Becky Yust is a Professor and Program Director for the Housing Studies Program in the Department of Design, Housing, and Apparel. Since she started at the University in 1977, her research has focused on sustainable and affordable housing.
What do you view as your greatest work accomplishment?
I have been privileged to teach generations of students who attain positions, many in the Twin Cities, in which they are helping people to attain dignity in their lives. Former students work in organizations that build affordable housing, provide resources to achieve stable housing, and help families in crisis to find alternative housing. Connecting my research to my classroom teaching makes the subject tangible for students.
What do you hope to accomplish next?
Work in improving housing does not always include the ability to conduct follow-up analyses based on the residents’ perceptions. We can measure changes in energy consumption, for example, but asking if the resident actually experiences a living environment that is more comfortable and safe takes resources. My current project involves a partnership with the Sustainable Resources Center (SRC) on one of their programs serving low-income elderly residents in Hennepin County. SRC first conducts an energy audit, a healthy housing audit, and a home safety audit and then completes the work required to make the home energy efficient, healthy, and safe for the elderly residents. I will then contact the residents two to four months after completion of the home improvements to conduct interviews. Maintaining the ability of a resident to age in place is economically sustainable, and the work completed on the home is environmentally sustainable. The residents would have no way to have the work completed otherwise—my role is to explore the impact of the work on the well-being of the residents.
How does your research potentially impact the state of Minnesota and beyond?
My research addresses primarily the “equity” concept of sustainability (in contrast to the environment and the economic aspects). That is, who is included in the benefits of achieving a sustainable community? By working with organizations that directly serve low-income households, our work together can be implemented in their ongoing programs and their successes shared with others. For example, I worked with Aeon (a non-profit affordable housing developer) to explore how recent East African immigrant families living in an Aeon apartment community could be engaged in learning about green living practices to support sustainability and apply what was learned to new Aeon developments.
When did you know you were interested in your field of study?
I attended college after the tumultuous 1960s and majored in housing and design at Colorado State University. Shortly after moving to St. Paul, I became involved in our community organization seeking to improve the quality of life for all who live, work, learn, and play here. Early issues in the community included lack of access to schools and recreation facilities, disruptive transportation systems, meager commercial activity, and inadequate and unsafe housing. I have been able to meld both my personal and professional life by being a community activist where I live, and teaching and researching similar issues through my faculty appointment.
What drew you to your field of study/what problem were you hoping to solve?
Originally, I was drawn to working in the field of design of our near environment, but was challenged by learning of the disparities, particularly in housing, among different members of our communities. Both design and disparities need to be addressed as we create environments in which people can live.
What is most rewarding about your job?
This is an amazing institution, located in a vibrant state that cares about housing. The ability to partner with community residents and agencies to focus on problems that affect people in their everyday lives is my reward. The problems are real, because they are identified by the people living here. In return, I experience the satisfaction of knowing that my work can make a difference.
What is one thing about yourself that most people do not know?
I had a summer job at a credit union located in a plant facility under contract with the Atomic Energy Commission (before it was abolished). The plant produced plutonium warheads for atomic bombs.
What is your favorite place on campus?
There can’t possibly be just one; I have many favorite places on campus. I am in awe of the restoration of the reading room on the second floor of Walter Library, the Burton Hall domed ceiling, the Fitterman Gallery in the Weisman Art Museum, and standing on the second floor balcony of the McNeal Hall atrium in the fall and looking west when the sun is shining and the leaves are golden. The East Bank Mall is also a favorite place in the fall and spring when filled with students creating a collage of activity framed by the sidewalks.