MacArthur Awards for Creative & Effective Institutions

National Housing Law Project

Oakland, California | 2007 Award Recipient

Advocating housing justice for America’s most vulnerable

Millions of people thank the National Housing Law Project for the roof over their heads.

Over four decades, the National Housing Law Project has become a nationwide leader in legal advocacy for some of the lowest-income Americans—those living in federally-assisted housing. Predominantly women with children, the elderly, and the disabled, these residents have struggled to hold onto their homes and affordable rents, in the face of gentrification and discrimination. They and their advocates turn to the Law Project for help.

Since it was established in 1968, the organization has responded to this need effectively and creatively. It has defended existing laws and helped to pass new ones that have preserved more than one million units of affordable housing; enabled hundreds of thousands of low-income households to achieve and retain homeownership; and helped prevent a crisis in the Section 8 voucher program.

All told, the Project has played a vital role in safeguarding the nation’s supply of affordable housing and the fundamental housing rights of low-income tenants and homeowners.

The secret to this success: persistent and versatile legal advocacy. The organization provides technical assistance for tenants. It trains legal service attorneys in the intricacies of housing law. It monitors and occasionally engages in housing-related court cases. It analyzes federal regulatory policy and pending legislation for affordable housing implications. At any given time, it is engaged in litigation for 20 different cases.

In one recent initiative, the Project partnered with local legal advocates and neighborhood leaders in the Gulf Coast region to address the legal housing challenges faced by low-income people in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Its goal in this work: “provide a road home for all.”

In another effort, the organization was instrumental in shaping passage of legislation providing protections for tenants of properties subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Beyond its direct service role, the Project has become a critical resource for government agencies and housing advocates. It has published three editions of HUD Housing Programs: Tenants’ Rights, a 900-page manual considered to be the most authoritative legal guide for housing advocates. For nearly 30 years, it has sponsored and coordinated the Housing Justice Network, a national network of more than 500 housing advocates and resident organizations working to protect the housing rights of low-income people.

The next five years will be critical for affordable housing in America. A growing number of federally-subsidized rental properties will be eligible to convert to market-rate rents or condominiums, potentially leading to the loss of affordable housing. In response, the National Housing Law Project is intensifying its work in defense of housing rights.

The National Housing Law Project will use its $500,000 MacArthur Award to create a cash operating reserve, develop new talent, and upgrade its communications system.


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