/ Blog Post
By Natalie Maxwell, 2005 Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by The Florida Bar Foundation. Natalie is currently the director of community engagement and litigation at Florida Legal Services.
In this country, everyone should have the opportunity to create a home for one’s self and one’s family. Where we live determines what schools our children have access to, what jobs are available, whether we have access to grocery stores and fresh food, and even whether we can access federal aid following a disaster. It was this inequality in housing opportunity—which generations of my own family experienced—that led me to work toward increasing housing opportunity and preserving housing rights for low-income individuals and communities of color.
As a child, I did not have the vocabulary to understand the residential segregation that I observed in my hometown of Orlando, Florida, where we were one of few black families in our neighborhood, or my parent’s hometown of St. Louis, where there was nothing but black families in my grandmother’s neighborhood. I did not understand how federal policies like redlining led to residential segregation or how denying home loans to black veterans, such as my grandfather, led to a lack of generational wealth.
I began my legal career as an Equal Justice Works Fellow, during which time I was responsible for creating and carrying out legal strategies to increase accessible and affordable housing for low-income Floridians with disabilities, which included using the Fair Housing Act to obtain housing opportunities for my clients.
Now, I serve as the director of community engagement and litigation at Florida Legal Services, where I focus on using the law to support community-based groups working for social, economic, and racial justice. For the last two years, I’ve had the pleasure of supervising three Equal Justice Works Fellows whose projects seek to serve some of Florida’s most vulnerable populations, including rural communities, immigrants, and disaster survivors. The Fair Housing Act has been a central tool for preserving housing and promoting housing opportunities for these and other vulnerable populations.
Unfortunately, for too many people, where they can create a home has less to do with where they can afford to rent or buy and, instead, is determined by the color of their skin, whether they speak with an accent, or their family composition. However, as the training video explains, the Fair Housing Act is an important tool for combatting housing discrimination for disaster survivors by prohibiting not only individual discrimination and systemic housing discrimination but also by requiring local and state entities to affirmatively further fair housing.
Equal Justice Works recently developed a series of training videos to guide and inform disaster legal aid professionals in assisting communities with the recovery process. Visit DisasterLegalAid.org to access these resources.