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Fellowships at the National Housing Law Project

NHLP encourages newly emerging public interest attorneys and graduating law students who are committed to our broad, substantive focus areas to seek our sponsorship for a post-graduate fellowship. Generally, NHLP serves only as the sponsoring organization, and does not provide fellowship funding. Common funding sources include Equal Justice Works, the Skadden Fellowship Foundation, school-sponsored fellowships, and the Soros Justice Fellowships. Potential fellows must first apply to NHLP for organizational sponsorship before applying to fellowship funding sources. The NHLP organizational sponsorship application deadline will vary, but is usually around mid-July in advance of fellowship funders’ early fall deadlines.

NHLP, with a staff of nationally recognized experts in federal housing law and an office strategically situated in San Francisco, California provides the ideal professional home for the design and implementation of innovative fellowship projects. NHLP’s home city of San Francisco and the surrounding San Francisco Bay Area communities are rich in diversity, energized by community activism, and grounded in progressive public policy. The NHLP staff work closely with other national, regional, and locally based advocacy organizations that share our vision of improving the living conditions and advancing the housing rights of low-income people.

Fellowships at NHLP have helped to launch the public interest law careers of many dedicated attorneys. Recent projects have included a national study and subsequent publication that evaluated the success of the HOPE VI program. Another fellowship project focused on implementing and enforcing federally mandated housing protections for women affected by domestic violence under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). This fellowship expanded to include a role for the fellow as a technical assistance provider to the U.S. Department of Justice domestic violence grantees. Another recent fellowship focused on the preservation of public housing units nationwide via HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program.

The ideal fellowship candidate will have:

• Demonstrated commitment to working with and for low-income and underserved populations
• Extremely high-caliber legal research and writing skills
• Substantive experience in housing, economic justice, environmental justice, and/or related issues
• Demonstrated abilities to work independently as well as a member of a team
• Excellent communication skills
• Be admitted, or plan to seek admission, to the California Bar

To apply, please email a cover letter, resume, writing sample, unofficial transcript, and three references to Kent Qian at Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis, and early applications are encouraged. For students who wish to begin their fellowship in fall 2017, applications are due to NHLP by July 29, 2016.

Possible fellowship projects could include, but are not limited to:

Emerging Fair Housing Issues: The Obama Administration has brought a new emphasis on fair housing issues, including clarifying the Fair Housing Act’s duty to affirmatively further fair housing to ensure opportunities for protected classes to live in communities of opportunity, and by taking steps to protect the housing rights of LGBT individuals. Additionally, local and state efforts to prevent discrimination on the basis of one’s source of income or receipt of housing subsidy have met with some success and should be expanded much more widely for the benefit of tenants elsewhere. Because of the evolving legal landscape, there is a great need for advocates serving clients who are protected by the Fair Housing Act to understand these developments and use available legal and policy tools to ensure better outcomes for the communities they serve, both short- and long-term. The fellow will engage in policy advocacy, training, and selective litigation to address these emerging issues.

Expanding Tenants Rights in the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) Program: The LIHTC program is one of the nation’s largest affordable housing programs, supporting over two million units. However, because it is administered by the Treasury Department and more than 50 state and local allocating agencies, applicants and tenants have few rights to fair treatment, despite the fact that the public subsidy covers a substantial portion of a unit’s capital cost. Meanwhile, rapid expansion of HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program will bring many public housing residents into LIHTC developments. Building upon mostly successful efforts in the last decade to establish and implement a good cause eviction requirement in this program, the fellow will develop a tenant rights policy agenda in collaboration with advocates nationwide, seeking to establish critical rights in key jurisdictions through rulemaking and the LIHTC Qualified Allocation Plan process. The fellow’s work will also include training for advocates and litigation support in cases challenging unfair treatment.

