Justin Hollinger, ‘19, has been awarded an Independence Foundation Fellowship that will enable him to pursue legal avenues to support community-based organizations addressing the loss of affordable housing in Philadelphia neighborhoods that are undergoing a rapid rise in property values.
Starting in September, Hollinger will work with Regional Housing Legal Services, focusing on three initiatives aimed at safeguarding affordable housing in real estate markets that are ablaze.
“Philly could be the city that proves it’s possible to have growth without resulting in the displacement of communities,” Hollinger said.
Hollinger’s work will include helping registered community organizations navigate the Philadelphia zoning code put in place seven years ago and to understand the rights of residents as well as developers seeking to build housing in their neighborhoods. While some community-based organizations are knowledgeable about the zoning code, Hollinger said, others seek insights about the ways that it can be enlisted to protect community interests. In some instances, Hollinger will represent community organizations at zoning board hearings and in negotiations with developers.
Another project Hollinger will tackle involves helping organizations utilize community land trusts as a means of creating affordable housing. Community land trusts can hold parcels of land which are developed in cooperation with community residents. Among other benefits, the model allows families to own homes and build wealth, even in neighborhoods that would otherwise take homeownership out of reach. Hollinger will represent organizations throughout the legal process of establishing community land trusts.
Hollinger will also help tenant organizations explore and pursue options such as gaining legal status as cooperatives that would allow them to take ownership of buildings in which they reside that have expiring tax credits. Existing law permits such cooperatives to be formed, Hollinger said, though this little understood provision has seldom been used.
The work represents a natural extension of projects Hollinger undertook as a student with the Andy and Gwen Stern Community Lawyering Clinic. While there, he partnered with homeowners who faced foreclosure to explore systemic legal responses to adverse effects of neighborhood development.
Hollinger’s work with the clinic earned him the Clinical Legal Education Association’s Outstanding Student Award. He graduated summa cum laude and with Pro Bono Service Honors.
Independence Foundation Fellowship program in public interest law is designed to enable some of the best and brightest law school graduates to direct their talents to public interest service.