Derek Waller ’19 Wins ABA Forum on Affordable Housing and Community Development Writing Competition

May 21, 2018

The ABA Forum on Affordable Housing and Community Development has recently named Derek Waller ’19 as the winner of its 2018 Law Student Writing Competition for his article “Leveraging State and Local Antidiscrimination Laws to Prohibit Discrimination Against Recipients of Federal Rental Assistance.”

The Forum invited law students nationwide to participate in the competition by submitting articles that address legal issues related to affordable housing or community development law. In addition to winning the student competition, Waller’s article will be published in a future issue of the ABA Journal of Affordable Housing and Community Development Law. He will also speak as a panelist at the Forum’s conference in Washington, D.C. on May 25.

Waller’s article focuses on discrimination in rental housing against housing choice voucher recipients. The housing choice voucher program, commonly known as “Section 8,” is the federal government’s rental assistance program that subsidizes rent for very low-income people, the elderly, and people with disabilities. Many landlords categorically reject Section 8 vouchers, which makes it extremely difficult for voucher-holders to find housing even after they have been awarded a voucher. In his article, Waller assesses state antidiscrimination laws and identifies states with laws prohibiting this kind of discrimination. He makes the case that courts in Minnesota and elsewhere have erroneously allowed landlords to discriminate against Section 8 recipients by ignoring the unambiguous text and clear legislative intent of state antidiscrimination laws.

“I’m honored to have my article selected and hope it will bring attention an important issue of discrimination in the Section 8 program. Housing choice vouchers are an important tool to combat the current affordable housing crisis in the Twin Cities and across the United States,” Waller said. “When landlords categorically exclude voucher recipients, the vouchers go unused and the recipient is caught in a paradox: they can’t afford rent without a voucher and yet are excluded from renting because they have a voucher.”

Waller’s article originated as a seminar paper for Professor Myron Orfield’s class “Smart Growth,” in which students learn about legal issues in local government, urban development, racial segregation, and affordable housing. After completing the course, Derek expanded the paper into a more comprehensive article that assesses antidiscrimination in all states that prohibit discrimination because of a person’s source of income.

Derek Waller '19 (Photo: Katie Driscoll)
Derek Waller '19 (Photo: Katie Driscoll)

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