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 reduces 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 supports to address trauma and interpersonal violence but are more likely to be met with discrimination and punishment, including through subsidized housing policies. MacKenzie represents families who seek support because of a safety concern or who have a loved one who is discriminatorily alleged to create a safety concern and refers them to community-based supports. By centering survivor goals and addressing unfounded uses of housing policy to target young people, this project reduces 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 to Date

During the first year of the Fellowship, MacKenzie has:

  • Provided direct representation to more than 40 families impacted by the community or intimate partner violence, and/or discriminatorily alleged to be a safety concern
  • Interviewed, advised, and provided referrals for over 80 tenants dealing with a variety of landlord-tenant matters, including conditions issues, moves within a subsidy program, utility lock-outs, and COVID-19-related protections
  • Enforced the rights of survivors to move for safety, end a lease in an emergency, or remove an abusive family member from a lease
  • Enforced the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act on behalf of Black parents and youth impacted by trauma or mental health diagnoses
  • Conducted seven presentations for community-based organizations and other providers on topics including evictions and fair housing issues
  • Collaborated with eight groups and attended 30 coalition-building meetings to advance her work
  • Investigated systemic racial discrimination issues in Chicago rental housing

Next Steps

In the next year, MacKenzie plans to:

  • Continue to represent youth and families impacted by discrimination and violence and develop best practices for achieving safety for survivors of non-intimate partner violence
  • Continue to investigate and develop strategies to challenge systemic racial discrimination in Chicago rental housing
  • Share lessons learned from working to keep families safe and together in subsidized housing

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

Meet Other Fellows Like MacKenzie

View All

Gillian Chadwick

Host: Women Empowered Against Violence

Sponsor: Arnold & Porter Foundation

Suma Mathai

Host: Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law

Sponsor: The Morrison & Foerster Foundation

Mary Bissell

Mary Bissell

Host: Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia

Photo of Rachel White-Domain

Rachel White-Domain

Host: Illinois Prison Project

Sponsor: Albert & Anne Mansfield Foundation