Building America

BUILDING AMERICA is a new series of programs focused on domestic policy issues that impact the growth and long-term success of our nation.

Building America: Affordable Housing is a semester seminar and group project designed to give students an in-depth understanding of the causes of homelessness, challenges of providing affordable housing and the promise of innovative solutions. You’ll meet people who are working every day to end homelessness: housing advocates, business leaders, policymakers and - importantly - those who have experienced it. Participants in this program will be challenged to think critically to analyze what’s working and what’s not. Together you will build and present a plan to scale effective policies and solutions.

This seminar begins with a deep dive into the nation’s homeless crisis, including its disproportionate impact on youth, veterans, seniors and people of color. Participants will learn how urban and rural communities are responding to large numbers of unhoused residents, especially since the COVID pandemic. You will participate in a simulation with a veteran and housing advocate who experienced homelessness to gain a deeper understanding of every day needs, human rights violations and social justice issues affecting people who do not have stable, safe, adequate housing.

The focus will then turn to affordable housing, beginning with the key question: what’s “affordable?” Experts will explain what it takes to finance and build individual and multi-family units for low-income residents. Advocates will create a roadmap for moving people from emergency shelters to transitional facilities and into permanent housing. Students will learn how mental health, disabilities, family status and other barriers prevent people from taking advantage of available housing. You’ll see how existing policies are implemented, and gaps that allow problems to persist. Participants will learn about approaches such as “Housing First,” and innovative uses of Medicaid waivers and other government funding that aim to close these gaps.

This program includes a spring break experiential learning trip to Washington, DC, which has the nation’s highest rate of homelessness. You will see growing encampments near the White House, U.S. Capitol and other centers of power. Students will tour facilities that offer critical wraparound services, such as meals, healthcare and job training. You will participate in screenings to qualify clients for services. And you will walk through developments that provide permanent low and moderate income housing with a path to homeownership.

Finally, participants in this program will synthesize their learning in a final group project presented to nonprofit leaders in Washington that showcase how a specific policy or set of policies could transform the housing crisis.

This program is open to any Gettysburg College student with an interest in homelessness and affordable housing. Students of all majors and class years are encouraged to apply. The program is led by Professor Christopher Fee, who for 20 years has taught a first-year seminar on the history and literature of homelessness that includes a service-learning component in Adams County, PA and Washington, DC. 


For this program, there will be 5 sessions on campus (Wednesday afternoons), one 3-day visit to Washington, DC over spring break, and one day-trip to DC in early April for a final project presentation. Students must commit to attending all sessions and the DC experiences. 

  • Wednesday, January 24, 4-6pm: Session 1, Homelessness in America
  • Wednesday, February 7, 4-6pm: Session 2, Homelessness and Housing in Our Community
  • Wednesday, February 21, 4-6pm: Session 3, Affordable Housing in Washington, DC
  • During Spring Break: 3 Day Trip to Washington, DC (Dates TBA)
  • Wednesday, March 20, 4-6pm: Session 4, Project Planning
  • Wednesday, March 27, 4-6pm: Session 5, Project Practice
  • Early April: Project Presentation in Washington DC (Date TBA)

Application Center