Discover Internships: Roosevelt Network

Are you interested in the concrete ways individuals can make change in their communities? Read Laura Widman’s internship narrative! In it, Laura recounts the work they did with the Roosevelt Network regarding housing issues in Iowa City, how this work changed with the arrival of COVID-19, and the useful skills they gained while working on this project.

This spring and summer I had an internship with the Roosevelt Network, a public policy thinktank I have worked with here at Iowa for a number of years now. I have been working on a larger policy project under the staff at Roosevelt on housing issues in Iowa City, but my project has changed quite a bit over the past few months due to changes in the state of the world. While I was originally working on a project related to the length of time before people move into apartment that they sign leases, I transitioned into working on evictions and move-in/move-out issues related to COVID-19 and the connected economic crisis.

In 2019, while working with the Iowa City Tenants Union (ICTU), it came to my attention that the length of time before moving that people sign leases in Iowa City – usually 4-8 months – is unusual, and caused a number of problems in the city related to finding apartments outside of peak search time, made it harder to move in and out of the city, and also made it harder for people to fully evaluate apartments before being asked to move or re-sign a lease. While working with my policy partner, Emily, and talking to members of the ICTU, we came to the conclusion that the best fix for this would be to implement a policy that leases to new tenants could not be signed until at least half of the previous lease time had passed. So, if a tenant signed a 1 year lease, for the first six months after they move in, they are the only ones who could sign a lease for the next year.

While we were making progress with this issue, and coming to a compromise on implementation and feasibility, our focus changed after the COVID-19 pandemic began. This is still an important issue to be tackled in Iowa City, but is one we will return to. One of the biggest things that I learned from this internship is the importance of how to prioritize work. This issue is one Emily and I had worked on for a while, and is important and we felt close to success, but there were larger issues at hand. Learning how to put aside my desire to finish a project, the ego associated with accomplishing something, and getting recognition for it, was very important and continues to be important when doing policy work and community work. When working with others, and working to benefit others, it is necessary to put the most urgent issues, and ones with the most impact first. This internship was a great learning experience on how to switch gears on a project when something big happens.

Due to the economic crisis with COVID-19, the threat of evictions and an unsafe move-out/move-in season was looming. Instead of continuing to work on an issue that, suddenly, felt much less important in relation to other issues in housing, Emily and I began transitioning our research and project to benefit the more urgent needs of renters. For most of the summer, we worked on clarifying and explaining information related to the eviction moratorium, preparing tenants and the ICTU for its end, and what was likely to happen in the courts and to tenants served eviction notices. This was hectic, as multiple moratoriums were in effect, and there was almost no precedent for this and what would happen to tenants when it was up, but we worked with our lawyer and tenants to help prepare them as well as we could. Although unfortunate, this gave me a lot of experience in researching a new issue, understanding legal precedent and outcomes, as well as teaching experience in reiterating this complicated information to others.

This is the flyer for our town hall event, discussing renting and move-out/move-in procedures and best practices.

In addition to this, we also hosted a town hall with the ICTU on move-out/move-in issues. In Iowa City, and most cities, tenants rarely get their security deposits back whether they are being legally withheld or not. In this town hall, we worked with the ICTU lawyer to explain best practices to get your deposit back, how to gather evidence to support your case if tenants need to go to small claims, and the Iowa landlord/tenant law on security deposits. We also discussed the best ways to stay safe, distanced, and hygienic while moving during a pandemic.

This internship taught me a lot about quick thinking, prioritization of problems and goals, how to digitally organize and work, and more. This has helped me a lot in preparing for class, work, and research online for the foreseeable future. I also feel more connected to my community, despite not being able to connect with people in person, since I can contribute while socially distancing. Overall, I feel more prepared to deal with issues thrown my way, more comfortable with research and communicating with others doing policy work and research, and able to evaluate issues based on their urgency and necessity.

Author Bio:

Laura is a fourth year Linguistic and Ethics and Public Policy major from Altoona, IA. At the university, they are the Co-President of the Roosevelt Network, and work as an Honors Peer Mentor and Writing Center Tutor. They are passionate about policy, language, education and how they intersect. They are pursuing an MA in Linguistics with a TESL focus after their Bachelor’s is finished. In their free time they embroider, hike, and spend time with their cat.

Edited by: Anna Magaña, Honors Student Admin

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