Antonia K. Fasanelli is the Executive Director of the National Homelessness Law Center and serves as Co-Chair of the Section's Economic Justice Committee.
Where are you from? How have your experiences here, or throughout your upbringing, influenced your passions and aspirations today?
I was born and raised in the District of Columbia. I had both family members and a closely friend who experienced homelessness during the 1980s when the mass homelessness we still see to this day truly began. The experiences of those loved ones demonstrated to me, at a very early age, how critical access to housing is for survival, as well as access to a basic income and health and mental health care. Homelessness is, unquestionably, a profound injustice caused by profoundly harmful, yet intentional policy decisions. After witnessing the struggles of those dear to us, I dedicated my life’s work to ending this injustice.
Why is the Economic Justice Committee important and what do you hope to accomplish with it?
After serving on the ABA Commission on Homelessness & Poverty for six years, I was honored to be a part of the starting membership for the then-newly formed Economic Justice Committee in order to promote policies and programs advancing the right of every person to a stable, dignified life. Much of my work with the committee has been focused on advancing ABA policies around the human right to food, the human right to basic income, and prohibiting discrimination in housing based on source of income.
What do you feel is the greatest challenge to economic justice today?
The greatest barriers to economic justice are political leaders who want to expand the economic divide in this country for political gain by supporting systems that oppress Black, Indigenous and Persons of Color, LGBTQIA persons and other marginalized populations.
When you look back, what is it that you want your advocacy and professional career to stand for?
Ending homelessness and advancing human rights. I also hope that I have been a dedicated and supportive mentor who created space and leadership advancement for others.
What CRSJ project(s) are you working on? Or, what have you undertaken in CRSJ that you found most rewarding to have worked on? Are there any upcoming events or projects you want us all to know about?
One major area within Economic Justice on which I have been focused is urging all governments to prohibit housing discrimination based on source of income. Source of Income (SOI) discrimination is an insidious practice of denying housing to potential tenants based on the source or type of income they intend to use to pay rent. SOI discrimination is most commonly levied against persons using government rental assistance, such as a housing voucher, to rent housing, but we have also seen discrimination against persons with disabilities, the elderly and women-headed households who rely on disability benefits, retirement income and child support or alimony to pay rent. SOI discrimination is often a pretext for discrimination based on race, disability, age, gender and familial status.
In 2017, the Economic Justice Committee urged the American Bar Association House of Delegates to approve Resolution 119A (Aug. 2017) urging federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial governments to enact legislation prohibiting discrimination in housing on the basis of lawful source of income. When the policy passed we took a 3-prong approach to implementation – outreach & education, advocacy at state level and advocacy at federal level. Outreach was to state and local advocates primarily through the Human Rights Magazine and a webinar. Advocacy at the state level was through existing state coalitions with support from the Poverty & Race Research Action Council and the National Homelessness Law Center, and federal advocacy through letters to Congress in support of amendments to the federal fair housing act.
We were honored the then-ABA President Bob Carlson issued a statement in support in November 2018: ABA backs legislation that would bar housing bias against people based on income source, which we followed-up with a webinar in December 2018 CRSJ Webinar “Your Money’s No Good Here” and November 30, 2019 Human Rights Magazine article “Your Money's No Good Here: Combatting Source of Income Discrimination in Housing” by Antonia K. Fasanelli and Philip Tegeler all to support state and local advocates and persons with lived expertise working to advance source of income protection for renters in their home communities.
The ABA policy has bolstered successful advocacy efforts in Baltimore City, Anne Arundel County and by 2020, a statewide law in Maryland and Virginia. The ABA policy and is currently supporting efforts in Maine, Nevada, New Mexico, and Delaware.
What do you do to relax in your spare time?
I love to take long walks, cook, spend time with friends and read both good and trashy books. Most of all, I love to spend time with my family!
What is one thing most people do not know about you that you feel they should?
I used to play the violin.