Heather Abraham

  • Hosted by Legal Services of Northern Michigan, Inc.
  • Sponsored by Equal Justice Works Text-to-Give
  • Service location Traverse City, Michigan
  • Law school University of Minnesota Law School
  • Issue area Housing/Homelessness
  • Fellowship class year 2016
  • Program Design-Your-Own Fellowship

The Project

Heather offered rural homeless adults and families a fresh start to overcoming poverty in northwest Michigan by founding a “Community Outreach Court” adapted to resolve common contributors to rural homelessness, and represented low-income renters facing eviction and imminent homelessness.


Lack of shelter is the ultimate poverty. In northwest Michigan’s gentrifying job center, Traverse City, unprecedented housing demand is driving renters to remote, dilapidated housing. Displaced renters annually drive thousands of extra miles and pay $16,076 on transportation to work at low-wage service jobs. They spend a crushing 73% of their income on housing and transportation and are uniquely susceptible to accumulating fines and bench warrants correlated with rural poverty. With virtually no vacancy, eviction is tantamount to homelessness. To disrupt this tragic cycle, we must recognize that cumulative fines and warrants are needless barriers to housing and offer alternative, nonmonetary means to eliminate them. Community Outreach Court credits self-restorative actions designed to address the root causes of a person’s poverty or homelessness.

Fellowship Highlights

During her Fellowship, Heather:

  • Advised or represented over 430 clients facing eviction or homelessness
  • Collaboratively designed and launched a Community Outreach Court adapted to address rural homelessness, in partnership with a committed team of judges, attorneys, formerly homeless adults, social service providers, and other stakeholders
  • Recruited more than 40 pro bono attorneys to represent low-income tenants facing eviction and/or expunge old criminal convictions

Next Steps

Professor Abraham is an Associate Professor of Law and Director of the Civil Rights & Transparency Clinic at the University at Buffalo School of Law (SUNY). She continues to practice and supervise student attorneys in civil rights litigation, with a focus on housing discrimination and reducing residential segregation.


Heather Abraham: ‘Moving the needle’ on housing equity

Career Center Launches 'Lawyering for Social Justice' Series; Prof. Heather Abraham '12 Is First Guest

Heather Abraham (’12) Awarded Equal Justice Works Fellowship

Meet The 2017 Traverse City 40 Under 40

A critical part of my Fellowship is being a watchdog. I keep an eye on landlords who break the law when no one is looking.

Heather Abraham /
Equal Justice Works

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