Student Fellowship

Accelerating Equitable Commercial & Residential Development

Project Area:

Equitable Development


Topeka, Kansas

Reporting to:

Director of Development and Economic Growth

The Challenge

A recent Citywide Housing Market Study has shown that Topeka has a housing shortage. Key findings from the study indicate a need for quality affordable rental housing, moderately priced homes, reinvestment in current housing stock in several core neighborhoods, and the need to address housing vulnerability for people experiencing homelessness and for elderly residents aging-in-place and those with special needs. City leadership believes that it is imperative to address these housing needs to ensure continued economic growth and prosperity across their community. Therefore, ensuring accessible, efficient, and equitable city processes to enable commercial and residential development, and designing with community and developer needs in mind, is a key mayoral and city manager priority. Ultimately, the city aims to grow its population, improve its tax base and quality of life for residents, and create equitable opportunities for all residents.

To ensure a focus on equity and development, they city recently created new leadership roles of a Chief DEI Officer and a Director of Development and Economic Growth. In addition, the city has assembled a cross-departmental team to work on this topic as part of the Bloomberg Harvard Innovation Track, which helps cities learn how to adopt a design-based innovation approach to solve challenging problems in new ways. Cities in the track apply what they learn to a problem facing residents in their city by working collaboratively within city hall and with external city stakeholders to identify and test new ideas. Over the next few months, through their work in the track and beyond, the city will develop a better understanding of pain points in current processes and where and how they might be inequitable. In addition, there is a promising example from within the city from which the team hopes to learn. The Fire Department has improved inspection processes, making them more efficient and attractive for developers. Using work done and lessons learned to date, the summer fellow working together with the Innovation Track Core Team will help answer these key questions: 

  • What are the major roadblocks that developers face when working with the city of Topeka?
  • How can the city make regulatory processes more efficient and attractive? How can the city implement process improvements while still maintaining the important regulatory role of government?
  • How can the city address the lack of affordable housing and help promote development to fill this gap?
  • What are the best practices and innovative processes from successful communities of a similar size and demographic?

What You’ll Do

To address these questions, in addition to supporting the work of the innovation track core team, the fellow will engage with key stakeholders both within and outside City Hall including the Planning Department, the Topeka Housing Authority, NGOs like the Greater Topeka Partnership, Neighborhood Improvement Associations, local and regional developers, and residents to understand needs and challenges. They would also analyze and compare the current workflows, regulations, and processes in planning, development, land use, and permitting departments and, based on promising approaches deployed by other cities, identify gaps and potential ways to address pain points and barriers to equitable permitting. Key deliverables include: 

  1. A plan for city process improvements and how to streamline them and make them more efficient and attractive for developers. 
  2. Support ongoing work of the Innovation track Core Team, which could include:
    a. Implementing an initiative chosen for testing during the track and advancing the delivery plan put together during the final phase of the track programming.
    b. Testing/planning around one of the other initiatives from the portfolio of initiatives developed by the innovation track core team, which could entail deploying design-based innovation methodologies, process improvements, or data projects.
    c. Helping develop a plan to scale innovation within the city and link innovation to other existing portfolios, like a performance management system or a data team.

What You’ll Bring

The fellow will be expected to possess the following skills: 

  • Data analysis
  • Design thinking
  • Human centered design
  • Quantitative interviewing and analysis 
  • Policy analysis
  • Stakeholder engagement and management 
  • Spanish fluency desired but not required

Apply now
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