Denise Thomas-Brown

The Project

Denise (she/her) will coordinate education and advocacy efforts of tenant groups throughout the state, especially in policy advocacy.

There are pockets of tenant groups throughout the state using various materials for education and advocacy.  These groups are doing policy advocacy, but not necessarily collectively, which minimizes their impact.

The inspiration for doing this work arises out of the Denise’s desire to be a part of systemic change and not short-term solutions.

Fellowship Plans

Denise will identify and support grass roots tenant organizations and groups throughout the state to help coordinate and guide them on policy advocacy. She will accomplish this by providing education and training both in person and virtually.

She will provide pathways for tenants to lead policy initiatives and determine priorities through advocacy training and meetings in conjunction with tenant organizations.

Through education and training, she will empower public housing residents to support their inclusion in decision making processes.

Media

Meet the Fellows in Our 2022 Housing Justice Program

The Project

Jamesa’s Fellowship aims to connect tenants with the legal assistance and knowledge they need to address the systemic problems plaguing local housing markets, provide support to tenants and tenant-led advocacy groups in low-income public and subsidized housing, conduct direct outreach, public information, and education sessions, and build and sustain partnerships with local community organizations to provide further support outside of legal assistance.

With six of the top 15 cities with the largest number of tracked evictions in the United States located in the Legal Aid Society of Eastern Virginia’s service area, tenants within these communities struggle with obtaining and maintaining safe, affordable housing.

The current policy of public housing authorities in these areas is to reduce the availability of subsidized housing in favor of Housing Choice Vouchers, which has resulted in the increase of competition for housing at the bottom tier of the market.

Jamesa has compassion and deep ties to this community because she grew up around older populations and other low-income communities that were plagued by housing disparities. As a first-generation law school graduate and attorney, Jamesa has been dedicated to righting wrongs and seeking equity for underdeveloped communities to fill gaps that have left certain communities vulnerable to generational and relative poverty. Jamesa is excited to advocate for this community to help cease continued housing and discrimination struggles in efforts to increase their quality of life.

Fellowship Plans

Jamesa will identify a subsidized or otherwise low-income community with housing quality issues and management issues within the East End of Newport News and the adjoining portion of Hampton, identify and connect with potential community allies, and provide direct and targeted legal services to the community and the advocacy group regarding housing conditions, eviction prevention, and other issues that may arise or be discovered.

Media

Meet the Fellows in Our 2022 Housing Justice Program

The Project

Charlie’s Fellowship will provide community outreach and legal services to promote housing justice in Northern Virginia. This project will partner with the community in know-your-rights trainings, outreach events, and direct legal services to make legal information and resources more accessible. Through equitable partnerships with community members, Charlie will strive to create a reality in Northern Virginia where housing is affordable, accessible, safe, and enjoyable for all tenants.

Housing inequities persist across the country, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these inequities. Tenants, particularly those who are low-income, people of color, and/or immigrants, often face a combination of high rents, low wages, and housing discrimination, which can trap people in a cycle of poverty and marginalization. It is also common for people to have difficulty accessing or enjoying affordable housing due to discrimination based on race, national origin, immigration status, ability, and other factors. These issues often compound when they encounter the court system, where legal representation is uncommon, legal information is inaccessible, and discrimination is rampant.

Charlie believes that reliable access to enjoyable and affordable housing is a foundational human right. Collaborative community work towards accessible housing is vitally important, especially in Northern Virginia, where the cost of living is soaring and numerous housing inequities persist. Charlie looks forward to developing more community partnerships to increase the impact of this Fellowship.

Fellowship Plans

Charlie will address house inequities in Northern Virginia through outreach and legal services. This outreach will focus on know-your-rights presentations, educational sessions about housing law, and collaborative activities focused on partnering with community members so they feel comfortable navigating and utilizing housing law. These community-based outreach projects will focus on creating protections against evictions for unpaid rent and provide guidance for resolving conditions-based issues, accessing mortgage relief, making fair housing complaints, and other housing topics. Part of this Fellowship will also focus on courthouse outreach to provide legal intakes and general legal information before court hearings. Charlie will also provide litigation and legal administrative support on housing cases.

