By Tracey Walker | Photo by Jim Baron
Many people claim that they’ve had a life-long commitment to public service, but for Emily Lundgard, state and local policy director for Enterprise Community Partners Ohio, it’s true.
As early as age 9, Lundgard recognized that she wanted to devote her life to public servitude.
“I had always been interested in politics and public service, even from an early age in grade school. I had a passion for understanding the world around me and using my voice,” Lundgard says. “I also quickly developed into a feminist. When I was in the fourth grade, my mom ran a marathon, after having four kids, no less, and I made a support poster that read, ‘I am woman, hear me roar.’ My mindset, even at 9 years old, reflected feminism. I channeled my energies into advocacy and campaign work ever since.”
Her mother, a strong, fierce woman, taught Lundgard to seize each day. “I have had privilege in this life, but I stand alongside those who have been afforded less opportunity. I am continually inspired by the people we serve. It is truly humbling and an infinite inspiration to remember that we are all capable of so much.”
As state and local policy director, Lundgard advocates for policy and programs that will eliminate housing insecurity and provide opportunity for low-income families in Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, and the state of Ohio.
“I create and execute a policy platform to help low-income families access quality, affordable homes connected to good jobs, healthcare, education, transit, and more in diverse, thriving communities,” Lundgard says.
Core to Enterprise Ohio’s mission is the fundamental commitment to give people living in poverty an opportunity to move up and out. These opportunities are best provided in communities with a diverse mix of affordable and market rate housing options, access to jobs and social supports, and a strong commitment to the environment and civic participation.
According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, in January 2015 564,708 people were homeless on a given night in the United States. Of that number, 206,286 were people in families. In Cuyahoga County alone, more than 66,000 renter families are housing insecure, including more than 23,400 working single-parent households that, on average, have only $33.46 per month left for all other living costs once they pay rent and utilities.
Lundgard works to bring about effective change on the local, city, and state levels for low-income families (and individuals, many who are veterans) who are trying to balance the challenges of paying their bills and are fending off homelessness. She works in partnership with many other organizations, addressing housing insecurity, unemployment, and access to healthcare for those challenged with physical and sometimes mental illness looking for affordable housing and the opportunity to be a productive contributor in Northeast Ohio.
Lundgard grew up in Dayton and attended Ohio University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree, majoring in political science and history, and went on to earn a master’s degree in public administration. “In college, I began exploring a way to get a start in politics,” she says. “I didn’t have any connections or a fancy family name, but I worked hard. Through a professor, I was recommended for my first political internship in the Governor’s Office of Appalachia in Columbus. Before graduate school, I connected with Governor Strickland’s State of Ohio office in Washington D.C.”
After graduation, Lundgard moved to Columbus and was accepted into the Legislative Service Commission Fellowship Program in Columbus. (Governor John Kasich went through the same fellowship program and is an alumnus.) She was assigned to the Ohio Senate and worked for Dale Miller, who now serves on the Cuyahoga County Council.
Lundgard views Miller as a mentor. “He is great person and was a supportive boss, the kind of individual who allowed you to pursue your passion,” she says. “It was there that I dove into economic and community development. I continued that passion into the Ohio Department of Development [now known as the Ohio Development Services Agency], where I served as legislative liaison, essentially an advocate on behalf of the Governor.”
With an ambition to work in local government and a burning desire to feel more connected to her community, Lundgard’s career path led her to Cuyahoga County. In 2011, with Cuyahoga County reorganizing and becoming more streamlined, this opened a door for her in the emerging field of regional collaboration.
“We worked with mayors and city councils in all 59 municipalities to explore shared services and government efficiencies,” Lundgard says.
It was almost by accident that she fell into the Cuyahoga County Director of Communications position, a pivotal point for Lundgard that really changed her career trajectory. “That role was a departure from my advocacy and policy but ended up being a turning point in my career,” she says. “When I said yes to the position, it was initially intimidating, but it enabled me to grow both personally and professionally. I had not done much media relations and I was intimidated by the role. I’m not sure if I buy into the ‘lean in’ concept, but if I had to be assigned one, this would be it. I trusted in my bosses, in my team, and I jumped. As a result, I grew as a woman and a professional.”
After two hard years of work, the Enterprise Community Partners Ohio opportunity came along with its new state and local policy role. “The role was the perfect fit for my background in advocacy and for my passion for community development,” she says. “Not to mention, I was ready to try my hand at something outside of public service. Enterprise Community Partners Ohio checked all those boxes.”
Lundgard’s passion lies in the idea that public service can really change one person’s or one family’s life. For example, Enterprise Ohio’s work with the Housing First Initiative gives chronically homeless people a safe home.
“To use my voice to potentially help these people is an honor,” she says. “There are bigger companies, corporations or industries with lobbyists who may be better financed or more intimidating, but I am proud to give my voice, in chorus with so many other voices, to those most vulnerable among us.”
Lundgard doesn’t feel like she’s broken any glass ceilings, although “I can say that it has been a privilege to work with incredibly brilliant, feminist women and men who create an equitable workplace for women to lead and make meaningful contributions,” she says.
“A career in public service is not without its challenges for women,” she adds. “I’ve experienced questions of my worth, my experiences, and my ability to lead, but, for me, I have always been able to refocus on the work. At the end of the day, my personal ethos is to outwork the situation. I may not be the most experienced person in the room or the most well-known, but as a certainty, I will work harder than anyone else in the room.”
Lundgard believes that Enterprise Ohio’s success is largely due to its partners. “We have two programs — out of many — that have been longstanding and partner-driven and very successful,” she says.
Enterprise Ohio provides free income tax preparation and access to financial education and asset-building programs by leading the Cuyahoga Earned Income Tax Credit Coalition. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a vital tool for low- and moderate-income families that closes the gap between low-wage earnings and what a family needs to cover basic costs, such as rent and utilities.
Annually the Cuyahoga EITC Coalition provides oversight for 25 free tax-preparation sites in low-income neighborhoods, trains 350 volunteers, and helps more than 15,000 families. Since 2005 more than $142 million in refunds has been returned to the local economy by preparing more than 102,000 federal tax returns. Its Housing First Initiative creates permanent, supportive housing to end homelessness among the chronically homeless in the United States.
“Together with our partners, Cleveland Housing Network, EDEN, FrontLine Service, and more, we provide quality housing connected to supportive services. Since the first building opened in 2006, Housing First has created over 800 homes and decreased chronic homelessness in Cuyahoga County by 77 percent,” she says.
With the leadership of Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish, there is much momentum for a countywide housing plan, according to Lundgard. “It’s the first time convening stakeholders for a countywide housing plan to comprehensively address housing issues in our community, including housing insecurity, foreclosures, access to capital, and housing for special populations, such as seniors, veterans, disabled people, etc. Not all housing needs are the same, and there will be a plan to address this in our county,” she says.
Another initiative that Lundgard is especially passionate about is “Home Matters to Ohio,” a statewide campaign formed to expand the Ohio Housing Trust Fund, the state’s most significant resource when home is out of reach.
“With partners that span healthcare, finance, education, and workforce, this dynamic campaign shows housing’s breadth of impact,” she says. “These partners may not have been thinking about housing before, and now they are because home matters. Home matters for educational achievement. Home matters for better health outcomes. Home matters for a stable workforce.”
Lundgard believes that it is too soon to tell how the new administration will affect housing insecurity. “But what we do know is that there is an urgent and growing crisis of housing insecurity,” she says. “In our county alone, over 96,000 low-income households are housing insecurity. There is an opportunity for our next president to tackle housing insecurity in a way that has never been done before.”
For more info: enterprisecommunity.org