it,” she said.
Gavigan, a political science major, had heard of fair housing issues before the internship, but has gained new insight through this semester’s project.
“It has been a ‘real life’ experience for us,” she said. “The internship has enhanced our interpersonal skills and has given us an opportunity to help the community.”
Gavigan’s internship mentor, Assistant Professor of Political Science Chad Murphy, is proud of the students’ work to raise awareness of affordable housing issues in Fredericksburg.
“The results of this survey will ultimately affect city policy in a very real way, and they’re learning some of the challenges in taking on such a massive project,” he said.
Krystyn Moon, associate professor of history and Auricchio’s internship mentor, noted that the experience has exposed her student to issues he may not have encountered before.
“You learn about the issues in class,” Auricchio said, “but by actually collecting data, you start understanding the complexity of the housing market.”
The public forums are scheduled for Thursday, March 29 at 7 p.m. at the Bragg Hill Family Life Center and Tuesday, April 10 from 9-11:30 a.m. at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library Headquarters.
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By Brynn Boyer