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Steven Ortega

The Project

Steven’s project will reduce housing insecurity for Section 8 recipients and their families by providing comprehensive representation throughout the subsidy termination process and piloting a subsidy termination appeals program.

Section 8 program subsidies are a crucial lifeline towards housing stability for more than 43,000 tenants and their families in King County yet may be terminated in administrative hearings with limited due process protections for program recipients. The loss of Section 8 assistance in King County’s unaffordable rental market almost certainly guarantees the loss of stable housing for a tenant population that is primarily elderly and disabled, disproportionally made up of people of color, and definitionally low-income. Although Section 8 recipients may appeal the termination of their housing subsidy in state court, no legal service provider in Washington State currently provides representation for such appeals.

Steven was called to begin his legal education after organizing a tenant union in his apartment complex during the COVID-19 pandemic. He has dedicated his time in law school to supporting low-income tenants as a community organizer, Equal Justice America fellow at East Bay Community Law Center, and Student Coordinator of Stanford Law School’s Housing Pro Bono Project

Fellowship Plans

Steven will expand legal services for Section 8 recipients in King County through direct representation and by streamlining intake pathways for potential clients by collaborating with Washington-based tenant organizations to reach Section 8 recipients via frequent in-person ‘know your rights’ trainings. He will utilize public records requests to obtain novel data on the frequency of subsidy termination and the demographic characteristics of terminees that will aid legal advocates in targeting outreach to Section 8 recipients and identify potential racial disparities in subsidy termination. Steven will develop training and practice materials to identify effective representational strategies for subsidy termination matters that will inform the work of legal providers across Washington.

“My Equal Justice Works Fellowship has afforded me the opportunity to develop this client-centered project to expand legal services for a traditionally underserved group of tenants. I am proud to launch my legal career focusing on the issues of housing security and displacement that have shaped my life.”

Steven Ortega /
2024 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Sierra’s project promotes healthy housing for DC families through direct legal services, systemic, data-driven advocacy, and local policy change that ensures quality, long-lasting repairs of poor housing conditions.

Poor housing conditions like mold, pests, inadequate heating and cooling, and lead exposure can have lasting harms on children’s health. Nevertheless, landlords in rapidly developing areas of DC have allowed homes to fall into disrepair and have increasingly used poor housing conditions to drive tenants out of the homes and increase their profits. Low income and Black tenants in DC bear the brunt of these health harms and displacement. By addressing poor housing conditions in rapidly developing areas of DC, this project will address the negative health impacts disproportionately falling on Black families and mitigate the push-out of long-time DC residents from their homes.

Fellowship Plans

Through Children’s Law Center’s Healthy Together medical-legal partnership, Sierra will provide direct legal services for families facing health problems due to poor housing conditions. To ensure a wide-reaching impact, Sierra’s project will also adopt systemic approaches to promote healthy housing by advancing systemic advocacy including healthy housing mapping, remediation projects, and impact litigation support in collaboration with clients, medical partners, and community organizations. Sierra will also engage in legislative advocacy focused on improving enforcement of the DC housing code and ensuring the housing code holds landlords accountable for quality, long-lasting repairs.

As a first-generation college graduate from a low-income background, I’m honored to help make the legal system work for families with low incomes.

Sierra Campbell /
2024 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Dontae’s project at South Carolina Appleseed will focus on coordinating with community partners and impacted individuals to help bring attention to the need to improve eviction laws, access to affordable housing, and housing disparities in South Carolina.

South Carolina has some of the worst outcomes in the country when it comes to housing disputes and landlord-tenant relations, and the state leads the nation in many categories related to eviction filings, eviction rates, and outcomes unfavorable to tenants. Many tenants facing eviction do not have access to legal counsel, and this eviction filing will follow them as a marker in the public index for life regardless of the outcome of their case. This issue effects all tenants, but disproportionately affects those living in low-income housing, immigrant communities, and families with generational poverty.

Dontae was inspired to do this work after working with disadvantaged communities in North Carolina at a local public defender’s office, as well as an immigration law firm. Dontae has seen firsthand how advocacy can impact peoples’ lives on a personal level, and he wants to continue to build a career advocating for people.

Fellowship Plans

Dontae will be working with attorneys in South Carolina to help implement a more effective and expansive housing court. This will include streamlining the intake process to more effectively address client needs before they appear in court, working with pro bono attorneys to help increase access to counsel, and lobbying with South Carolina justices to implement policies that favor tenants & the discretion of their records. Dontae will also be working directly with people in affected communities to increase literacy regarding the eviction process and tenant rights.

Media

How a Criminal Record Can Lead To a Lifetime of Housing Issues in South Carolina

My Equal Justice Works Fellowship has allowed me to serve in a capacity where I can advocate on behalf of people facing housing insecurity and the uphill battle that accompanies it. I do not think that there is more meaningful work I could be doing.

Dontae James /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Janae’s (she/her) Fellowship with Virginia Poverty Law Center will address the housing affordability crisis. Her work will focus on increasing affordable homeownership opportunities for low-income Virginians and traditionally marginalized communities. She will provide pro se tenants facing evictions with the knowledge and resources to represent themselves in court effectively, work with state officials to propose more robust tenant protections, and litigate landlord-tenant claims in court.

Virginia does not have a right to counsel in civil cases. To mitigate the impact of lack of counsel, Janae’s Fellowship will empower pro se tenants by providing legal education and information to fight eviction cases. This work will increase tenants’ engagement in the eviction process and potentially reduce the occurrence of default judgments. Janae will also collaborate with community organizations to identify and provide in-court representation to tenants whose cases illustrate the injustices that occur. Additionally, Janae’s will work to improve housing stability through partnerships to increase affordable housing.

Fellowship Plans

Janae will assist in developing an online self-help portal containing legal information and sample pleadings that pro se tenants can use to fight eviction cases. Furthermore, Janae plans to provide in-court representation to tenants whose cases highlight and challenge systematic practices. Additionally, Janae will collaborate with community partners to increase homeownership opportunities amongst low-income Virginians by devising a down payment assistance program.

“No matter who you are or where you come from, at some point in your life, you will need someone to advocate on your behalf. I consider it a privilege to be that advocate for the tenants of Virginia experiencing evictions and navigating the court system.”

Janae Craddock /
2023 Housing Justice Program Fellow