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Penn Law students visit D.C. to learn about fair housing policy

May 02, 2016

On April 1, a group of 17 Penn Law students traveled to Washington, D.C. to visit the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Justice, and the Urban Institute to learn about the numerous legal issues involved in fair housing policy.

The trip was organized by Wendell Pritchett, Presidential Professor of Law and Education, and Neta Borshansky, Associate Director of Public Sector Careers and Director of Government Programs.

Many of the students were members of Pritchett’s Urban Policy Research Seminar, which focuses specifically on the laws and policies that shape housing and neighborhood development. Other participants were interested in learning more about fair housing policy and civil rights enforcement.

“More and more research has shown that where a person lives affects their health, income, and their children’s potential,” said Pritchett. “Housing discrimination limits the ability of many people to access the resources they need to flourish. So policies that seek to open opportunities to everyone are particularly important today.”

“These trips are designed to inspire students to consider career opportunities in government and public policy and to expose them to the tremendous impact they can have in these positions,” said Borshansky. “Students also have the opportunity to engage in dialogue with practitioners about the real-world applications of topics they have studied in the classroom.”

The group first visited the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity in the Department of Housing and Urban Development. There, students got a chance to meet with several officials who enforce fair housing laws.

Next, the students visited the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, where Borshansky previously worked before joining Penn Law. The attorneys in the office discussed with students the statutes that they enforce and described in more detail the evolution of a recently settled race-based discrimination case.

Finally, the students met with the housing and policy experts at the Urban Institute, a think tank that engages in economic and social policy research. There, the students had the opportunity to talk law and policy with researchers engaged in work on housing and community policy.

“Through interaction with policy makers, students gain a deeper understanding of the potential and challenges of anti-discrimination laws and policies,” said Pritchett. “And they get to see how these laws and policies function in the real world.”

“The trip was a wonderful opportunity to see what the federal government is doing at a national level to address both systemic housing segregation and individual cases of housing discrimination occurring all other the country,” said Mary Jones L’17.

And the trip allowed students to develop a good sense of what a career in government can look like. “Everyone we met at HUD and DOJ utterly defied the stereotype of jaded career bureaucrats,” said Carl Snodgrass L’17.

“This trip highlighted the range of employment options in my field of interest,” added Ryan B. Smith L’17.  “We met with career government employees working to change their agency’s approach to a problem, litigators using the federal courts to enforce the law, and policy researchers providing their expertise and other resources to the public sector — all in one day!”

This is the second DC trip of its kind. Last year, students traveled with Borshansky and Penn Law professors Michael Knoll, Chris William Sanchirico, and Reed Shuldiner — three noted tax scholars — to visit government agencies that work on tax policy and talk with a number of experts on tax law.