Meet Halle Ostoyich, the ERC’s New Intake Coordinator
Halle joined the ERC in August and plunged into her role assisting DC-area residents facing possible housing discrimination. She’s been busy as our intake program continues to grow, but found time last week to speak with Senior Communications and Engagement Coordinator Nick Adjami and introduce herself to the ERC membership.
NA: Can you tell our members a little about yourself and your career up to this point?
HO: I’m from DC originally and very excited to be back in my home city assisting people facing housing discrimination in the area. I studied Political Science and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures in college, and was living in Morocco before the pandemic, so a lot has changed for me over the past few years. Most recently before joining the ERC, I worked as an advocate for families living in transitional housing. Seeing firsthand the issues that people face when trying to find and maintain stable housing inspired me to transition into the world of fair housing, and I hope to be able to make a difference through my work at the ERC.
What was it that drew you to the ERC specifically?
I’ve always been interested in civil rights work and have gravitated towards jobs in that field. In college, I studied law and public policy, and had the opportunity to learn about the long history of housing discrimination in our country, and the importance of fair housing to reverse those trends. Fair housing should be an integral part of any social justice movement, and I was drawn to the ERC for that reason. Historically, housing discrimination – from formalized segregation to redlining and steering – has greatly shaped our country, and continues to be a significant force in perpetuating systemic inequalities. The work being done by the ERC and organizations like it across the country is an important part of combatting those patterns.
Do you think that growing up in and around DC, as you mentioned, gives you a special perspective on the ERC’s work?
I have a lot of love for DC, but I am also aware from first-hand experience that it is among the worst cities in the country when it comes to segregation, and the surrounding region isn’t any better. Housing discrimination is still a major issue here, and I’m very passionate about creating a more equitable future for the city that includes ending unfair housing practices. Getting to play a part in addressing this inequality in DC through my work has already been such a great experience.
What will you be doing in your role at the ERC?
I’ll be taking over as the Intake Coordinator here at the ERC, which means that I will be working directly with clients and potential clients to address possible housing discrimination. I’m the initial point of contact for all of our intakes, so people who believe that they may be experiencing housing discrimination talk to me first. Then, I help determine whether we’re able to assist them and, if we can, how to best do so. In some cases, that means I get to assist clients beyond the initial intake stage through advocacy, which could include writing advocacy letters to housing providers or drafting requests for disability-related accommodations and/or modifications. I also assist with outreach efforts, educating people about their fair housing rights. The outreach work is especially important because public education around these topics is one of the best tools we have to fight entrenched discriminatory behaviors and practices.
Can you expand on the advocacy you mentioned? What options might a client have if they report discrimination to you?
There are a few different ways in which the ERC can assist people, including the advocacy letters and reasonable accommodation and modification requests I mentioned. We can also assist individuals with filing housing discrimination complaints or potentially conducting civil rights testing to gather more evidence about the discrimination they are alleging. In my role, I get to work with clients to determine which of the services offered by the ERC is best suited to their particular case. For example, if an individual is having issues with a landlord, I could write a letter to that landlord explaining the protections afforded to the client under federal or local laws. If an issue appears to be more systemic in nature, I can refer the case to the civil rights testing team for a larger-scale investigation.
What do you hope to achieve in your first year with the ERC?
My main goal is to help with the continued growth of the intake program. The program has already begun to expand over the past couple of years, and we have been able to advocate for more and more clients. I’m excited to get to play a part in this growth and to help strengthen our existing programs to ensure we can continue providing high-quality assistance to our clients.
Thanks so much for giving us the inside scoop, Halle! I have one last (seasonally appropriate) question for you. What’s your favorite Halloween candy?
I have a massive sweet tooth, so I really love all candy, including the more controversial ones like candy corn. If I have to pick just one though, I think my favorite candy is a Take Five. You really can never go wrong with chocolate, pretzels, peanut butter, and caramel.
The ERC is a civil rights organization that identifies and seeks to eliminate unlawful and unfair discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations in its home community of Greater Washington DC and nationwide. The ERC’s core strategy for identifying unlawful and unfair discrimination is civil rights testing. When the ERC identifies discrimination, it seeks to eliminate it through the use of testing data to educate the public and business community, support policy advocacy, conduct compliance testing and training, and, if necessary, take enforcement action. For more information, please visit www.equalrightscenter.org.