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How GenUnity Empowered Changemakers in Pursuit of Housing Justice

Many people today recognize that access to safe and affordable housing is a fundamental human need—one that is not being met in their communities. Often, though, the idea of driving equitable change feels daunting: “How can I make a difference when the problem is so complex, so entrenched? Where would I even start?”

At GenUnity, we believe that everyday community residents possess the potential to co-create a better future when provided with the right support. This belief is at the core of our work and has been underscored by our Housing Program members’ own experiences.

These members include Eric Prue, Lashaunda Watson, and Gloribel Rivas, each of whom brought varied lived and professional experiences. Through the program,   they experienced firsthand the transformative power of going on a collective learning journey with a cohort united by a shared desire for change.

Both Eric—who works at Leader Bank based in Arlington, Massachusetts, at the intersection of technology, business strategy, and mortgage lending—and Lashaunda, a financial coach in the nonprofit sector, were part of GenUnity’s second housing cohort in 2021. Gloribel, chief of staff for Massachusetts state representative Adrian Madaro, was part of our inaugural housing cohort in 2020.

These three individuals demonstrate that change is not only possible but also within reach. Their stories also offer key lessons for driving equity in our communities.

Diverse Community

Diversity lies at the heart of GenUnity’s ethos, and all three members recognized it as a key feature that contributed to their positive experiences within the cohort.

Eric, with a background in the mortgage industry that spans 10 years, was stunned by the wealth of knowledge shared by the people in the community. While he brought business expertise in mortgage lending, it was this exposure to a wide range of viewpoints that challenged Eric’s thinking and deepened his understanding of the complex nature of housing inequity. He shares, "I was amazed by how much I learned from the community because it was such a diverse group of individuals who brought a different perspective to each gathering and meeting we had. I saw a ton of value in that."

Lashaunda's journey opened her eyes to the power of collaboration and diverse voices, breaking through the sense of isolation that can accompany long-term pursuits of justice. She reflects, "Having the opportunity to work closely with so many different people from so many walks of life, and so many races and religions was amazing—we all had something unique to bring to the conversation.” 

Meanwhile, Gloribel was inspired to join the program by a longing for human connection during the pandemic and a keen interest in housing issues. The diversity within the program prompted her to reflect on the facets of her own multifaceted identity. Gloribel explains, "I realized that I’m very passionate about being a first-generation immigrant to the States, and I'm very passionate about social justice and ensuring everyone feels welcome, seen, respected, and heard in our communities. Being part of the program really helped me connect with all those elements of myself."

Catalytic Connections

GenUnity programs create spaces for people to recognize and build their own power, and fostering meaningful connections is a crucial aspect of this process.

Lashaunda, once a low-income Black woman, entered the cohort with the preconceived notion that housing-related issues stem solely from greed. However, the program challenged her assumptions, revealing the complexity and systemic barriers at play. “There are a lot of well-meaning people on both sides. And I think there are systemic barriers to why the issues don’t get addressed on the level that they need to be,” Lashaunda reflects.

Engaging with individuals involved in various aspects of housing shifted Lashaunda's perspective. “Hearing from different people that are all involved was such a catalyst to us all," she explains, recognizing the powerful effect of everyday people's stories in pushing for progress.

Gloribel's cohort experience connected her with Bill Berman, a Suffolk University professor who focuses on housing discrimination issues. This led to a collaboration—together with Gloribel’s boss—that birthed legislation to enforce anti-discrimination laws and empower individuals to report housing discrimination. Remarkably, the bill was reported favorably out of committee the first session it was filed—an extraordinary achievement for any bill!

For Eric, the exposure to a diverse range of housing stakeholders unveiled new perspectives, adding layers to his understanding of the industry's challenges. This comprehensive “360-degree perspective” sparked his drive to advocate for change and housing justice within his own sphere of influence.

Leadership Growth

At GenUnity, we are all about holistic growth that covers both the professional and personal aspects, as highlighted by Lashaunda’s experience. The program ‘woke something up in her,’ instilling a newfound sense of confidence that she could effect a tangible change in the housing crisis despite the issue’s complexity.

Stepping out of her comfort zone, she found herself leading a breakout group immediately after the cohort. Reflecting on this she says, “That was very different for me; I call myself a worker bee, and I don’t think of myself as a leader on any level. The fact that they trusted me and gave me a platform to lead was great on a professional and a personal level.”

A Renewed Sense of Agency

Finally, our programs equip participants with the tools and strategies they need to embrace their agency, creating a ripple effect of positive change in their own lives, organizations, and communities.

For Lashaunda, the cohort experience ignited a personal commitment to "be the change." Equipped with knowledge and connections, she developed a genuine belief that she could make a positive difference, helping her take action against the housing crisis. This newfound perspective was underpinned by a palpable feeling of love, which further motivated her to make a difference.

Lashaunda also emphasizes the significance of individual contributions, drawing inspiration from history's notable changes that originated from a single conversation. “So many great changes that we’ve seen in the world have started with a single conversation. And what GenUnity is doing is changing the world one conversation at a time,” she says

Likewise, Eric discovered the significance of his role within the housing industry, understanding that even small actions contribute to the greater goal of housing justice. He enthusiastically affirms, “I can’t make overarching changes for the entire United States, but I can play my part in contributing. That’s what got me excited about it.”

Bringing It All Together

Lashaunda, Gloribel, and Eric embody the very essence of GenUnity's core values and mission. Their stories showcase how everyday individuals, united by a shared purpose, can become change agents within their communities. 

As they forge ahead with unwavering commitment, the pursuit of real solutions for the housing crisis continues. We invite you to join our upcoming housing insecurity cohort, where you can connect with like-minded individuals, cultivate essential skills, and contribute to the pursuit of housing justice.