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Celebrating the Successes of the Housing Justice Program in Fighting Housing Discrimination

/ Blog Post

By Laura Roach, senior program manager at Equal Justice Works.

 April is National Fair Housing Month, which marks the anniversary of the landmark passage of the 1968 Fair Housing Act—a national law prohibiting discrimination in the sale, rental and financing of housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, gender, disability, and family status.

The architects of the Fair Housing Act intended to reverse years of systematic disenfranchisement of Black and non-white communities, which former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development George Romney once referred to as a “high-income white noose” around segregated Black communities. Despite the Fair Housing Act being passed over 50 years ago, it is still very common to find poor, segregated neighborhoods that were meant to be dismantled by fair housing practices.

It is still very common to find poor, segregated neighborhoods that were meant to be dismantled by fair housing practices.

The Equal Justice Works Housing Justice Program was designed to create opportunities for lawyers and community organizers to affirmatively pursue fair housing alongside low-income communities impacted by decades of discrimination. First launched in 2019 in Richmond, Virginia, a city where race is a better predicator of eviction rates than income, the Housing Justice Program brought together its first cohort of eight Fellows (six lawyers and two community organizers) in partnership with three legal services organizations to disrupt the cycle of evictions faced by low-income tenants. These Fellows increased access to justice for low-income tenants by collectively assisting more than 4,800 clients through legal advice, brief service, and full-scope representation. Of the tenants served, 73% were female, 73% were Black, and 68% of clients were single; many of the single clients identified themselves as single mothers.

Fellows in the Housing Justice Program worked together to achieve systemic changes and promote fair housing. Through negotiations using fair housing arguments, Fellows prevented the demolition of public housing and displacement of low-income residents in favor of a sports stadium. They also influenced the passage of a new protection against “source of income discrimination” that prevents private landlords in Virginia from arbitrarily refusing to rent to voucher holders. Importantly, the Fellows helped to inform tenants of their rights, equipping residents with the knowledge to be their best advocates.

Fellows helped to inform tenants of their rights, equipping residents with the knowledge to be their best advocates.

Based on the success of the first cohort, private and public donors have invested millions of dollars to support the expansion of the Housing Justice Program. To date, Equal Justice Works has grown the program from 8 Fellows in Richmond to 11 Fellows serving communities across the state of Virginia. Collectively, these Fellows will prevent evictions, advance tenants’ rights, and enforce fair housing laws to prevent involuntary displacement caused by redevelopment projects, which may unintentionally force public housing residents into even more segregated neighborhoods.

Equal Justice Works is also preparing to expand the Housing Justice Program into South Carolina and Maryland. In South Carolina, where the 8.87% eviction rate is more than six points above the national average, Equal Justice Works will mobilize at least six Fellows to provide legal assistance and community organizing support to protect and advance tenants’ rights. In Maryland, 14 Fellows will be placed in counties across Maryland to support the state’s Right to Counsel initiative. Equal Justice Works is accepting applications from legal services organizations in South Carolina until April 29.

The Housing Justice Program is creating a pipeline of passionate public service leaders who are advancing the ideals of fair housing. Visit here to read more stories about the work of our Fellows and how they are advocating for policies and practices that protect the rights of all tenants.

The Housing Justice Program is made possible thanks to the support of The JPB Foundation and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Learn more about becoming an Equal Justice Works Fellow