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Posted March 27, 2013

Silverstein Receives George N. Lindsay Civil Rights Legal Fellowship, Will Focus on Fair Housing

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Thomas Silverstein

Third-year law student Thomas Silverstein is the 2013-14 recipient of the prestigious George N. Lindsay Civil Rights Legal Fellowship by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Thomas Silverstein, a third-year law student at the University of Virginia School of Law, has been selected as the 2013-14 recipient of the prestigious George N. Lindsay Civil Rights Legal Fellowship by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Contact: Brian McNeill

For his one-year fellowship, Silverstein will be working in Washington, D.C., at the Lawyers' Committee, a national civil rights organization, to ensure that states and localities that receive federal housing funds meet their duty under the Fair Housing Act to promote residential integration.

"I will be working to implement what we're calling a holistic approach to enforcing the Fair Housing Act’s duty to affirmatively further fair housing," Silverstein said. "I will be doing this through a mix of administrative enforcement, policy advocacy and transactional legal services to community-based organizations."

The 1968 Fair Housing Act includes a provision requiring that all federal housing and community development funds to be used by states and localities in a manner that ensures fair housing, essentially meaning the money should be used to promote residential integration.

The law was rarely enforced during its first few decades on the books, Silverstein said. In the past three to four years, however, the federal government has significantly improved its enforcement of the affirmatively furthering fair housing requirement. In 2009, for example, the government reached a major settlement with Westchester County, N.Y., that required the locality to create hundreds of affordable housing units for low and moderate-income people in predominantly white communities and to aggressively this new housing to minorities.

"Because this duty wasn't properly enforced in the first decades after it was put into place, the problem that it was intended to address hasn't been addressed yet," Silverstein said. "There has been some decline in levels of residential racial segregation over the past few decades, but it has been very gradual and most of our metropolitan areas remain segregated by race."

Silverstein said integrating communities remains important because people living in economically depressed and segregated neighborhoods tend to be disadvantaged in numerous ways, including access to high-quality schools, health care, job opportunities and even full-service supermarkets.

"There's just so many different parts of life where the fact of where you live can influence how things turn out," he said.

The Lawyers' Committee awards the George N. Lindsay Fellowship annually to provide an opportunity for recent law school graduates to gain experience in civil rights practice, working on issues such as voting rights, fair housing, employment discrimination, education, community and economic development, and environmental justice. The fellowship pays a stipend of $42,000, supplemented by a loan forgiveness payment of $2,000 and payment of bar review and fees. UVA Law graduates who work in public service also are eligible for the Virginia Loan Forgiveness Program.

Prior to enrolling at UVA Law, Silverstein worked at the Lawyers' Committee as a legal assistant for two years after graduating from the College of William & Mary.

Joe Rich, director of the Lawyers' Committee's fair housing project, said Silverstein was "outstanding" in that job and played an important role in furthering the organization's fair housing and community development projects. Now, he said, the organization is looking forward to seeing Silverstein advance the enforcement of fair housing laws that prohibit discrimination which creates barriers to residential desegregation as well as require affirmative steps to promote integration.

"It is an area on which the Fair Housing Project has been prioritizing in recent years and Tom’s joining us as a Lindsay Fellow will strengthen that commitment," Rich said.

UVA Law professor Richard Schragger called Silverstein a "terrific law student who combines intellectual curiosity with a deep commitment to public interest lawyering."

"I can't think of a more deserving recipient of the George Lindsay Fellowship, and I expect great things from him in the future," he said.