About the NHLA Fair Housing Project
Who is the Fair Housing Project at NHLA, and what do they do?
It’s been 20 years since New Hampshire Legal Assistance started our Fair Housing Project. We’d like to celebrate by introducing you to two new staff members who recently joined this work to promote equal access to housing in New Hampshire.
(The NHLA Fair Housing Project team: Ruth Heinz, Ben Mortell, Project Director Chris Wellington, Victoria Horrock, Maria Eveleth and Liliana Neumann. Not pictured, Elliott Berry)
Funded through grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, FHP advocates provide civil legal aid to assist clients with disabilities when they need to obtain accommodations in housing situations; defend clients facing unlawful evictions and file discrimination complaints with administrative agencies or in court, among other work.
In addition to individual representation, NHLA engages in systemic advocacy by providing training throughout the state on fair housing topics and by advocating for changes in laws, ordinances and policies that have a negative impact on protected class members (based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, disability, age, marital status, or sexual orientation).
“The Fair Housing Project is a fundamental piece of our work at NHLA, advocating for equal opportunities for all New Hampshire residents,” Project Director Chris Wellington said. “Home is the most crucial place for all people, and all of New Hampshire’s residents deserve the opportunity to have safe, affordable and accessible housing. The Fair Housing Act and New Hampshire state laws protecting access to housing protect vulnerable classes of residents who most need the safety and stability of a home. For 20 years, the Fair Housing Project has fought to protect that right, and we will continue fighting as long as any resident is denied access to housing because his or her membership in a protected class.”
This year, Liliana Neumann and Victoria Horrock boost the number of Fair Housing Project members to seven.
Neumann joins NHLA as a bilingual in-take coordinator and assistant for the project’s fair housing testing program, which works to root out discriminatory practices in rental housing that would otherwise go undetected. Testers are trained to pose as prospective renters and to report on their experiences which are then analyzed in order to determine whether housing providers are engaging in fair, consistent and lawful practices.
A native of Mexico, Neumann previously worked at Catholic Charities in Manchester as a paralegal, translating and helping Spanish-speakers navigate the immigration process. She originally trained to be an industrial engineer, but she found the work “too dry, and too cold,” she said.
“I have enjoyed my work most when I am able to communicate with people who wouldn’t have known their rights otherwise. I want to help people as much as I can,” she said.
Before joining NHLA full time, Neumann worked as a fair housing tester, applying for housing in various settings and reporting her experience. Testers are not told what aspect of the Fair Housing Law is being tested, or whether they are representing a control group or a protected class.
“I thought I would be nervous, but I found it so interesting. I didn’t know there were so many ways people faced discrimination – marital status, or gender, or national origin and so many more. It felt good to know that I was helping a program that would fight for everyone’s right to a safe home,” she said.
Horrock, a graduate of Tulane University Law School, joins the FHP as a staff attorney. She entered law school hoping to find work in a civil legal aid organization that would allow her to fight for clients fair housing rights.
After her undergraduate work, Horrock had not planned on pursuing a law degree, seeing a career in international human rights. Working with an organization that did development work in the Middle East, she helped handle an asylum case which relied on the Fair Housing Act.
“Fair housing is such a linchpin civil rights issue that is tied to a family’s ability to choose the schools for their children, to access clean water,” she said. “I just think the Fair Housing Act is really cool.”
With this expansion, the FHP now has an attorney in every NHLA office: Horrock in Portsmouth; Neumann, Elliot Berry, and Maria Eveleth in Manchester; Ruth Heintz in Berlin; Ben Mortell in Claremont, and Fair Housing Project Director Christine Wellington in Concord.