Dr. Stephen Sills (The Center for Housing and Community Studies) is the 2020 UNC Greensboro nominee for the UNC System’s Holshouser Award.
Sills’ academic research centers around housing, health, and labor – especially pertaining to minorities and immigrants.
As a lead principal investigator, he has been awarded more than 60 external grants and is co- principal investigator on dozens of others.
His work has largely been community-engaged and collaborative, leading to real impact at the individual, neighborhood, institutional, and governmental levels in policy changes and new practices. His numerous Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) and Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) studies across North Carolina range from an analysis of community and family resilience in High Point, to a report on fair housing in Surry, Yadkin, Stokes, and Davie Counties, to a study of the quality of life in Southern Appalachia.
Professor of sociology and director of the UNCG Center for Housing and Community Studies, Sills has served on the UNCG faculty since 2006. His education impact work goes back further.
“I have been an educator since 1991, teaching at all levels from kindergarten to university,” he says. “I have taught in rural North Carolina, inner-city Seattle and Detroit, and abroad in Taiwan. I have taught in a variety of institutions such as vocational high schools, English language institutes, community colleges, and traditional university settings. The common thread throughout these experiences has been my commitment to providing students with a comfortable setting in which they may explore concepts and develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are applicable to solving current social issues.”
An innovative educator, he has created several experiential and high-impact opportunities for students at UNCG. An example was an International Service-Learning Study Abroad Program titled “Global Servants,” which allowed students to conduct applied research in Taiwan and the Philippines. The students studied global labor migration first-hand while conducting ethnographic work with factory workers and returning migrants.
Sills himself was a UNCG undergraduate in the early 1990s, when he earned his BA in Spanish. He later earned his master’s and PhD in sociology from Arizona State University.
He grew up in a family that was engaged in social justice issues. His father was director of a number of non-profit agencies including Greensboro Urban Ministries and FaithAction International House. His mother was a counselor who worked with at-risk youth. “They both instilled in me a need to serve and to work on addressing issues in our community and to apply my research and methods skills toward making an impact. Now though, my motivation really comes from the people in the organizations and communities with whom I partner. I look for answers to the questions my community partners are asking whether it is by gathering and analyzing data, researching best practices and policies, or demonstrating efficacy of a program or intervention. Most of these research questions are related to exploring root cases of inequality and disparate outcomes.”
Real-world impact is key to his work. For example, the topic of evictions has been a focus in recent years.
“In 2016, I began to research the volume and dynamics of evictions in North Carolina. While other jurisdictions across the country had begun to consider ‘right to counsel’ ordinances in eviction cases, tenants in North Carolina seldom even appeared in court and lacked legal representation when they did appear,” he says. “I conducted interviews with individuals who had been evicted one-year prior, finding that landlords used eviction proceedings as a collections tool, to move out long-term tenants and make way for higher rents, and that many tenants were unable to pay full rent due to high utility bills resulting from the poor conditions of properties. I also found that evictions lead to increased financial burdens for both landlords and tenants and often homelessness of displaced occupants.”
With funding from a UNCG P2 grant, the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro, the United Way of Greater Greensboro, and the Ford Foundation, he began to design a series of interventions to address the high rate of evictions in Greensboro and to reduce the displacement of families to prevent homelessness.
His work, as it provides research opportunities for many current students, is helping many people in our society.
Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications