Justice By Design will examine how changes in the operation of housing courts are responding to the ‘new normal’ era of COVID-19, which has disproportionately affected communities of color.
Even before the pandemic, research showed that black and brown people, especially black women, face substantially higher eviction rates than other demographic groups. The economic hardships of the past year threaten to raise these rates even higher.
At the same time, there is a new openness to innovation in the courts, with virtual hearings, community navigators, and eviction diversion programs. The racial equity movement following the killing of George Floyd has also pushed court leaders to a moment of change and reflection. Many court justices and administrators have expressed an interest in making courts more accessible and equitable.
This class will use this opportunity to bring policymakers and judicial administrators together with community members — especially from the demographic groups most likely to face eviction — to improve how housing courts work, and to propose new initiatives to prevent evictions.
Students will work directly with the NAACP and other partner organizations, which are developing new models for eviction diversion and prevention. The research teams will tackle specific policy challenges, including how to broaden a community’s awareness of rights and services; how court rules and procedures might be reformed to allow for meaningful participation; and adaptations in the format for hearings and mediations that enable equal access to all.
During the class, students will hear challenges from judicial leaders and housing advocates; conduct user research and design sessions with tenants and landlords; and propose new models of how landlord-tenant issues can be resolved in court hearings or diversion programs. A particular focus will be on programs that can work virtually, and on making these programs accessible and engaging for people from demographic groups most at risk of eviction. The final deliverable will be a proposed initiative for our partners to implement, along with an evaluation plan to measure its impact. It will include a written proposal and analysis, a visual presentation, and a public presentation to policy-makers around the country.
The students’ learning goals are to understand how the housing and eviction system works, including the legal procedures, rights, and sociological dynamics of how this system interrelates with poverty and community stability. Students will also develop policy analysis and design skills grounded in qualitative and quantitative approaches. Students will expand their understanding of how to analyze complex social systems which will, in turn, contribute to new skills in facilitating discussions and collaborating with community members and policymakers to design new policy interventions and programs.
This policy lab invites applications from law students and from graduate and upper-class students across the university who are engaged in coursework focused on public policy and social problem solving, especially housing justice. Knowledge of the housing court system is beneficial but not required.