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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 will reduce evictions, subsidy terminations, homelessness, and family separations for youth and families exposed to interpersonal and community violence in Chicago through holistic legal advocacy and extended representation. 

Over decades, Chicago policymakers, guided by stereotypes about low-income people and people of color, concentrated project-based subsidized buildings in racially-segregated neighborhoods that received fewer City resources. Additionally, the promise of tenant-based assistance has not overcome Chicago’s structural inequities: 30,000 of the City’s 40,000 voucher-holders also live in “low-opportunity” neighborhoods. While housing assistance reduces housing costs, even those Chicago families lucky enough to access this support still have little choice in the safety or resources of the neighborhood where they raise their children; the conditions that perpetuate poverty intersect with and reinforce conditions that foster both community and interpersonal violence. As a result, Legal Aid Chicago’s housing clients, particularly Black youth and families, disproportionately need supports to address trauma and violence but are more likely to be met with discrimination and punishment, including through housing policies.  

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 schooland for continuing to fight for and model a better Chicago 

Fellowship Plans

MacKenzie will provide extended representation to clients where the underlying issue stems from the alleged behavior of a young person in the household. This will include cases where interpersonal conflict or violence arises between family members and cases where property managers and landlords target youth with pretextual, retaliatory, and discriminatory uses of housing policies. MacKenzie will also build community-based partnerships with anti-violence groups that support young people on Chicago’s south and west sides and address discrimination against Black youth. By increasing access to supports for youth and families while also addressing unfounded uses of housing policy to target young people, this project will reduce evictions, subsidy terminations, and family separations, particularly for Black youth and their families.

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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Karen Cunningham

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Meliah Schultzman

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Sponsor: Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP