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UDC Law Symposium Rallies Fair Housing Advocates on the 50th Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act

Friday, April 27, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: UDC Law Review
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Cassandra Simon at lectern
Cassandra Simon
Jonathan Smith at lectern
Jonathan Smith
Melvina Ford at lectern
Melvina Ford
Norrinda Hayat at lectern
Norrinda Hayat

More than 200 people gathered at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law (UDC Law) on Friday to kick off a two-day symposium commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, “FHA@50: Renewing Our Commitment to Housing Equity.” The event, free and open to the public, was organized by the UDC Law Faculty and UDC Law Review and co-sponsored by the Equal Rights Center and Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.

On January 5, 2018, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) delayed the Obama administration’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule until 2020 or later. The AFFH regulations require more than 1,200 cities and counties receiving federal funds to submit fair housing assessments and take active measures to intervene in housing segregation. Just this month, the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress defunded the AFFH mandate in its omnibus spending bill.

The AFFH regulations were finalized on July 16, 2015, only weeks after the momentous U.S. Supreme Court decision in Texas Dept. of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, in which Justice Kennedy authored a 5-4 majority decision holding that the statutory language of the Fair Housing Act permits disparate-impact liability for housing discrimination and does not require proof of intent.

In the face of HUD’s possible rescission of the AFFH final rule, this singular event brought together leading community organizers, federal and D.C. government officials, legal scholars, and litigators at the District’s only public law school for a series of panel sessions and scholarly workshops to reflect on the Fair Housing Act (FHA) fifty years after it was enacted as Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Over the course of two days, those present reflected on the FHA’s origins and progress; the future of the Fair Housing Act and potentials for innovation; the intersections between fair housing and education policy, criminal justice reform, community economic development, and gender justice; the historical, legal, and cultural implications of gentrification for the residents of the District of Columbia; and community organizing efforts to keep housing in D.C. affordable and equitably distributed.

Cassandra Simon, Special Symposium Editor for the UDC Law Review, opened the event on Friday with an overview of the conference and its purpose. “Our mission as the UDC Law Review, where activism meets scholarship, reigns throughout this symposium.” UDC Law Dean Shelley Broderick spoke next, stressing the importance and urgency of tenant defense and public interest lawyering in the face of the District’s housing crisis.

Jonathan Smith, Executive Director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, which co-sponsored the event, then addressed those assembled, saying “This year there are a lot of celebrations on the 50th anniversary of the FHA, but none of them as good as this symposium.” Melvina Ford, the Executive Director of symposium co-sponsor and D.C.-based public interest organization the Equal Rights Center then exhorted the crowd to fulfill the promise of the Fair Housing Act and emphasized the critical role public law schools like UDC Law have to play in that effort, stating "UDC Law is the home of public interest lawyering in the District.” Steven Paikin, Director of the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity in the D.C. Field Office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), stepped up to the podium next, saying "Let us be advocates. Remember that our mission is not over. Fifty years from today let us make sure everyone in America can live where they choose free from discrimination."

“FHA@50” organizer Professor Norrinda Brown Hayat, Director of UDC Law’s Housing & Consumer Law Clinic and former trial attorney in the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, closed out the morning remarks. Professor Hayat gave a powerful introduction to the conference’s central theme, the tension between the reality of housing segregation and discrimination in America and the FHA’s promise, passed just weeks after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, saying "All of you in this room are doing the hard work to make the FHA real."

The first plenary session, "Where Have We Been?: Reflecting on the Fair Housing Act’s Origins and Progress," tackled the threatened legacy of the FHA head on, with a panel moderated by civil rights giant Wade Henderson, UDC Law Professor and Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. Chair of Public Interest Law. Joining Professor Henderson, John Relman, Managing Partner of Relman, Dane & Colfax, PLLC discussed the development of the disparate impact theory of discrimination in fair housing litigation, and the importance of strengthening it still further in light of the threatened AFFH rule and the importance of fair housing as a civil right in relation to other rights, saying “The right to housing is the best place to make a stand. Fair housing is the most important civil rights because of how central it is to every other right that exists: employment, education, voting, environmental quality, and more."

Panel of speakers
"Where Have We Been?" panelists Gregory Squires, John Relman, Sameena Shina Majeed, and Wade Henderson
Panel of speakers
“Where Are We?" panelists Philip Tegeler, Audrey McFarlane, Richard Sander, Yana Kucheva, and Philip Lee

Gregory Squires, Professor of Sociology, Public Policy and Public Administration at George Washington University, agreed with this assessment, and urged the importance of reframing public policy to dismantle America’s architecture racial housing segregation and discrimination by, in part, “decommodifying” housing itself, saying “We need to think of housing not so much as a market commodity but as a right that all of us have as citizens."

