March 18, 2014
MEET THE STAFF: Jack Holtzman, Attorney, Consumer & Housing Project
Like some but certainly not all future lawyers, Jack Holtzman studied English literature as an undergraduate.
“I knew I wanted to do something that would promote social and economic justice, but I wasn’t sure what,” Jack says. “I wasn’t sure how I would plug myself into a career that was meaningful and had that service component, and where I could make a living.”
It wasn’t until the tail end of college that law school started calling his name. In 1985, Jack—who grew up in Manhattan—found himself experiencing his first taste of the south, right here in North Carolina, where he’s been working as a lawyer ever since.
“Other than growing up on tales of the Civil Rights movement and the African-American struggle for social justice and equality, I had never experienced the South first hand,” Jack says.
His first job out of law school—where he decided he wanted to do civil rights work and pro bono litigation—was with Legal Services of North Carolina in Wilson, the only integrated law firm in Wilson at the time. He can still remember being taken out to a farmworker camp at night, where some workers were skinning a pig for BBQ, using the light of a pickup truck head lamp. Jack could hear a train’s whistle in the distance and thought, “Wow, I’m really in the south.”
Luckily, it stuck. He worked in the Goldsboro and Wilson Legal Services offices for several years, handling unemployment cases, landlord-tenant disputes, and public benefits work, all with a strong emphasis on social and economic justice. Jack eventually left to work for Prisoner Legal Services, where he worked on prison and jail conditions and post-conviction challenges, and then the NC Association of CDC’s, where he got his first taste of housing policy work, helping residents who had been displaced by Hurricane Floyd.
Jack arrived at the NC Justice Center in 2011, where he now works as a senior attorney for the Consumer & Housing Project as well as one of the two project directors of Legal Aid of NC’s Fair Housing Project, which got off the ground in 2011. Legal Aid and the Justice Center spent years trying to get funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to work on statewide fair housing work. For a long time, the enormous Tarheel State lacked any coordinated fair housing work.
Since then, the Fair Housing Project has worked tirelessly to represent individuals across the state facing housing discrimination issues. The team represented an African American family experiencing neighborhood harassment, as well as co-counseling with the UNC Center for Civil Rights to represent an unincorporated African American community down east that were receiving the county’s end-use of sand pits and dumps and were at risk of being further intruded upon by a landfill expansion. The Fair Housing Project fights housing discrimination of all kinds, whether it’s a landlord refusing to a allow a caregiver to house a disabled family member, or a municipality trying to keep affordable housing out of its area, disproportionately impacting low-income tenants of color. The Fair Housing Project also conducts testing to see if individuals are treated in a discriminatory manner by landlords or property managers.
On top of all of that, Jack continues his work with the Consumer & Housing Project and the rest of the NC Justice Center, addressing issues varied as immigrant access to education, discriminatory student assignment policies, and landlord-tenant class action lawsuits.
“That’s always very rewarding, when you can tell people that didn’t know… that they’re getting money as result of a lawsuit settlement,” Jack says.
Policy changes are among the most rewarding aspects of the issues Jack, the Fair Housing Project, and the Consumer & Housing team work on every day—if also the most difficult.
“It’s very satisfying when you get policy changes—when you make higher education more financially accessible for all TPS [temporary protected status] students, or obtain a change in the policy for an entire building complex,” Jack says. “One thing that’s so important about the Justice Center is our work on systemic change: a change in the law, a change in the policy, a change that has an impact beyond just the individual client. It’s one of the strengths of the Justice Center, and one of the things I like the most. Besides the people.”
You can help Jack and the rest of the Consumer & Housing project continue their work by making a donation today.
EITC: Nearly one million NC families will claim credit for last time this tax year
Unless lawmakers reverse course, nearly one million North Carolina families will claim the state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for the last time this tax season, one year after Gov. McCrory signed a bill ending the tax credit.
In 2013, North Carolina lawmakers put an end to the state EITC, which helps low-wage workers keep more of their income so they can afford basic necessities, like child care, while pursuing deep tax cuts that primarily benefit wealthy individuals and profitable corporations. North Carolina is the only state in the nation with a state EITC to eliminate this proven tax credit in nearly 30 years.
Currently, North Carolina's tax system already asks more from low- and middle-income families than it does from those earning the most. Losing the state EITC makes this disparity that much worst. The resulting tax shift would be detrimental to North Carolina's economy.
Lawmakers first established the state EITC in 2007, when North Carolina families faced job loss, spikes in poverty, and a boom in low-wage work. Working families continue to face economic hardship, but the state EITC—which is only available to people who work and earn income from wages, salaries, or self-employment—has helped families stay afloat by offsetting the higher share of state and local taxes that low-wage workers pay compared to high-income workers, allowing them to keep more of what they earn. The EITC is also widely recognized as one of the most effective anti-poverty tools nationwide.
The loss of the EITC could push families into poverty at a time when North Carolina already has the 10th highest poverty and child poverty rates in the nation. It's not too late for state lawmakers to help working families and reinstate this modest but critical support.
CRUCIAL CONVERSATION: Dean Baker, Center for Econ. & Policy Research
Join NC Policy Watch and the Budget & Tax Center on March 26 for a special Crucial Conversation luncheon with one of America’s leading economists, Dean Baker, on the truth behind the American economy. Where do things stand? What’s holding us back? What about the situation in North Carolina?
Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is frequently cited in economics reporting in major media outlets, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, CNBC and NPR. He writes a weekly column for theguardian.com, The Huffington Post, Truthout and his blog, Beat the Press, which features commentary on economic reporting. Baker previously worked as a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute and an assistant professor at Bucknell University.