Media

Meet the Fellows in Our 2022 Housing Justice Program

Access to enjoyable and affordable housing should be the floor, not the ceiling."

Charlie Zenker /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Housing Justice Program

The Project

Marianela will engage in community outreach, relationship building, leadership development, and community organizing to build power and advance changes in local housing policies that preserve and expand deeply affordable housing for households at the lowest income levels (40% of the area median income (AMI) and below).

The Route one Corridor in south Fairfax County is home to a diverse community of low-income families of color. Residents have long struggled to pay the continually increasing rent prices. With the Embark Richmond Highway project’s road widening and redevelopment, coupled with the ongoing economic crisis, families are facing the imminent threat of being priced out and displaced en masse. Fairfax County lacks adequate policies to preserve and expand deeply affordable housing for those most at risk of being displaced.

Fellowship Plans

Through outreach, leadership development, community meetings, and community-led meetings with county officials, Marianela will expand the base of Tenants and Workers United. This Fellowship will focus on building relationships, conducting public education campaigns, helping people strengthen their leadership and self-advocacy skills, and organizing impacted communities to push county leaders to preserve and expand deeply affordable housing for those at the lowest income levels.

Media

Meet the Fellows in Our 2022 Housing Justice Program

“I have felt the pain and seen the limitations that our communities suffer from due to the lack of affordable housing. People should not have to sacrifice health care or food in order to pay rent or mortgage. It is essential that we unite to fight together for dignified housing for all.”

Marianela Funes /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Housing Justice Program

The Project

Jesse (he/him/his) will improve housing conditions and support immigrant empowerment through a community lawyering model, including outreach, education, leadership development, and litigation.

Columbus is one of the fastest-growing metro areas in the U.S., but people in poverty face a housing crisis. Among those most vulnerable are members of immigrant communities. Columbus has the largest Bhutanese-Nepali community and the second-largest Somali community of any city in the country. Just as the city is growing, so too are the number of immigrants and refugees.

Due to a shortage of affordable housing, many immigrants and refugees live in unsafe properties. Landlords fail to maintain safe and habitable conditions, subjecting tenants to massive water leaks, mold, pest infestations, failure to make regular repairs, and sometimes illegal rent hikes and unlawful evictions.

Jesse’s work with the Central Ohio Housing Action Network, a grassroots community law project he co-founded in May 2020, motivates his commitment to community partnerships for transformative change.

Fellowship Plans

During his Fellowship, Jesse will educate and empower immigrant populations to better understand and protect their rights by holding office hours in immigrant neighborhoods and hosting community meetings on tenants’ rights and housing issues in partnership with immigrant leaders. He will represent tenants in rent escrow and nuisance abatement actions to improve housing conditions and hold landlords accountable. Finally, he will protect housing stability by representing tenants in eviction defense.

Achieving safe and affordable housing for all takes more than litigation wins– my work with organizers has taught me it takes relationships of trust with those most affected.

Jesse Vogel /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Kate (she/her/hers) will provide legal representation, policy advocacy, and holistic post-eviction services to low-income Western North Carolinians experiencing housing insecurity.

The United States faces an eviction crisis that disproportionately harms low-income renters and historically marginalized communities. Western North Carolina lacks substantive eviction diversion programs, subjecting tenants to the long-term societal, health, and economic consequences of eviction. Eviction poses a significant threat to residents in the greater Asheville area due to wealth disparities, lengthy subsidized housing waitlists, and a lack of affordable housing. Without eviction protection and affordable housing, low-income and marginalized communities suffer poor health, barriers to employment and education, and lasting harm.

Having experienced housing insecurity as a child and watching her mother experience eviction amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Kate was driven to find creative ways to help individuals at all stages of a housing crisis. She has seen firsthand the mental and physical strain that eviction processes place upon individuals and has vowed through her project to address cycles of instability and poverty that often follow in the wake of housing insecurity.

