Photo of MacKenzie Speer

MacKenzie Speer

  • Hosted by Legal Aid Chicago
  • Sponsored by American Tire Distributors
  • Service location Chicago, Illinois
  • Law school Northeastern University School of Law
  • Issue area Domestic Violence
  • Fellowship class year 2020
  • Program Design-Your-Own Fellowship

The Project

MacKenzie reduced evictions, subsidy terminations, homelessness, and family separations for youth and families impacted by interpersonal and community violence in Chicago through holistic legal advocacy and extended representation.

Legal Aid Chicago’s housing clients, particularly Black youth and families, disproportionately need more support to address trauma and interpersonal violence, but are more likely to be met with discrimination and punishment, including through subsidized housing policies. MacKenzie represented families who sought support because of a safety concern or who had a loved one discriminatorily alleged to create a safety concern. By centering survivor goals and addressing unfounded criminal allegations against young people in subsidized housing, this project reduced evictions, subsidy terminations, homelessness, and family separations, particularly for Black youth and their families.

MacKenzie is indebted to Chicago’s organizers, particularly youth of color, for educating her on the difference between accountability and punishment before she attended law school, and for continuing to fight for and model a better Chicago.

Fellowship Highlights

During the two-year Fellowship, Mackenzie:

  • Provided direct representation to more than 60 families impacted by community or intimate partner violence and/or discriminatorily alleged to be a safety concern
  • Interviewed, advised, and provided referrals for over 150 tenants dealing with a variety of landlord- tenant matters, including conditions issues, moving within a subsidy program, utility lock-outs, and COVID-19-related protections and rental assistance programs
  • Enforced the rights of survivors to move for safety, end a lease in an emergency, or remove a family member from a lease when necessary to interrupt abusive behavior
  • Enforced the protections of the Fair Housing Act and state and local fair housing protections for Black parents and youth impacted by trauma or mental health diagnoses and related contact with the criminal-legal or child welfare systems
  • Conducted over a dozen presentations on evictions, subsidy terminations, and fair housing issues for social service agencies, community-based organizations, tenants, Housing Choice Voucher participants, and public defenders, with a focus on the intersection of the criminal-legal system and evictions
  • Collaborated with community-based organizations and partner agencies on know-your-rights materials and fair housing enforcement strategies
  • Investigated systemic racial discrimination issues in the Chicago rental housing market, including partnering with her sponsor American Tire Distributors, on mapping the disparate impact of eviction records screening policies on Black women and families in Cook County

Next Steps

MacKenzie is joining Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law as Fair Housing Program Counsel, where she will continue to challenge race-based discrimination in the housing market and partner with and support community-based organization leading efforts for safe, healthy, and affordable housing for all.

While only creative, system-change work will transform Chicago into an equitable city, movement-aligned legal advocacy provides a key tool to reduce the current impacts of violence and discrimination—and empower young people to join these efforts.

MacKenzie Speer /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

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