How to Build a Community

At BU Law, Casey Baines (’17) focused on affordable housing as a way to serve women, children, and families—earning her dream job at MassHousing along the way.

Casey Baines ('17)

What does it mean to build a community that will help the people in it succeed? If a community isn’t thriving, what can be done to change that? Casey Baines (’17) found a way to address these questions and earn her dream job at MassHousing by focusing her courses and practical experiences at Boston University School of Law on affordable housing.

When she was ready to transition to law school after five years as a high school English teacher in Washington, DC and North Carolina, Baines knew she wanted to find a way to continue to serve families and build communities. She spent the summer before law school volunteering as a courtroom advocate for domestic violence victims, and found the experience powerful and instructive. “A big part of how I approached my clinical work [at BU Law] was influenced by that experience,” she says, “especially how I approached clients’ cases and understood what they were going through.”

When she was choosing law schools, the opportunity for experiential learning was among the things she noted about BU Law. “The way people were talking about what they learned in the clinics didn’t feel like they were just adding substance to their resumes,” she says. “They were working on real issues, and that seemed like the best way to learn and participate in the process.”

CTA-clinical-programsBaines spent her first summer of law school working with The Community Builders, a nonprofit specializing in affordable housing, before joining the Housing, Employment, Family & Disability (HEFD) Clinic in her 2L year. Under the supervision of Clinical Associate Professor Connie Browne, she drafted discovery motions and interrogatories for a case that required knowledge of domestic violence and family law as well as real estate and property law. “Working one-on-one with Professor Browne was invaluable,” she says. “She took me through all the different elements of the case and taking care of the client. I learned what it really means to be a lawyer.”

Since her volunteer work had focused on women, children, and families, Baines knew she wanted to focus her experiences in law school on areas that would help those communities. She saw affordable housing as a way to connect her interest in social justice, women’s rights, and issues of race and health disparities. After her summer with The Community Builders and the year of casework with the HEFD Clinic, she accepted a summer position with MassHousing, which provides funding for affordable housing developments in Massachusetts.

“Working with MassHousing was such a wonderful experience,” she says. “The general counsel and other lawyers were all so eager to give me real, substantial work and let me take ownership over my projects.” The summer position extended into the fall—paired with the Affordable Housing Law seminar taught by Adjunct Professor Peter Freeman—and then a spring externship. Baines worked on landlord and tenant issues and helped with research and policy work: “MassHousing has started new initiatives, such as the Workforce Housing fund that supports affordable rental units for families with incomes too high for traditional subsidized housing, but too low for market rents, like firefighters or teachers,” she says.

As she begins her permanent position as a staff attorney with MassHousing, Baines will shadow other attorneys to learn the closing process and secure funding for developers or nonprofit organizations building affordable housing units in Boston. “It’s a lot of transactional work,” she says. “I’ll be drafting loan documents, mortgages and mortgage notes, and closing developments.”

As for long-term career goals, Baines says she already found her dream job with MassHousing, and wants to continue serving these communities. “I find this work extremely satisfying,” she says. “It feels tangible in a real way—to build and rehabilitate physical spaces. To see them change and see people move into spaces where they can live and their lives can change. That’s what affordable housing at its best really represents. The right physical space can set people up for the right education, better health outcomes, and a better understanding of and relationship with different cultures and races.”

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