Jennifer Gilbert grew up with a strong sense of justice and a desire to address the inequities she saw in her life. Throughout her personal and professional life, she has worked to address the unfairness created by housing disinvestment and gentrification. She found a focus with her interests in design and architecture, leading her to make lasting change in the Boston affordable housing sector.
Her professional passion for affordable housing began post-college in Philadelphia where Jennifer worked first at a homeless shelter and then at a legal services office. At that time, Philadelphia communities were struggling with severe disinvestment. Working with people losing their homes inspired Jennifer to work on housing stability and she joined the board of an early CDC. Over the course of her career, she’s seen “the shift from disinvestment to displacement via gentrification,” and works to combat the effects of extremes via affordable housing. Like many people in the field, she came to Boston for MIT’s urban planning program, and she’s been here ever since.
Since Jennifer’s move to Boston, she has been a significant asset to the affordable housing community and Mel King Institute specifically. She helped develop the Mel King Institute’s project manager assessment tool that enables people to reflect on their career progression. This work helped Jennifer see the differences between technical competency and core skills. This tool enabled people to identify gaps in their skill sets such as meeting facilitation and including differing perspectives in addition to knowing the field. The Mel King Institute has stepped up to help professionals fill the gaps in their toolboxes by providing professional education trainings with instructors like Jennifer!
Jennifer recently launched the Housing Navigator, a website that connects renters to affordable housing in Massachusetts. This project is founded in her need to address injustice, such as the lack of transparency around accessible housing for disadvantaged groups. In its first month it had over 10,000 users! She brought her legal services and constituent focused mindset to this project as well as 20 years of experience in affordable housing development. Jennifer aims to address the inequity she saw between the resources going into constructing affordable housing and the deficit of resources helping people get into affordable housing. “There are real challenges to fairness and equity [in affordable housing] because when you put up barriers the folks who can’t get past them are black and brown people and people with disabilities and people with less means.” While Jennifer acknowledges that solving Massachusetts’s affordable housing gap is a huge project, Housing Navigator is her way of contributing to the solution.
Alongside her work founding Housing Navigator, she instructs the Mel King Institute’s class on understanding affordable housing development, “Development Decoded: Real Estate Basics.” She enjoys her time instructing as it uses her years of experience to demystify the technical world of development for others. Additionally, like many others in affordable housing, she changed careers later in her professional life to launch Housing Navigator, and she enjoys connecting with others who made similar changes in her classes. She encourages everyone to keep learning and growing no matter where they are in their career.