By Mohini Tangri ’24
Throughout my time in law school, I have focused on advocating for low-income survivors and non-English speakers in their fight to find affordable housing. Housing is a basic right; no one should be denied access to a safe and stable home. I spent a couple years with the Tenant Advocacy Project (TAP), which strives to empower low-income clients by providing legal support during the Section 8 application process. I also worked with the Housing Law Clinic to address systemic issues affecting marginalized communities’ access to secure housing.
I had an incredible experience with TAP. During my first year, I primarily assisted with intake calls and screening, a job all members helped with. Once we would determine that someone was struggling with housing at a location that was within TAP’s purview, we sent their case information to our internal Intake Review Committee, a group of 2Ls and 3Ls who ultimately determined which cases our organization would take on. I most enjoyed being a part of a larger community that was dedicated to fighting homelessness because the leadership made me feel like an important team member whose comments and questions were valued. This experience opened my eyes to what it means to be both an effective advocate and mentor within a legal group setting.
During my second year with the Tenant Advocacy Project, I was assigned to work with a client who had been denied a preference in her Section 8 voucher application. She and her son had been displaced from housing due to domestic violence that occurred several years ago. Since then, they had been unable to secure permanent housing, spending time in shelters and in the basements of family members who subjected them to additional verbal threats and abuse.
My client faced various barriers in applying for a Section 8 housing voucher. Due to intimidation by the housing authority officer who conducted her interview, she was unable to discuss the way her current situation qualified her for the preference. My client, already struggling to manage trauma from her experiences, ultimately did not get the opportunity to talk about why she qualified for a preference at all.
While we were preparing for her hearing, my client’s housing situation became increasingly unstable. After one particularly emotionally abusive exchange with her mother, she left her family’s house. She slept outside in the cold Boston winter for several nights before reaching out to social work organizations to seek temporary emergency housing. I worked hard to support her emotionally during this time given the additional stress she was experiencing, and it became very clear that providing this type of support is often just as important as the technical legal representation itself.
The hearing took place while she was in emergency housing. It began with the opportunity to ask the Section 8 administrator to provide a short description of how she came to the conclusions that she did. I then provided an argument for why my client met the requirements for the preference outlined in the housing authority administrative plan, detailing both the law and highlighting the way that her experiences and situation qualified her for the preference. It was ultimately a short hearing; the hearing officer quickly realized that my client had not been given a fair process in her application and, after a couple weeks, provided us with an updated decision that my client would be given the preference.
This experience showed me how easy it is for people to fall through the cracks and how our system needs to place greater priority on access to legal representation in civil matters. It serves as a reminder that, as lawyers, we have a profound responsibility to stand as advocates for those whose voices may be silenced or overlooked. It has fueled my determination to continue to be a relentless advocate for survivors and inspired me to conduct research at the intersection of housing and mental health while in law school. I am now hoping to work at the intersection of housing, environmental justice, and gender violence after I graduate. I look forward to continuing to work to ensure those who are vulnerable not only receive the justice they deserve but also equal access to the fundamental right of secure housing.