Q&A: Alumna focused on affordable housing

Rachel Hardin ’16 BSPH finds inspiration providing safe and accessible housing

Kristen Mitchell
Rachel Hardin works on a build site.

Rachel Hardin said working alongside people who are committed to making their community a better place is her favorite part of working at Habitat for Humanity-MidOhio.

Meet College of Public Health alumna Rachel Hardin ’16 BSPH, who brings a passion for affordable housing to her role as volunteer and community resource manager for Habitat for Humanity-MidOhio.

What drew you to work in housing?

Throughout middle school and high school, I went on an annual trip each summer with my church to serve with Appalachia Service Project (ASP). ASP is a nonprofit based in central Appalachia that relies on volunteers to provide emergency home repair to families with limited incomes. It was at ASP where I first picked up a hammer and learned how to use a circular saw, but, more importantly, it was at ASP where I first saw and started to understand the impacts of poverty. 

Those experiences followed me through college, where I spent two summers on staff for ASP and went on a few alternative break trips with Habitat for Humanity. While I have worked in other areas of public health, including tobacco research at CPH, a quality improvement program at the Ohio Department of Health, the COVID-19 response team at Columbus Public Health and combatting food insecurity at a local food pantry, working in housing has always held a special place in my heart. It’s a great combination of my past experiences and current skills and interests, and there’s something so satisfying about seeing the tangible impact of your work.

Rachel Hardin poses at a dedication event
Rachel Hardin (center left) poses for a photo at a Habitat for Humanity-MidOhio dedication event.

How did your time at the College of Public Health shape your career path?

When I started college, I really wasn’t sure where my career was headed, let alone that jobs like the one I have now even existed. My freshmen year was the first year that CPH started offering an undergraduate program. I read through the curriculum guide and was immediately hooked.

The foundational principles I learned in class still shape my work and worldview today. I was also very lucky to have great mentors like Amy Ferketich and Amy Acton, MD, MPH '96, who believed in me and encouraged me to follow my passions.

What is your favorite part of your work?

Working with volunteers is really inspiring—getting to meet and work alongside people who are committed to making their community a better place! I also enjoy the variety of work that comes along with working in a nonprofit setting. You wear a lot of hats, so every day is different, and there are always opportunities to learn new things. But ultimately my favorite part is getting to see our partner families achieve their dreams of safe, decent and affordable housing!

Is there anything about housing or public health that you wish more people understood?

Housing is a social determinant of health, in ways that go beyond just the physical condition of the house. Where you live impacts your access to schools, jobs, transportation, outdoor recreation, healthy foods, etc. Housing affordability is also a significant issue. Households who pay more than 30% of their income on housing costs are considered cost-burdened and may have to choose between paying for housing and health-related expenses such as medication, healthy foods and health insurance.

What are your goals for the future?

There is a lot of exciting growth happening in central Ohio, but with that comes many challenges to organizations like Habitat for Humanity that are trying to create affordable housing opportunities for residents. I’m excited to continue supporting this important work and hopefully expand the number of families we are able to serve as the need continues to grow. 

What advice do you have for current public health students?

Seek out work that you’re passionate about and keep an open mind about the path you take to get there. Your path may be winding, but you’ll learn a lot of valuable lessons along the way. Also, take every chance you have to get involved! The classmates who I met through the undergrad student organization at the time (Buckeyes for Public Health) and my honors thesis cohort were instrumental to my experience as a student, as well as navigating my first few jobs in the field.