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Public Interest Careers – New Haven’s Housing Department

Each year, dozens of Yale Law School students and graduates apply for highly competitive fellowships in the U.S. and abroad. These experiences offer substantive, on-the-ground training for new attorneys and those seeking to shift practice focus. Fellows work in a range of settings—including nonprofits, government agencies, and international courts—gaining valuable contacts and experience that frequently serve as the foundation for a career in public interest work. Below is one graduate’s public interest story. You can see more stories here. 

Ben Gross ’10
YPIF Fellow
Livable City Initiative, New Haven

Ben Gross ’10 didn’t have to travel far for his fellowship experience, just blocks away at New Haven’s City Hall, working in the Livable City Initiative, a division of the Office of Economic Development that functions as the City's housing department. Ben planned to continue developing software he had worked on as a student at the Law School’s Landlord/Tenant clinic. “I ended up arriving at a transitional moment for the department,” says Gross. “The new director had just set aside money to overhaul the department's operations, hoping to bring new efficiency and transparency to LCI's sprawling portfolio. Arriving when I did let me dig deep into a number of law and policy issues faced by all cities, but especially those faced by a city with an aging housing stock, an ultra-low vacancy rate, and highly diverse set of landlords, investors, and speculators.”

“One of the great things about my fellowship was the breadth of projects I got to work on,” he says. “I helped redesign the City's code enforcement apparatus from the ground up. I worked on software to help identify the city's worst landlords. I testified on the City's behalf before the Connecticut State Senate regarding a number of foreclosure-related bills. I helped redraft the City's residential licensing ordinance. I worked with the Law School to get clinic students to City Hall to help New Haven think about local affirmative litigation.” Gross also recalled one of his favorite accomplishments: bringing back “Friday Flicks,” the long-dormant, family friendly summer movie series held on the New Haven Green.

Gross noted the importance of coming to the City with outside funding from his fellowship. “It really enabled me to insinuate myself into the projects and subject areas that interested me most, rather than being locked into one circumscribed path. My fellowship let me observe firsthand how a city operates from a variety of angles. It also let me develop relationships with all kinds of City personnel—lawyers, policymakers, staff—people who have taught me a great deal about the secret life of cities.”

Gross’s interest in how cities work, fueled by his fellowship, brought him to his current position as a fellow at the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at NYU. “The on-the-ground experience I had in New Haven has already proved invaluable in a number of the projects I'm working on here--from research on affordable housing to the role of technology and transparency in cities to the interplay between land-use policy and urban crime. There is really no substitute for actually being in the mix at City Hall when it comes to understanding urban policy issues.”

For more information about fellowship opportunities, visit www.law.yale.edu/studentlife/ylspublicinterestfellowships.htm.