In the past year the Tulane Civil Rights and Federal Practice Clinic has represented clients in several cases alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act.
Although that law was passed more than 50 years ago, housing discrimination remains prevalent. A recent study conducted by the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center (LaFHAC) found that prospective African American tenants experienced housing discrimination 53 percent of the time when applying for rental housing in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.
The Clinic continues to handle a significant number of housing discrimination cases as part of its caseload. Clients come through court appointments, referrals, and word of mouth, and their numbers show no signs of slowing, which, according to Professor and Clinic Director Lucia Blacksher Ranier, “means there is still a lot of work to do in our community when it comes to fair housing for all.”
Clinic student attorneys have represented renters who have disabilities, those who have minor children, and, in one notable case, victims of a New Orleans landlord who routinely sexually harassed his female renters.
Among the recent highlights:
Housing discrimination comes in many forms, so a cookie-cutter approach does not work and student attorneys, all in their third year, must develop a strategy tailored to each client’s goals, said Professor Sam Brandao (L'12) who is the supervising attorney in many of these cases.
And because those goals invariably include making sure this doesn’t happen to someone else, the student attorneys must learn why and how the discrimination happened, not just who was responsible, he said. LaFHAC’s data show that race-based housing discrimination remains a problem across the Gulf South. And the problem persists nationwide: according to HUD’s most recent annual report, it received 10,237 complaints of housing discrimination in the fiscal year 2020, of which 4,612 were on the basis of disability and 1,996 on the basis of race.
By teaching law students the basics of how to manage federal discrimination cases like these, the clinic is providing skills training so that they are work-ready, said Brandao.
“The threat of housing discrimination may not be as obvious, but it hasn’t disappeared. We are excited to continue to work with our students and clients to get justice in these difficult, rewarding cases,” he said.
Blacksher Ranier added, “our students bring so much energy to this work, and our clients are amazing people—it’s an honor to work with them, and to continue this fight.”
Logan Fontenot, a third-year law student who worked on the Lee case, said he learned how to take part in settlement discussions with the court, something law students rarely get to do.
"Few students get an opportunity like this, and there are just as few opportunities to learn and apply the skills necessary in settlement negotiations while still in law school," Fontenot said. "While learning and practicing these skills was intellectually fulfilling, it's personally and professionally fulfilling knowing that we employed these skills successfully in Ms. Lee's case, achieving our client's goals and securing a settlement payment to compensate her and her family for the unlawful discrimination that they experienced. "