Professor Singh Lemar on Affordable Housing, Small Business, and Community

New Haven aerial view
Clinical Professor Anika Singh Lemar's two Law School clinics have focused on advocating for affordable housing in Connecticut and supporting small local businesses and nonprofits in New Haven during the pandemic.

Clinical Professor of Law Anika Singh Lemar received tenure on January 1, 2021 and leads the Community and Economic Development Clinic (CED) and the Small Business and Community in a Time of Crisis Clinic at Yale Law School. Lemar described why her students are advocating for affordable housing in Connecticut’s suburbs, how they have supported local small businesses throughout the pandemic, and what she hopes her students will learn from the New Haven community.

Anika Singh Lemar
Q: The Community and Economic Development Clinic has been working in Connecticut to change zoning laws. Can you tell us about some of the successes the clinic has achieved in the past year? Why are the changes in the zoning laws so important for racial and economic equality?

A: Scholars— at the forefront Yale’s Bob Ellickson — have long understood the relationship between zoning and housing affordability. Restrictive zoning inflates housing prices primarily by requiring the consumption of large parcels of land to build single units of housing. Given our nation’s history of racial segregation and discrimination, there is a massive racial wealth and income gap. Therefore, price inflation in the housing market affects Black and Latinx households significantly more than it affects white households.

Importantly, where you live also determines access to other public goods, such as public schools with small class sizes, clean parks and air, and commuter rail. As a result, towns that erect barriers to entry to the housing market are also — often by design — erecting barriers to precisely those public goods that poor and low-income people need to climb the ladder of economic opportunity.

As a result, I have made it a priority for CED to represent developers constructing affordable housing in a variety of types of towns and cities as well as fair housing advocates seeking to decrease barriers to development in tony suburbs. We have worked alongside civil rights organizations and housing policy advocates to advocate for changes to the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, a federal housing production subsidy. We have worked with clients in New Jersey and Missouri on racial justice. And, here in Connecticut, we have advocated for protecting Connecticut’s Anti Snob Zoning law and represented developers seeking to build housing in towns like Branford and Woodbridge. At the same time we continue to represent community development corporations looking to improve access to opportunity — through housing, day care, and other amenities — here in New Haven.

Q: You and your students have also been working with local small businesses during the pandemic. How did this work develop?

A: Students were at the forefront of our efforts to assist small businesses and nonprofits suffering the economic consequences of the pandemic. As early as March 2020, our students were delivering webinars and disseminating information to the New Haven community on relief programs. At the same time when we were grappling with the logistics of teaching from home, representing clients without being in the same room with them, and homeschooling our children, we realized that we needed to do more to serve our neighbors. The CARES Act passed in late March and there was a great need for lawyers to provide information and advice to local businesses, workers, and nonprofits on what exactly the legislation provided. Dozens of students signed on to provide one-on-one informational phone calls to local businesses and nonprofits. We provided legal representation to dozens of those organizations for whom a phone call was not enough. The work was challenging — the federal government was issuing new guidance on the Paycheck Protection Program, for example, every few days in May of 2020 and our students were keeping up with those changes while studying for exams during a pandemic. We have continued this work over the last year by representing individual small businesses and by representing the merchants’ associations and others who advocate for those enterprises.

Q: A lot of your clinical work focuses on the local community. Why are these ties important to you and important to pass onto YLS students?

A: I love New Haven. This is the town where — years before I joined this faculty — I chose to settle down and raise my family. My kids play Little League in New Haven parks and attend New Haven public schools. We bike and walk New Haven streets. We attend programs and festivals hosted by community groups and the local parks and recreation department. One thing we love about this place is that New Haven has long been a destination for migrants and immigrants who have strived for their share of opportunity and success. New Haven — like all places — is at its best when it welcomes newcomers, whether Italian immigrants in Wooster Square at the turn of the 20th century or African-American migrants from the American South to Dixwell and Newhallville during the Great Migration or Syrian and Iraqi refugees today. I want this town to be the best version of itself it can be because when New Haven succeeds, the families here — from all walks of life, all economic situations, and all corners of the world — have a chance to succeed. I hope that somewhere along with the corporate law and tax law and contract drafting skills, I pass onto my students a love for places that are not just diverse but truly inclusive and for the notion that change is inevitable but we can work to direct it in a way that makes life better for more people.