Sameena Shina Majeed, Chief of Housing and Civil Enforcement Section for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, who manages the Section's nationwide docket of cases challenging unlawful redlining and pricing discrimination, among other illegal practices, touted the importance of government enforcement efforts in leveling the playing field particularly in the areas of fair lending and housing security.

The second session of the day, “Where Are We?: Assessing the Current State and Potential of the Fair Housing Act,” featured the cutting-edge research of UCLA Law Professor Richard Sander and Yana Kucheva, Assistant Professor of Sociology at The City College of New York. The two scholars detailed their in-depth research on housing segregation in America as contained in their soon-to-be-released book Moving Toward Integration: The Past and Future of Fair Housing, from Harvard University Press.

Philip Lee, UDC Law Associate Professor and noted specialist in academic freedom, diversity and educational access, school law (K-12), higher education history and law, and property law and race, moderated the discussion of the manuscript.

Joining as a respondent, Audrey McFarlane, University of Baltimore School of Law’s Dean Julius Isaacson Professor of Law, introduced social domination theory as an explanation for enduring housing segregation and resistance to integration in America, as a function of entrenched white dominance that manifests a need to preserve power and maintain social control.

Poverty & Race Research Action Council’s Executive Director Philip Tegeler, stressed the importance of focusing on uneven development the geography of concentrated poverty in America, rather than taking a system-only approach, saying “concentrated poverty is not an equal opportunity offender” and that it disproportionately affects communities of color.

The conference broke for lunch, followed by four concurrent, breakout sessions highlighting issues of social importance at the intersections of the struggle for fair housing, including education, criminal justice, community economic development, and gender justice.

The criminal justice focused breakout session, “The Intersection of the Collateral Consequences of a Criminal Record and Fair Housing," was moderated by Catherine Cone, Staff Attorney at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, who focuses on individual and collective or class action housing discrimination cases for the Committee. Maurice Alexander, Board member of the D.C.-based community organization Empower DC Board and named plaintiff in Alexander v. Edgewood Management Corp., described his illegal rejection from multiple subsidized housing providers due to a bogus criminal record and discussed the importance of acknowledging white fear, and not just law and policy, as a key driver of housing discrimination.

Professor Chaz Arnett, an expert on the use of surveillance technologies in the criminal legal system and Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, explained how punishment and surveillance function in combination with other systems of control in school discipline, discriminatory policing, and housing, to create disparate impacts on communities of color.

Kate Scott, Deputy Director of the Equal Rights center, walked the audience through civil rights testing procedures, which are critical to fair housing and other civil rights enforcement as an investigative tool used to gather evidence to compare actual conduct to legal requirements or a policy.

Group photo
"Building on #MeToo" panelists Tianna Gibbs, Sandra Park, Beth Frank, and Michelle Ewert
Professor Brittain
“Still Separate and Unequal" panelist John Brittain
Varda Hussain at lectern
“The Color of the Wealth Gap" panelist Varda Hussain

Sara Pratt, Counsel, Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC and former official at HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, highlighted the importance of private action to enforcement and encouraged those in attendance to challenge any and all experiences of criminal record-related discrimination.

The concurrent session “Still Separate and Unequal: Disrupting the Relationship Between Housing and School Segregation” was led by UDC Law Professor John C. Brittain, a leading civil rights attorney in the area of affirmative action and school desegregation, in conversation with Leslie Fenwick, Professor of Education and Dean Emerita, Howard University School of Education.

The intersection of gender justice and fair housing was explored at “Building on #MeToo: Disarming Efforts to Wield Power and Control over Female Tenants,” with a panel moderated by noted family law and domestic violence representation expert UDC Law Professor and General Practice Clinic Co-Director Tianna Gibbs. Joining Professor Gibbs during the important discussion on power and control in the housing context were Michelle Ewert, Associate Professor of Law at Washburn University School of Law, Beth Frank, Trial Attorney in the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, and Sandra Park, Senior Attorney with the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union.

In “The Color of the Wealth Gap: Exploring the Relationship between Economic Justice and Fair Housing,” panelists engaged in discussion co-moderated by Jerome Hughes, Clinic Instructor in the UDC Law Community Development Clinic, and Susan Bennett, Professor of Law and Director of the Community and Economic Development Law Clinic at the American University Washington College of Law. The panelists brought together journalists including Ryan Cooper, National Correspondent at, and President of the People’s Policy Project Matt Bruenig, alongside seasoned attorneys Varda Hussain, Acting Special Litigation Counsel for Fair Lending, U.S. Department of Justice and Renee Hatcher, Assistant Professor of Law and Director of the Business Enterprise Law Clinic at the John Marshall Law School.