Fellowship Plans

Through legal representation, policy advocacy, and post-eviction mitigation strategies, the North Carolina Housing Justice Project will tackle eviction at all stages of the process. During her Fellowship term, Kate will employ a three-pronged approach to provide tenants with holistic eviction protection.

First, she will seek to increase housing stability and affordability in the region. Second, she will focus on securing access to justice for tenants through eviction diversion programs, policy advocacy, and direct representation. Finally, she will mitigate post-eviction fallout by creating a community alliance to provide tenants with access to resources such as storage facilities, moving assistance, and temporary housing services.

My project was born from my belief that housing is a human right and that no mother, no child, and no person should be subjected to the trauma of eviction.

Kate Merlin /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Liz’s (she/her/hers) project at Legal Counsel for the Elderly will preserve safe and affordable housing for low-income older adults in D.C. through direct representation, outreach, and systemic advocacy, with a focus on building capacity for self-advocacy and collective action.

The affordable housing crisis in D.C. makes it almost impossible for low-income older adults to age in place. Nearly one-third of all extremely low-income renters in D.C. are older adults, and some spend up to 90% of their monthly household income on rent. In addition to being severely rent-burdened, many older adults, including those in units owned by the D.C. Housing Authority (DCHA), live with hazardous conditions like severe mold that endanger their health and safety. There is an immediate need for direct representation to stabilize individual tenancies. To create sustainable and systemic change, there is also a need for lawyers to engage in outreach, community education, and strategize with organized tenant groups to support self-advocacy and collective action.

Fellowship Plans

Liz will represent tenants in administrative hearings and before the D.C. Superior Court Housing Conditions Court to preserve housing subsidies, enforce rent control, and make sure landlords address dangerous conditions of disrepair. At the same time, she will identify and build relationships with organized groups of older adult tenants, including senior building tenant associations. Through outreach, she will listen to tenants’ needs, develop trainings on tenant rights and entitlements, and conduct intakes in the community. Over time, she will identify patterns of landlord abuse and develop litigation strategies that respond to community-defined needs and complement tenant organizing.

Media

Liz Butterworth Honored With the Gants Access to Justice Award

I believe that housing is a human right, that older adults have a right to age in place, and that collective action is the route to justice. I am committed to supporting the self-advocacy and collective power of older adult tenants.

Liz Butterworth /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Mason works to stop Black land loss and create generational wealth in the Mississippi Delta by resolving heirs’ property, educating communities, and connecting landowners with funding opportunities.

Black families have lost an estimated 15 million acres of agricultural land over the last century. This land is often lost to speculators who use the courts to force the sale of the property using a fractionated form of ownership called heirs’ property. Heirs’ property occurs when land is passed through generations without a proper will. The absence of a will clouds title, limiting what can be done on the property and blocking access to private and government funds. Even when the land is not lost, it is still underdeveloped and experiences substantial economic waste. Based on conservative estimates, at least 60% of Black agricultural land is still owned as heirs’ property, which contributes substantially to the racial wealth gap.

The rich farmland in Arkansas’s Mississippi Delta has been a prime target for Black land loss leaving the area’s Black population to bear the brunt of the region’s high poverty rates. New legislation—the Uniform Partition of Heirs’ Property Act—created a path to clear title and help families build generational wealth using their land. However, this solution requires lawyers and other professionals. The region’s poverty has left it with a severe lawyer shortage, keeping the legal aid out of reach for those who need it most.

Fellowship Plans

Mason’s Fellowship will provide direct legal services to heirs’ property clients in the Mississippi Delta. He will help clear title on land and write wills for underrepresented communities to stop additional heirs’ property from being created. Mason will focus on community education and help families access federal and private funds and monetize their property. Additionally, he will seek funding to establish a permanent heirs’ property program in Arkansas to bring additional lawyers to the Mississippi Delta to help revitalize the area.

