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Alumni Spotlight: Ruedigar Matthes

Ruedigar Matthes was born and raised in Salt Lake City, UT. Professionally, he works on policy - particularly housing policy - for the Salt Lake City government and recently helped author the City’s five-year housing plan. Ruedigar is a firm believer that society has the resources and tools to end most major plagues we are facing but that we need to find the right vocabularies to collectively mobilize to put those resources to work for everyone. In his role at Salt Lake City, Ruedigar seeks to create better worlds for each of his communities, from coworkers to the disparate communities within the city and beyond.  Prior to his work with SLC, Ruedigar worked in economic development at Salt Lake County. He earned Bachelor’s degrees in English and Biology and a Master’s degree in Environmental Humanities from the University of Utah. He likes to see his inability to stick with one subject for too long as a strength, as it provides him unique perspectives on the issues that he confronts. Ruedigar lives with his wife, four-year-old twins, and cat. He spends his time, baking, camping, reading, eating good food, fostering relationships with friends, and, less frequently, writing. 

Below are Ruedigar's written responses to questions about his time at EH, what he has been up to since, and advice for current students interested in housing issues in Salt Lake City.  

You were part of the 2014 cohort; what stands out in your coursework or experiences with your EH peers? What was the focus of your research? 

The camaraderie with my peers was one of the defining features of EH during my time there. The program afforded me two years to explore intellectually, academically, emotionally, and spiritually with some of the best people I've known. We challenged each other and ourselves in a way that I don't know that I had been challenged before or since. I still remember trying to get my head above water in Brett Clark's Foundations class, as week after week we were bombarded with readings. His flexibility with how we engaged with and responded to  the materials was liberating. I also remember leading a discussion in Tertulia about Björk's album Biophilia as we sought to move the conversation away from "the canon" of works (texts) written by white men. That was fun. 

I came to EH thinking that I would pursue a food justice path and ended defending a thesis on space/place theory in its relation to the human-built environments of the Mormon Cultural Region, specifically local meetinghouses.  

What have you been up to since graduating from the EH Program? 

Housing 4 All logo

After graduating, I fell into an unexpected line of work. I was working two jobs, one with Bike Utah and another with Salt Lake County Economic Development. I ended up staying with my job at the County for five years, hoping to have an impact on poverty reduction and being able to work on a variety of research projects, as well as overseeing some EPA funding that helped us clean up contaminated properties throughout the County. After five years, I changed jobs, jumping over the work for Salt Lake City Div of Community & Neighborhoods, where I spend most of my time working on housing policy and other related issues.  

Outside of my day job, I am organizing a coalition of organizations and residents fighting for affordable (and sustainable) housing in SLC and beyond. We are called SLC Housing 4 All, and we are currently pushing for social housing in SLC. 

How did your academic work at EH inform your work with SLC Housing 4 All? How does housing equity fit within environmental justice? 

I don't want to necessarily say that EH was a radicalizing force in my life, but it certainly helped certain radical tendencies coalesce in my mind. I also really appreciated the emphasis on praxis. Theory, which I love so so much, is wonderful, but theory alone isn't enough. We need an environmental humanist praxis to accompany theory that we read and develop.  

I think that it was the emphasis on praxis that has informed me most of all. Additionally, I've carried with me the space/place theory that I read ad nauseum into my work, both professionally and in my advocacy roles. The spaces and places that we occupy inform us, and we can change them. Creating places where democracy can thrive and where oppression is more difficult matters.  

Additionally, understanding the role of humans and our built environments in the larger enmeshed world helps as we think through what social housing should look like. Too often in housing advocacy conversations, the focus is only on affordability. But design matters. Access matters. These features include things like biophilic housing that promotes ecosystem diversity and passivhaus design that minimizes resource impact. It also matters that we build community into the housing system. We aren't just trying to put a roof over people's heads, though that is a start, we are trying to build communities across demographic groups. Housing is necessarily in place, and it can and should facilitate emplaced practices, such as sharing meals together (I supposed food justice hasn't left my mind yet ;). 

What advice do you have for current students who are looking to get more involved with local politics surrounding housing issues? 

I'll shamelessly put a plug in for joining SLC Housing 4 All. SLCH4A is intentionally set up to allow individuals and organizations to become involved at different levels, from signing a petition or taking a survey to volunteering their time and talents. If folks are interested, they can even come to our meetings (two Mondays a month at 7 pm). People can find out more at or emailing 

There are also a number of wonderful organizations doing good work. I'm happy to put people in touch if interested. 

I would also say that in Utah, there are no shortages of issues related to housing. It has become one of the defining issues of our time. For people looking to get involved, it is important to remember that you don't have to be a technical expert to have power or influence. Lived experience is incredibly valuable - it is expertise.  

In addition to lived experience, understanding the housing world helps. There are a lot of good policies and practices from around the world, but not all of those are legal here. Rent control, for instance, is not allowed by state code. Advocating for rent control, then, is going to be more difficult here than it may be in other areas. 

But rent control isn't the end, it is just a means. Keeping the end in mind is critical when doing advocacy work of any kind. If one means is shut off (rent control), then we seek another means of getting to the same end (affordable housing for all people). 

Of equal importance is to "know your enemy". Attacking the City government for not implementing rent control is fruitless - they can't legally do it. Attacking the state, on the other hand, is perfect. They have the power to make the change. Understanding where the levers are located and who has the power to pull those levers is vital - it's how the real work can begin. 

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Last Updated: 12/12/23