The third plenary session for the day returned those in attendance to the Moot Court Room for “Where Should We Go?: Innovating Fair Housing for the Future,” moderated by symposium organizer Norrinda Brown Hayat, Assistant Professor of Law and Director of the Housing and Consumer Law Clinic. Professor Hayat, opened the panel reflecting on her experience as a fair housing litigator for the U.S. Department of Justice, said: “We need more than a robust FHA enforcement regime, we must also rethink tax policy, the legislative actions we choose to pursue, zoning, how to engage in community economic development and partnerships, and collaborate with education and reentry programs.”

Expert on public interest lawyering Kathryn Sabbeth, Associate Professor of Law at the University of North Carolina School of Law, made the case for a “civil Gideon” of government-financed civil legal not merely for eviction defense, as some local governments such as New York city have done, but also for affirmative civil claims. She discussed her research on alternatives incentive structures to encourage private and government actors to engage in fair housing enforcement, as well.

Panel of speakers
“Where Should We Go?" panelists Ronald Day, Lori Leibowitz, and Barrett Burns
Audience and Panel of speakers
Audience for “Where Should We Go?" session
Panel of speakers
"From Chocolate City to Cappuccino City" panelists Leland Ware, Natalie Hopkinson, Amanda Huron, and George Derek Musgrove

Ronald Day, Associate Vice President of Policy and Advocacy of the The Fortune Society, spoke to the importance of rethinking the composition of the fair housing movement and centering people with a criminal record and history of incarceration saying “It’s critical that we use all of the tools we have available to address the issues of housing and reentry.”

Lori Leibowitz, Right to Housing Initiative Coordinator for the Neighborhood Legal Services Program talked about the program’s efforts organizing across coalitions to combine litigation, public policy, and social movement to secure housing as a human right and not a commodity.

Barrett Burns, President and CEO of VantageScore Solutions LLC, made the case for reimagining for-profit credit agencies in light of VantageScore’s success cutting into the credit-scoring agency FICO's market dominance by shedding non-predictive data excluding people of color from qualifying credit scores.

For the fourth panel of the day the audience transitioned to the UDC Student Center’s spacious Ballroom for "From Chocolate City to Cappuccino City: The Historical, Legal and Cultural Implications of D.C.’s Housing Transformation." John Blake, Notes Editor and Editorial Board member of the UDC Law Review, welcomed the audience to the penultimate plenary session of the day.

UDC Law Assistant Professor and Community Development Law Clinic Co-Director Etienne Toussaint, as the panel moderator, brought to the session his expertise in racial justice and community economic development, environmental justice, technology and the law, and promoting social and economic justice through transactional law practice.

George Derek Musgrove, Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, responded to Professor Toussaint’s prompting question on the broader history and context of housing segregation in D.C. at the time of the FHA’s passage in 1968, walked the audience through the “before and after” of the FHA in D.C. as the law was enacted only after nominal housing desegregation was ordered by the Supreme Court of the United States in Shelley v. Kraemer (1948) and white residents of D.C. retreated from the city after so-called "citizens" groups could no longer enforce the web of restrictive covenants they relied upon to enforce housing segregation in the city.

Joining the panel from the University of Delaware was Leland Ware, Louis L. Redding Chair and Professor for the Study of Law and Public Policy and Associate Director of the School of Public Policy and Administration. Professor Ware stressed the centrality of state action, particularly federal government action, in engineering residential segregation in the century preceding the FHA’s passage.

University of the District of Columbia Interdisciplinary Social Sciences Professor Amanda Huron discussed the relative strength of present-day D.C. law and policy protections against housing segregation, including D.C.'s coop and condominium-creating Tenants Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA), which provides tenants in apartment buildings a limited right to purchase a unit upon a landlord’s sale of their building, as a way to prevent displacement and create homeownership for multiple generations of owners.

Natalie Hopkinson, Assistant Professor of Communication, Culture and Mass Media Studies at Howard University and author of Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City, discussed the intersections of cultural displacement and gentrification using the example of D.C.'s historic go-go music culture which, as a result of the ongoing hyper-gentrification of the District, has been under siege by local business associations and increasingly criminalized because of anti-Black associations of its music culture with criminality.

