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.
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.
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
Sabrina provides legal services and legislative advocacy for girls of color to ensure access to education that is free of discriminatory discipline, harassment, and violence from school-based police.
Sabrina’s Fellowship project seeks to address how school resource officers (“SROs”) contribute to the overrepresentation of Black girls in every aspect of school discipline and exacerbate the school-to-prison pipeline. As victims of “adultification” bias, Black girls are often viewed as less innocent than their peers. This bias creates a barrier to connecting girls of color with the supports they need to thrive in school, such as mental health resources or even legal representation after facing discrimination. When paired with school policies that allow discipline to turn on subjective impressions of student behavior, this bias leads SROs to harshly discipline, sexually harass, and exclude girls of color—ultimately pushing them out of schools and into the criminal legal system.
As a first-generation Haitian-American, Sabrina grew up relying on spaces and mentors in schools to help her explore her identity as a woman of color. Today, she is dedicated to educational equity work as a means of keeping schools safe for girls of color as they similarly come into their own.
Fellowship Highlights to Date
So far during the Fellowship, Sabrina has:
- Reviewed, edited, and collaborated with Congressional offices on 8 federal school climate and discipline bills, set to be introduced in the 117th Congress.
- Authored a 21-page public comment on behalf of the National Women’s Law Center in response to the U.S. Department of Education’s request for information on the “nondiscriminatory administration of school discipline.”
- Convened 15 partner organizations focused on racial justice, gender justice, and disability rights and justice to strategize on advocating for the use of an intersectional approach when analyzing civil rights claims under Title VI, Title IX, and Section 504.
- Developed strategy in partnership with other civil rights organizations to bring intersectional discipline discrimination claims on behalf of students to the U.S. Department of Education (ED), Office for Civil Rights.
In the next year, Sabrina plans to:
- Host a series of back-to-school webinars, focused on school advocacy at the local level, school policing myths, adultification bias, and intersectionality.
- Identify and represent girls in Title VI and Title IX intersectional administrative claims brought to the ED Office for Civil Rights on the basis of discrimination in school policing and exclusionary discipline.
- Draft a model school discipline and climate bill for the 2022 state legislative sessions and support target states in introducing their adopted versions of the model bill.
At a very young age, I witnessed my parents make significant sacrifices for me to obtain a quality education. Since then, I have viewed education as a powerful doorway to opportunity, the access to which should not depend on someone’s race, gender, income, or zip code.
Sabrina Bernadel /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow