A Dynamic Duo in the Fight for Affordable Housing
Our next Summer Intern Brown Bag Lunch, coming up on July 17, will focus on fair and affordable housing in Washington, DC. In advance of the event, Elise Helgesen Aguilar got in touch with speakers Julie Becker and Jenny Reed. They were kind enough to discuss their practice areas and passion for what they do—and even shared their secret desires for a particular super power.
Ms. Becker joined the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia in 2000, after graduating from Yale Law School and clerking for Sonia Sotomayor, at the time a judge on the Second Circuit. Ms. Becker always knew that she wanted to be a public-interest lawyer, but did not know she would specialize in fair housing. Once she became a Skadden Fellow at Legal Aid, she learned more about the field of affordable housing and become passionate about the issue. She has worked at Legal Aid ever since, and she’s now a supervising attorney.
Ms. Reed grew up in Maine. Her mother directed the Maine Human Rights Commission; her father was, and still is, a state representative. Issues of fairness, equality, and local government were always discussed in her house. Those discussions prompted her interest in state and local issues and how local policy could help—or, alas, sometimes hinder—opportunities for low-income residents. Later, while in graduate school, she became interested in statistics and tax policy. When she discovered DC Fiscal Policy Institute (DCFPI) she knew it would be a great fit; the organization allows her to use data and research to drive policy solutions to the problems facing low- and moderate-income residents in DC.
A Day in the Life
Both women admit that each day is diverse and challenging. For Ms. Becker, this can mean going to court in the morning and serving as attorney for the day, or supervising other attorneys, and then meeting with new clients, conducting intake, writing motions and pleadings, attending coalition meetings, and coordinating with members from the housing authority.
Ms. Reed says that she spends about half her time researching and crunching numbers, about one-fourth of her time talking with policymakers and DC government staff, and the remaining fourth of her time out in the community, giving presentations or attending meetings.
It’s All Worth It
Ms. Becker finds it most rewarding to work with her clients, and to help individual people solve individual problems. She also enjoys the mix of working directly with clients and reforming the law in ways to help improve housing policy throughout the city.
Ms. Reed enjoys working on state and local issues because there she can really see the results of her work, and the impact she can have on local policy. DCFPI gives her the opportunity to work closely with the DC government and to be involved from start to finish in the process of identifying solutions to problems faced by DC’s low-income residents.
Words of Wisdom
For law students interested in pursuing this field of law, Ms. Becker advises that they should make the most of their summer internships, to really figure out what they like and dislike, and to make as many contacts with lawyers in the housing area as possible.
Ms. Reed advises interested students to practice their ability to communicate complex problems in a manner that policymakers can understand. She believes that it’s critical to explain housing issues clearly and concisely.
Though each woman has the power to create real and lasting change in DC housing policy, both admit that their lives would be made easier if they had one superpower: to teleport or apparate from one place to the next. Despite their busy schedules, there would be no stopping them—if only they could avoid the metro.