Profile in Public Service: Chloe Cohen (MPP ’20) builds career around housing and public policy

This article is part of the series "Profiles in Public Service," sharing the stories of Batten School community members making a difference in leadership and public policy across the past fifteen years.

Chloe Cohen

As a summer policy fellow in Atlanta’s City Council District 2, Chloe Cohen (Col ’19, MPP ’20) still remembers the dramatic transformation she witnessed in the district’s neighborhoods. Then a graduate student at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public with an interest in housing and economic policy, she says it was her first opportunity to see gentrification in real time—condemned houses sitting right next to multi-million-dollar ones.

“I was really fascinated by that, and obviously troubled by it,” Cohen said. “And then I wanted to know, how can policymakers change that in the future and improve it and create more equitable housing and development?”

Back at UVA after the internship ended, she continued to work with her Atlanta colleagues, including Tony Lucadomo (MPP ’14), then the District 2 Councilman’s Legislative Director, who served as her Applied Policy Project client. For her MPP capstone Cohen researched ways to improve the economic mobility of Atlanta’s lower income residents, including through housing programs.

Those experiences and research opportunities were critical stops in Cohen’s career. Today, she is a senior budget analyst on Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser’s budget team, focusing on housing and economic development agencies.

“Housing is a human right, and I just want to do what I can to promote that for everyone,” she said.

Fair and Equitable

Cohen’s interest in government and justice stretches back to early experiences in her hometown of Virginia Beach. While in high school, she attended her school’s Legal Studies Academy and served as a student representative for the city’s Historic Preservation Commission. As an undergraduate student at UVA, she interned over winter break with a local councilwoman in nearby Norfolk.

“I saw how dynamic that area is, working in local government,” Cohen remembers. “She was doing all kinds of different things — every day meeting with different types of constituents, and it felt like she had a real impact with what she was doing.”

From an early age, Cohen was focused on building a society that is fair and equitable for all, and she believed government needed to play a crucial role in the solutions.

Even as a high school student, Batten’s accelerated master’s degree program intrigued Cohen. As a second-year, she started exploring Batten’s undergraduate program. She enjoyed summary policy courses such as Introduction to Public Policy and Public Policy Challenges of the 21st Century so much that she made the jump to the graduate program during her third-year.

Beyond her course work, Cohen also had a chance to test her skills as a leader in different ways. She was a teaching assistant for the two summary policy courses she enjoyed as an undergraduate student.

“Teaching is hard, so it was a really great experience to get out of my comfort zone,” she said. “It made me work on my presentation skills, and it made me engage with the material in a deeper way than I did as a student.”

She also served as the student representative on the search committee for the Batten School’s current dean, Ian Solomon. “That just really rounded out my experience in another way,” Cohen said. “I got to engage and interact with some really impressive people who were really passionate about public policy and the Batten School.”

Government gatekeeper

Three years after graduation, Cohen’s career is marked by its diverse experiences. She first started working as a project coordinator for affordable housing for the Mortgage Bankers Association, a trade association that represents real estate finance professionals. There, she engaged with developers, lenders, housing counselors, and others on ways to increase Black homeownership.

“I feel very fortunate to have gotten all those different kinds of aspects of the sphere of affordable housing,” she said. “All really great experiences that I’ve learned a lot from and carried into my work currently as well.”

Now, her days with DC government are spent analyzing agency budget requests and making recommendations. Sometimes she visits sites to see how the budget “on paper” translates to projects on the ground. She also collaborates with other colleagues who evaluate their programs’ impact and racial equity, among other issues.

“The budget team is like a gatekeeper between policy formulation and policy implementation,” she said. “On the agency level, policies are formulated, and then funding is requested. And I do my analysis, make recommendations, and the policies get implemented. It’s a really interesting place to be because I get to interact with and learn from professionals on both sides of that. I’ve learned so much.”

Working in local government is exactly where she wants to be. She loves the fast pace and the ability to see the direct impact of her work in the community.

“From the early days when I shadowed the councilwoman  and  saw the impact she was making, I feel the same way working for local government,” Cohen said. “The things I work on, I hear about in the news, which is so cool. … and then every day is something new.” 

Garrett Hall at Sunset

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