The day’s events culminated in an inspiring, final plenary panel titled "A Community Conversation: The Future of Fair Housing in D.C.," moderated by Brook Hill, Equal Justice Works Fellow at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.

Camille Brown, Greater Washington Fair Housing Rights Program Manager of the Equal Rights Center, described the many obstacles to fair housing in D.C., including source of income discrimination such as the rejection of Section 8 and other housing subsidies by private landlord, the illegal use of blanket bans against applicants for housing with criminal records, enduring familial status discrimination, and the continued demolition and deterioration of the District’s dwindling public and low-income housing stock.

Panel of speakers
"A Community Conversation" panelists Brook Hill, Yvonne Johnson, William Merrifield, Lesley M. Edmond, Jane H. Lewis, Camille Brown, and Parisa Norouzi

Lesley Edmond, Housing Compliance Officer for the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development touted the agency’s proactive efforts to affirmatively further fair housing in the District through new scoring criteria designed to not only tackle overt housing discrimination but also policies and practices resulting in racially disparate impacts including project-siting.

Parisa Norouzi, Executive Director of the community organization Empower DC described the efforts of tenant and community organizers to leverage the terms of the D.C. Comprehensive Plan, the governing document of the District’s housing and urban planning policy, in both the court system and in changing public opinion, in order to challenge D.C.'s giveaways of public hand to developers, saying "We should not be creating any market rate or subsidized housing on city land at this point in our city's history."

Yvonne Johnson, Vice President of Brookland Manor and Brentwood Village Residents Association, described resident community efforts to preserve affordable, family units in the face of the illegal and aggressive tactics of housing developers, saying “The housing inspectors are only shown certain apartments when they visit. That’s on purpose. The others are dilapidated. That’s the whole idea: you’re not wanted here.” She explains, "I've lived on the property for 38 years. When we first moved there we had playgrounds for our children, now it's a 'gated community' with fences where the children used to play and security walking around harassing the elderly tenants."

William Merrifield, Staff Attorney in the Affordable Housing Initiative of the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, emphasized the systemic and embedded nature of the District’s housing crisis, as local government agencies and elected officials have been flooded with money by foreign housing developers looking to capitalize on “luxury housing” in the District, saying "When all this international development money floods housing markets like D.C.'s, that money itself creates policies, that the money elects government officials responsible for policy."

Jane H. Lewis, Section Chief for Housing and Community Justice in the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, emphasized the importance of affordable housing preservation, saying defensive action can prevent deregulation of units. "Once a slumlord is able to force people out, those affordable units don`t come back," said Chief Lewis.

Band photo
Jamie Sugiyama, Rex, Isabelle DeLeon and Rich Andrews

The day closed with a much-needed reception “Art and Activism,” featuring the Joy of Rex and band as well as the art of Tim Davis, with his exhibit “Dear Chocolate City.” Rex, a D.C. rock musician, actor, and writer, was joined by local musicians: drummer Isabelle DeLeon (Prinze George), bassist Rich Andrews (formerly Delta Creeps), and guitarist Jamie “Sugi” Sugiyama (formerly For The People band). Mr. Davis, founder of International Visions gallery and consultants, is widely recognized for his exploration of the human experience, the black experience, and the stigmas and communications that can consume our thoughts and actions as well as define culture, race, and identity, through his use of mixed media materials and his exploration of different narratives with graphite, sculpture materials, acrylic, photography, pen and ink, and collage.

The next morning UDC Law hosted three legal scholars for a series of works-in-progress workshops. Renee Hatcher, Assistant Professor of Law and Director of the Business Enterprise Law Clinic at John Marshall Law School, presented her paper “Reclaiming CED: Developing an Analytical Framework for Community Economic Development Strategies.” Michelle Ewert, Associate Professor of Law at the Washburn University School of Law shared her research and paper “Discriminatory Code Enforcement and Decreased Home Values as the Next Fair Housing Battlefield.” Chaz Arnett, Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, presented “Digital Penology: Mass Correctional Surveillance as the Emperor’s New Clothes.”

The two-day event is the second of two spring symposia held by the UDC Law Review and UDC Law this year. On Thursday, March 22, 2018, more than 100 people attended the full-day symposium Cannabis and the Law: The Impact of Marijuana Legalization on the Drug War, Public Policy, and Social Justice for the District’s first-ever law school symposium on the subject of marijuana and the law.

Group photo
UDC Law Review members Maria Suarez, Hannah Amundson, Denisha Jones, Cassandra Simon, Prof. Norrinda Hayat, Emily Backes, John Blake, Dean Shelley Broderick, Arquimides Leon, and Rebecca Krassel


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