Enforcing Federal Housing Rights of Immigrants and People with Limited English Proficiency: Lack of access to affordable housing is a major barrier to low-income immigrants. In particular, persons with limited English proficiency are often left unaware of their housing rights due to a lack of meaningful language access. For example, many federally assisted housing providers have legal obligations to provide interpretation assistance and translate documents; however, those obligations are often ignored. The fellow would provide technical assistance and training to advocates seeking to improve language access policies that directly affect their clients. In addition, the fellow will monitor state and federal policy proposals that further limit immigrant access to affordable housing and homelessness programs and will develop an advocacy agenda.

Protecting Housing for Domestic Violence Survivors: Domestic violence survivors often face evictions, subsidy terminations, and denials of housing that are related to the abuse committed against them. Yet state and federal laws prohibit owners and housing authorities from evicting or denying housing to domestic violence survivors based on the abuser’s actions. The fellow will provide support to legal services organizations and domestic violence agencies in cases where survivors are at risk of homelessness. The fellow also will work to improve policies at the federal, state, and local level that affect domestic violence survivors’ access to housing.

Preserving Affordable Housing: As a result of federal budget and policy decisions, communities across the country face an increasingly acute housing crisis worsened by significant losses of affordable housing units or subsidies. Affordable housing units under a wide variety of programs are threatened, including public housing, project-based Section 8, HUD and Rural Development subsidized mortgages, the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, and housing choice voucher programs. Although Congress, HUD and USDA have undertaken many preservation initiatives, such as the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD), the crisis continues and implementation requires careful monitoring to ensure that affordable housing and tenant rights are protected. The fellow will join NHLP staff and allies nationwide to engage in policy advocacy, training, and selective litigation to preserve affordable housing for very low-income families.

Healthy Homes Initiative: Environmental and security hazards in housing harm millions of families and children each year. These hazards include mold, lead, allergens, pests, and home safety. In response, HUD has recently issued policies on some of these issues impacting HUD-subsidized housing, such as bedbugs and smoking. However, not all of these policies have been in the best interest of low-income tenants, and there are healthy housing issues that HUD appears to ignore. Therefore, continuous advocacy is needed with HUD to encourage the agency to issue policies that reflect the concerns of HUD tenants. Community education and advocacy are needed to support the passage of legislation that enables healthy housing, such as the Affordable Housing and Self-Sufficiency Improvement Act. The fellow would engage in the aforementioned advocacy and further collaborate with government agencies and advocates from other affordable housing and public health organizations so as to devise best practices in healthy housing.

Ensuring Full Tenant Protections under the National Housing Trust Fund: The National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF) is a new federal program established in 2008 primarily to increase and preserve the supply of rental housing for extremely low- and very low-income families, including homeless families. The NHTF provides a new source of funds for affordable housing for extremely low-income individuals and for the Capital Magnet Fund (CMF), a block grant to support the construction and development of affordable housing. The NHTF was established as a permanent program with a dedicated source of funding from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Due to the 2008 foreclosure crisis, however, funds from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were suspended until this year. In January 2015, HUD published interim regulations on the NHTF program at 24 C.F.R. part 93; HUD will issue a revised final rule based on input after grantees and the public gain experience with the NHTF. The first NHTF funds are being disseminated to the states through a needs-based formula, a total of $173.6 million, a number that is expected to grow significantly in the coming years. The fellow will join NHLP and national and state allies to engage in policy advocacy to ensure that full tenant protections are included in the implementation of the NHTF.

Expanding Opportunities for People with Criminal History: Diminished access to decent and affordable housing for the formerly incarcerated has been identified as the greatest determinant of successful re-entry in numerous studies. An increasing number of men and women are being released from prison, and securing stable housing exponentially is essential to improve their chances of successful reentry. Despite this evidence, people with criminal records are routinely barred from both private and subsidized housing. Lawmakers, however, are beginning to take notice of the importance of reentry and family reunification resources. The current administration has promoted rehabilitation and reintegration through new grant opportunities and innovative programs. In addition, HUD has recently issued guidance to housing providers that blanket bans on people with a criminal record may violate the federal Fair Housing Act. These acts are a small step in the right direction. Many housing admission decisions are still left to the discretion of housing owners or managers. The fellow will join NHLP and national allies to engage in policy advocacy and training to improve housing opportunities for people who have come in contact with the criminal justice system.

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