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Sapna Raj

Sapna Raj

Sapna V. Raj is the Managing Attorney at the Memphis Fair Housing Center at Memphis Area Legal Services. After serving as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York, she moved to Memphis and joined the Memphis Fair Housing Center. She was counsel on numerous federal predatory lending lawsuits filed against more than 40 defendants that included lenders, mortgage brokers, appraisers, and closing agents. She supervises the Fair Housing Center, which investigates and litigates claims of housing discrimination, and the Home Preservation Project, which has offered foreclosure prevention assistance to more than 8,000 homeowners since 2008. She is the Project Director of the Supportive Services for Veterans and Families Project, which offers financial, case management, and legal services to low-income veterans who are homeless or in danger of losing their housing.

What’s a case or client or piece of advocacy that comes to mind as giving you particular personal satisfaction? Why?

The Memphis Fair Housing Center represents more tenants who are discriminated against because of their mental disabilities than any of the other protected classes under the Fair Housing Act. 

Long before the term “predatory lending” had been coined, we successfully litigated more than 23 federal lawsuits on behalf of elderly home owners on fixed incomes who had substantial equity in their homes; they had been refinanced into new 30-year mortgages, when all they were seeking was a small equity loan for a relatively minor home repair like a new driveway or a new roof. Other homeowners had been convinced that consolidating unsecured debt into their mortgage loans was a prudent financial decision. The terms were almost uniformly unconscionable. Homelessness was a certainty. We used the Fair Housing Act, the civil provisions of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, and other federal statutes to allege conspiracy and discriminatory targeting of minority groups in Memphis. The cases against national lenders, mortgage brokers, settlement agents, and appraisers settled for almost $3 million. The success of those lawsuits has helped enormously in reaching settlements, without litigation, on behalf of other homeowners.

You work on fair housing in the Memphis area. What is the biggest housing problem you see there?

The Memphis Fair Housing Center represents more tenants who are discriminated against because of their mental disabilities than any of the other protected classes under the Fair Housing Act. 

If you were in charge, what’s one way (other than having more funding!) that public interest legal work would be different?

Our organization serves only a fraction of those who apply for our services. If everyone who is low-income and in need of legal representation could easily access lawyers and advocates, we would have a more equitable society.

You didn’t begin your career with legal services. How did you find your way to your current position?

After working at a Wall Street law firm, I moved to the Civil Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York. There, my interest in public interest was born. When I moved to Memphis and joined Memphis Area Legal Services' Fair Housing Center, I found representing clients who would not be helped elsewhere extremely rewarding.

What’s one of your guilty pleasures?

Jane Austen and potato chips—not necessarily in that order!

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