Don’t miss the opportunity to hear from this knowledgeable and important voice at this critical time. The event will be held at 12:00 p.m. on Wednesday, March 26 at the Center for Community Leadership Training Room at the Junior League of Raleigh Building, 711 Hillsborough St. Space is limited – pre-registration required.
PLACE MATTERS: How environment impacts opportunity in NC
Last year, a report from the UNC Center for Civil Rights built a case for how our built environment truly reflects (or doesn’t) equality of opportunity in North Carolina, particularly for communities of color.
Such geographic constraints are evident across the state—one can see it in the persistent poverty in Eastern North Carolina, the tremendous job loss in the Piedmont, and a lack of infrastructure in the western Mountains. Yet a commitment to place-based strategies has waned over the years, and no more so than in the last year due to the elimination of economic development funding.
A new series on the Progressive Pulse blog returns to the place-based approach to policy, showing how one's location can directly affect an individual’s health, educational opportunities and lifetime earnings. The posts highlight the data on exclusion in our communities and the solutions that are being pursued locally, often without much fanfare but with great effect. Keep an eye out for postings over the next several months.
DEFENDERS OF JUSTICE AWARDS: Buy your ticket today!
Mark your calendars! This year’s Defenders of Justice (DOJ) Awards will be held on Tuesday, April 22, at the William and Ida Friday Center in Chapel Hill.
Purchase tickets and learn more about sponsorship opportunities here. We are pleased to announce an incredible slate of honorees for this year.
- Legislative & Administrative Advocacy
Congressman G.K. Butterfield voiced strong support for unemployment benefits for laid off workers, expansion of Medicaid to cover more uninsured families, and held numerous town halls for citizens to learn about the Affordable Care Act.
- Policy Research & Advocacy
Planned Parenthood in North Carolina mobilized and led a coalition of groups and individuals fighting for reproductive justice for women bringing constant attention to the reproductive rights debate in our state.
League of Women Voters – Piedmont Triad organized its members and the public in fights for voting rights, campaign finance reform, and immigration reform among many other issues, and they championed a campaign for health care access through the Affordable Care Act.
League of Women Voters – Charlotte-Mecklenburg, much like their counterparts in the Triad, also focused tremendous attention and advocacy around the changes in the state’s tax structure and state budget, fighting for progressive tax reform and investments in the state’s future.
Mona Lisa Wallace, partner in the Salisbury law firm of Wallace and Graham, has long fought against predatory lenders and payday loan operators who have trapped low and middle class families in unscrupulous loans. She has been a leading litigator fighting for workers who have been harmed by unsafe workplaces.
- Grassroots Empowerment
NC MomsRising taps into the power of mothers who feel underrepresented and disempowered by providing presentations about issues such as how education cuts will harm our children, and what rights mothers have in the workplace.
NC Raise Up is leading efforts for a living wage for fast food workers in the state and bringing attention to the struggles they have to make ends meet, while noting that the government must often provide them with benefits because of their low wages and poor working conditions.
Stay tuned for more details on the Defenders of Justice Awards over the next few months.
HEALTH CARE FORUM: Join conversation on ACA in Washington on March 27
Join the NC Justice Center's Health Access Coalition in Washington, NC, on March 27 for an educational forum and community conversation on the Affordable Care Act (ACA). HAC will lead a discussion on the benefits of the ACA, how Medicaid expansion would help the community, the online marketplace for purchasing insurance, and eligibility for tax credits for individuals and small businesses.
The event will be held on Thursday, March 27 at the Metropolitan AME Zion Church, 102 West Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Washington from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
So we can be properly prepared and have enough materials and refreshments, call today to reserve your spot by contacting Claudia Stokes (252) 702-8337 or organizer Nicole Dozier at (919) 856-2146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
FAST FOR FAMILIES: NC women join in solidarity fast for immigration reform
Act. Fast: Women's Fast for Families is a month of action across the United States as part of the next push to bring a comprehensive immigration law to the finish line and to stop the epidemic of deportations. North Carolina women and female-identified North Carolinians participated in a 24-hour solidarity fast from Monday to Tuesday for common sense immigration reform, joining individuals from across the country.
You can read profiles of some of the fast leaders in North Carolina, including ones from the NC Justice Center, Immigrants & Allies United for Justice, the Southeast Asian Coalition, and NC MomsRising, and why they chose to fast today at this link.
Emma Akpan, a minister, fasted because she believes that “all people should live in dignity and without fear,” while Irene Godínez as the daughter of immigrants has “witnessed the struggle and tenacity of my parents striving to give us opportunities that they did not have.” Cat Bao Le, based in Charlotte, is fasting for families torn apart by deportation, “many of whom have already experienced family separation because of displacement, poverty and war.”
"As mothers, we are calling for inclusive immigration reform that strengthens families, and aligns with our nation’s values," said Beth Messersmith of MomsRising. Dani Moore, director of the North Carolina Justice Center's Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project, is from a family with Irish and English roots. "It's fitting that we fast on a holiday celebrating Irish culture and history, since we often do not realize the migration stories of today are not so different than those of past generations, " Moore said.
The Act. Fast. month of actions began on March 8th, International Women’s Day, and builds towards the April 5th national day of action against deportations and a 48-hour fast of 100 women in Washington DC on April 7-9. More than 55 organizations and hundreds of women in more than 20 U.S. states and Mexico are taking part in the month of fasting and action. These organizations and women together represent networks of millions of women who themselves represent part of the nearly 70 percent of women nationwide who support immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship.