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Protecting Affordable Housing

December 21, 2023

headshot of Will Fairhurst L'22
Will Fairhurst L’22

Toll Public Interest Fellow Will Fairhurst L’22 advocated for affordable housing in New Jersey.

Toll Public Interest Fellow Will Fairhurst L’22 Will grew up in Nashville, Tennessee and Tallahassee, Florida. Since graduating from college in 2010, Will has spent more than a decade working for the public interest, and primarily in roles dedicated to expanding opportunities for affordable housing. As an attorney, Will plans to continue these efforts to fight for economic and racial justice, particularly when it comes to securing access to housing as a human right.

During my postgraduate fellowship, I worked at Fair Share Housing Center, a legal nonprofit that enforces New Jersey’s Mount Laurel Doctrine. This state constitutional right prevents municipalities from enacting exclusionary zoning and impeding the development of affordable housing. In essence, most municipalities in New Jersey have an affirmative obligation to provide local opportunities for affordable housing.

My fellowship involved impact litigation against a number of municipalities. Our goal was to motivate municipalities to adopt new zoning that would create new affordable housing units within the next few years. I also worked with several municipalities to create or strengthen local inclusionary zoning laws and development fee ordinances, which create ongoing mechanisms to create and finance affordable homes.

Dedicated to Advancing Housing Justice

For nearly seven years before attending Penn Carey Law, I worked with and alongside legal nonprofits dedicated to creating and preserving affordable housing. As a housing counselor, I worked directly with low and moderate income homeowners who were facing foreclosure, and helped them apply for and secure loan modifications, rescue loans, and other relief to ultimately help them stay in their homes.

My advocacy work also involved designing and managing NYC’s temporary housing and legal counseling programs for more than 5000 people whose homes sustained damage during Hurricane Sandy.

I came to Penn Carey Law knowing that I wanted to continue to work for the public interest, and I was actively seeking new opportunities to fight for affordable housing. I started working for Fair Share Housing Center as an intern during my 1L summer and continued that work during an externship the following year. It was a fantastic experience and provided me with exactly the kind of opportunity for rigorous legal work I was looking for. I jumped at the opportunity to continue it after graduating from law school.

Advocating for Change in New Jersey

I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to quickly gain a lot of litigation experience while also being able to engage in non-litigation advocacy work. One of things I’m most proud of from the last year was getting to work with New Jersey’s largest city to draft a new development fee ordinance, which was passed in early summer 2023. 

My work was aimed at strengthening local affordable housing laws across the state. For this work, I drew from my experience at FSHC during my 1L summer when I helped draft a rent control law for Asbury Park, New Jersey and helped local housing advocates place it on the ballot in a special election. For my Fellowship, I worked with housing advocates in municipalities throughout the state to adopt and strength local inclusionary zoning laws that mandate a certain amount of affordable house in every new residential development.

This ordinance will charge small fees on new market rate development to fund both future affordable housing development as well as a right to counsel program for low- and moderate-income tenants facing eviction. It’s anticipated that this new law will generate tens of millions of dollars for affordable housing initiatives, including emergency rental assistance, building repair programs, the creation of new affordable homes, and a right to counsel in landlord/tenant court.

Pathways to the Profession highlights Penn Carey Law students and post-graduate fellows as they launch impactful legal careers. From summer internships in the private sector to public interest post-graduate fellowships and externships, these firsthand accounts of substantive legal work demonstrate the myriad opportunities available to Penn Carey Law students and graduates.