2025 Design-Your-Own Fellowship Applications are Open

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Ben Clark

The Project

Ben’s (he/they) project with Community Legal Services of Philadelphia (CLS) will expand access to safe, affordable, climate-resilient housing for Philadelphians burdened by energy poverty.

In Philadelphia, the median energy burden—the portion of household income spent on utility bills—is nearly double the national average, due largely to aging and energy-inefficient housing. In some neighborhoods, families spend more than 20 percent of their income on water, gas, and electricity. Climate change exacerbates these disparities: amid record-breaking heat in 2023, Philadelphia’s electric utility shut off power to tens of thousands of households unable to pay electricity bills. While some consumer assistance programs aim to help, structural barriers hinder access, and as a result, less than 20 percent of eligible households receive the help they need to keep the lights on. This is energy poverty, and it compromises the health, security, and dignity of low-income Philadelphians.

Fellowship Plans

Ben will represent families burdened by utility debt to prevent utility shutoffs and to obtain utility debt forgiveness. To address the root causes of energy poverty in Philadelphia, he will also work with coalition partners to drive equitable implementation of new legislation—including Pennsylvania’s Whole-Home Repairs Act and the federal Inflation Reduction Act—that allocates funding for home repairs and energy efficiency upgrades for low-income households. Finally, Ben will partner with local environmental justice groups to organize multilingual community education campaigns that drive enrollment in home repair, weatherization, and electrification programs.

Energy-burdened families deserve to live free of utility debt in safe and healthy homes. I’m honored to join CLS and coalition partners to advance that vision as part of a just and inclusive energy transition in Philadelphia.

Ben Clark /
2024 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Kabbas (he/they) in partnership with EPIC, will address the systemic surveillance and criminalization of public housing residents via coalition building, open government records requests, and state and federal legislative advocacy.

Public housing residents are subjected to constant surveillance and control by law enforcement and housing authorities. Surveillance, in combination with truncated Fourth Amendment rights and draconian HUD policies, penalize and evict residents while driving mass incarceration. Advances in surveillance systems have enabled more precise, targeted discrimination to enforce “broken windows” policing that reinforce the decades-long racialized myth of public housing as a site of crime. These discriminatory surveillance systems operate with no public accountability or scrutiny and use up funding that could address public housing residents’ own demands.

Fellowship Plans

During the fellowship, Kabbas will work with public housing residents to fight against the discriminatory impact of public housing surveillance. Kabbas will file Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to unearth when and how surveillance systems are being used against public housing residents, the rationales used to justify implementation of these systems, and identify how they fall short. Kabbas will partner with public housing residents to center their demands as well as publicize the discriminatory effects of surveillance. In addition, Kabbas will advocate for state and federal legislative policies that will provide greater protections for public housing residents.

Public housing residents are surveilled in the name of safety and security. My Equal Justice Works fellowship has allowed me to partner with public housing residents and center their demands on what truly makes for safe and secure communities.

Kabbas Azhar /
2024 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

The Project

Dan’s project focuses on addressing housing instability in and near Petersburg, Virginia through his representation of low-income individuals as a housing attorney with Central Virginia Legal Aid Society, Inc. Petersburg has one of the highest eviction rates among small cities in the U.S. and the surrounding cities and counties Dan serves face much the same problem. Eviction disproportionately affects those experiencing poverty, meaning they are less likely to be able to obtain an attorney. Many of these individuals also experience other conflicts with their landlords that can be addressed through the assistance of an attorney.Fellowship Plans

To help address these problems, Dan will represent eligible individuals in housing-related litigation, including eviction defense and affirmative litigation to address issues like poor housing conditions, lockouts, and other abuses by landlords. Dan will additionally engage in community outreach to engage others who can assist and legal training to train more attorneys who can then lend their services to those individuals in need.

Dan became inspired to do this work during his time assisting Central Virginia Legal Aid Society as a pro bono attorney. He realized he could use his skills and education to make a difference in the lives of people who may not otherwise have been able to receive legal assistance. Housing is a fundamental need that so many unfortunately fear the loss of or lose, and Dan desires to make a difference for as many of these individuals as he can.

Through my Equal Justice Works Fellowship, I will put my legal skills to work assisting low-income individuals in Petersburg, Virginia and the surrounding areas who are experiencing housing instability or other housing issues.

Dan Shupe /
2023 Fellow in the Housing Justice Program

The Project

Jasmine (she/her/hers) upholds California’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule (AFFH) through local technical legal assistance, enforcement litigation, and advocacy focused on robust AFFH implementation alongside and on behalf of rural low-income communities of color that are owed their right to an affordable, safe, and sustainable neighborhood.

More than half of all Californians are experiencing housing cost burdens. Of California’s regional and state communities, the San Joaquin Valley (SJV)—which is composed of majority Latino/a/x, Black, AAPI, and Indigenous rural, historic, impoverished, and farmworking communities—is disproportionately impacted by these housing cost burdens. This compounds with other issues in the community, such as inadequate housing conditions, unhealthy land use patterns, experiences of community disinvestment and displacement, and environmental burdens—like the lack of access to safe drinking water and chronic exposure to poor air quality—to disproportionately affect these low-income communities of color. Climate change, COVID-19, rapidly escalating housing costs, and eviction moratoria expirations have increased these inequities even further.

To achieve the right to a sustainable, safe, and responsive community and to undo the United States’ legacy of systemic, racist housing discrimination, we must fulfill the need for dedicated work to community lawyering and advocacy alongside rural low-income communities of color across the SJV—which is labeled as an “attorney desert” by the California State Bar.

Jasmine sees herself and her family in the residents of rural California as they fight for safe communities and for their voices to be heard. Jasmine’s commitment to justice stems from her maternal and paternal grandparents’ experiences in rural Jim Crow Alabama, Mexico, Greece, and Nevada as well as her own hardships within racist and hostile institutions. She wants to see all low-income neighborhoods and communities of color thrive in every space and place they go.

Fellowship Plans

Jasmine will collaborate with local cities and counties as they update their statutorily required housing plans regarding jurisdictions’ compliance with the AFFH rule. She will also enforce state and federal violations of AFFH, housing, environmental, land use, and civil rights laws through litigation on behalf of community group clients. Finally, Jasmine will collaborate with state agencies to ensure ongoing robust AFFH implementation, conduct trainings for the public on robust AFFH compliance, and write a policy paper on AFFH community engagement, legal work, and advocacy strategy best practices.

As a woman of color, my personal and familial experiences of racist space and place drive my passion for pursuing the right to restorative communities and the reversal of historic and ongoing racist discrimination for those most impacted in our communities.

Jasmine Robinson /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

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 provided community outreach and legal services to promote housing justice in Northern Virginia. This project partnered 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 strived 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 developed more community partnerships to increase the impact of this Fellowship.

Fellowship Highlights

Charlie addressed house inequities in Northern Virginia through outreach and legal services. This outreach focused on know-your-rights presentations, educational sessions about housing law, and collaborative activities that partnered with community members to increase their comfort navigating and utilizing housing law. These community-based outreach projects created protections against evictions for unpaid rent and provided guidance to resolve conditions-based issues, access mortgage relief, make fair housing complaints, and other housing topics. Part of this Fellowship also focused on courthouse outreach to provide legal intakes and general legal information before court hearings. Charlie provided 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

Equal Justice Works Celebrates the Work of Fellows for MLK Day

Bringing Justice to Communities in Need

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.

Media

‘No Heat and a Roof Are Better Than Nothing.’ What Colonial Village Crisis Says About Columbus

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