Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, March 17, 2014

McCormack focuses on housing policy to aid low-income communities of color

Caroline McCormack


After graduating in 2014 with double master's degrees in public affairs and urban and regional planning, Caroline McCormack became a housing policy associate with the California Housing Partnership Corporation. In March 2016, she was promoted to sustainable housing policy manager. 

Growing up in a working class Milwaukee neighborhood and getting bused to a wealthy suburb for school primed Caroline McCormack for pursuing a career in housing and community development.

"Like many metropolitan areas, Milwaukee and its suburbs are racially and economically segregated," says McCormack, who will graduate in 2014 with a double degree in public affairs, and urban and regional planning. "Where people live too often determines their access to opportunity — the contrast between where I lived in Milwaukee and went to school let me see how housing development shapes educational, employment, health, and safety outcomes."

After completing her bachelor's degree in 2009, McCormack spent time as an AmeriCorps volunteer in Milwaukee, before moving out to Washington D.C. to work as a community organizer with Groundswell. She trained volunteers and conducted community outreach to advance economic opportunity through more sustainable energy consumption.

"My experience in community organizing in D.C. solidified a commitment to improving affordable housing access for low-income communities," McCormack says. "A lot of neighborhoods in D.C. are under intense development pressure, and what used to be multi-ethnic, multi-racial working class communities are now inaccessible to most low-to-moderate income people. Those experiences talking with people and helping them access resources drove me to seek graduate training in planning and public policy."

"I appreciate the analytical rigor of the La Follette School's Master of Public Affairs degree program," says McCormack, a first-generation college student who majored in journalism and African American studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. "The planning degree provides vital community development tools and strategies, and La Follette coursework arms me with the skillset to step back and analyze how those tools are achieving the intended outcomes. For example, a planning tool like inclusionary zoning aims to increase the supply of affordable housing in a given area. The La Follette School's core courses in statistics, economics, and policy analysis prepare me to analyze whether that goal is being met."

McCormack also appreciates the flexibility of the La Follette program that enabled her to explore other programs at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. "I have taken several real estate, land use, and housing-related courses in the business and law schools," she says. "La Follette really allows you to craft a skillset that serves your interests."

While a graduate student, McCormack had a two-year fellowship, and she interned with the city of Madison's housing authority and the Fair Housing Center of Greater Madison. She spent the summer of 2012 exploring planning issues with PolicyLink, an Oakland, California, research and advocacy organization advancing economic and social equity. "I wrote a series of case studies documenting regional planning approaches to addressing disparities in transportation, housing, and job access," she says.

She returned to the Bay Area in summer 2013 to intern with the California Housing Partnership Corporation in San Francisco. She conducted research and supported an energy program for rental residential properties. "I documented energy efficiency incentive programs in California and created a resource to support the multi-family affordable housing sector," McCormack says. "I also contributed to a case study on the coordination of utility incentives for energy efficiency retrofits in multifamily affordable housing."

McCormack has tapped into the La Follette's extensive alumni network as part of her job search. La Follette School career development coordinator Kate Battiato connected her with alumni Rocio Sanchez-Moyano and Dominique Williams, who both have worked on housing policy. "They were super helpful with ideas, with putting me in contact with other people and, because we have similar policy interests, advising me on what classes to take," McCormack says.

As part of her job search, McCormack went back out to San Francisco over winter break to perform informational interviews, a skill she learned from Battiato's career development course. She also picked up a policy analysis project to complete for the California Housing Partnership Corporation. "I am using what I learned in policy analysis class," McCormack says. "The work I am doing is straight out of Professor Weimer's course, from the memo to the policy analysis matrix. I am weighing alternatives and making recommendations as I examine the different energy efficiency efforts in California to determine which programs most effectively serve the multifamily affordable housing sector in reducing water costs.

She also continues to work an administrative assistant for the Madison YWCA women's shelter. "I will always see myself working at the nexus between policy formulation and on-the-ground community development," McCormack says. "Ideally, the two worlds should inform each other, and I want to dedicate my career to ensuring that public policy decisions do not prevent people from accessing opportunities for good education, quality housing and economic advancement.