HOME's Founding Executive Director
Barbara came to Richmond with some fair housing experience from Montgomery County, Maryland. That experience, however did not prepare her for what she witnessed in Richmond. There was turmoil over busing and race riots on Broad Street following Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination. Profoundly moved, Barbara vowed to help end the ugliness of racial segregation.
Soon after, Barbara met Jean Boone with the Urban League of Richmond and an adjunct professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who had a similar interest in fair housing. Jim Hecht also moved to Richmond in the same era, with experience founding a fair housing group in Buffalo, New York, and also writing a book Because It Is Right, an exploration of housing discrimination and fair housing action in Buffalo and across the country. A grassroots movement was born, and ultimately, Barbara and Jean joined HOME’s founding board in 1971. Those who knew Barbara describe her as bright, passionate, bold, and extremely capable. Her leadership steered the organization to emergent fair housing success and sustainability.
Not satisfied with the pace of government enforcement of the fair housing laws, HOME, with Barbara at the helm, developed a more pro-active enforcement role. Barbara interpreted the plain language of the Fair Housing Act as broad enough to permit fair housing testers and their organizations to sue on their own behalf if they could show direct injury by discriminatory real estate practices. Further, she noted, there was nothing in the Act’s legislative history or in any subsequent case law to contradict this novel statutory interpretation.
Expanding upon Dr. King's model of testing to prove the existence of illegal racist practices, Barbara designed and implemented a series of tests on a dozen large apartment complexes with moderate rents in predominantly white neighborhoods throughout the Richmond metropolitan area. The results from that investigation led HOME to the U.S. Supreme Court to establish fair housing precedent.
The landmark decision from the U.S. Supreme Court was unanimous. In the Havens Realty Corp. v. Coleman case, the Justices found that HOME and its testers have standing to sue in fair housing cases. This verdict set national precedent and expanded fair housing enforcement nationwide to include non-government agencies like HOME and other fair housing nonprofits. It is considered the single most important fair housing case ever decided. The decision reverberated across the United States and established HOME as an aggressive, skilled force for change.
After successfully leading the charge to argue the unprecedented Havens v. Coleman case before the U.S. Supreme Court, Barbara went on to earn a law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law. In subsequent years, she has practiced law, continuing to work with fair housing organizations.