Media

Law Student Selected for 2022 Equal Justice Works Fellowship

Growing up poor on a small farm in rural Utah taught me the value of land from a young age. With that lesson in mind, I came to law school to become an effective advocate for racial and economic justice in my wife’s home state of Arkansas.

Mason Gates /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Michelle (she/her/hers) will advocate for the passage of a Tenant Right to Counsel law in South Carolina to prevent eviction and displacement of low-income and African American households.  

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, South Carolina faced a long-term housing crisis, having the highest eviction rate in the U.S., nearly twice that of any other state, according to Princeton University’s Eviction Lab. There were more than 162,000 eviction filings in South Carolina in 2019. North Charleston is the nation’s number one eviction market: 16.5 in 100 renters were evicted in 2016, which equates to 10 evictions per day. Columbia, South Carolina is the eighth-worst in the nation, with 8.22 in 100 renters evicted. 

The state has few tenant rights and filing for eviction only requires five days’ notice and a $50 fee. As a result, South Carolina averaged 400 to 500 evictions a day from 2015 to 2019. 

Michelle’s career in public service motivates the marrying of her unique community development finance experience with the practice of law to represent community voices in championing public policy for racial and economic justice.

Fellowship Plans 

Michelle will work collaboratively to establish the infrastructure to support a statewide housing justice alliance, a tenant rights campaign, and a civil tenant-right to counsel law in South Carolina.  She will engage directly with tenants to address a root cause of poverty in the state by preventing evictions and the repercussions associated with those evictions. Additionally, she will seek to draw from and replicate aspects of the Equal Justice Works Housing Justice Program, which mobilized a cohort of Fellows to serve low-income individuals residing in Richmond, Virginia who experienced housing instability and involuntary displacement, particularly due to eviction.

Media

Michelle Mapp believes in public service

FOCUS: Charleston Law graduate wins prestigious fellowship

Michelle Mapp Selected for 2021 Alston & Bird Racial Justice Fund Equal Justice Works Fellowship

Michelle Mapp Awarded Prestigious 2021 Equal Justice Works Fellowship

As a direct descendant of South Carolina’s Gullah Geechee people, I believe I owe a debt to my ancestors and an obligation to my descendants to leave a more equitable and just South Carolina.

Michelle Mapp /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Madison (she/her/hers) represents low-­income individuals exposed to lead in housing, in collaboration with community partners and private attorneys, strategically targeting portfolio landlords to achieve the highest impact.

Illinois has one of the highest rates of childhood lead poisoning in the country. Lead exposure in housing—the most common type of lead exposure for children—disproportionately burdens communities of color and people living in poverty. Lead exposure in children can cause life­long brain damage that impacts communities for generations. In housing, lead can be abated, and even small reductions in lead exposure can make a difference, preventing future harm.

Madison knew that she wanted to pursue justice for marginalized communities before she knew she wanted to a lawyer. Madison’s work is rooted in the belief that marginalized communities are knowledgeable, capable, and worthy of human rights. She hopes to use her voice and privilege to uplift those without the opportunities she has been given.

Fellowship Plans

Madison will directly represent low-­income families in Chicago who have been exposed to lead due to unsafe housing conditions with community ­informed impactful legal solutions. Madison will target portfolio landlords and landlords with repeat offenses. She will identify these bad actors by collaborating with community organizations in the areas most affected by lead. She will also work with community organizations to identify potential clients and directly represent these organizations. In pursuing these lawsuits, Madison will collaborate with pro bono and private attorneys, seeking holistic outcomes for her clients and creating a toolkit to provide comprehensive, enduring services.

Media

Making Our Communities More Equitable

I know what it is like to look around the room, as a small child and as an adult, and realize that no one is going to defend you, even if you are right. Tenants living in under resourced communities have the knowledge and strength to evaluate their needs, but an avenue for justice is missing.

Madison Wiegand Brown /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow