Suffolk University Law School, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Boston Fair Housing Commission celebrated the launch of their new Housing Discrimination Testing Program Wednesday with a conference at the Law School.

“This partnership does something powerful,” said John S. Trasvina, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “It is training the next generation of civil rights leaders. Bringing this issue into the classroom is going to make a meaningful difference to students and to the people who need these services.”

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley also spoke at the event.

The partnership, funded by a $150,000 HUD grant, expands Suffolk Law’s work with the Boston Fair Housing Commission, which explores the prevalence of housing discrimination in the Boston area. The partnership will allow for systemic testing focused on LGBT, disability, and familial status issues, as well as complaint-based testing that supports state and local Fair Housing Assistance Programs.

'People can stay in their homes'

Coakley, a national leader on housing issues, said: “I am delighted to be able to work with Suffolk and all of you to look at these important issues and to implement solutions.”

She discussed her office’s efforts to combat housing discrimination.

“More than 125 housing discrimination matters have been handled by our office,” she said. “This work has resulted in more than $2.5 million in relief for Massachusetts residents. I consider these the most important things that we do, because it means that people can stay in their homes.”

'Goal is to eliminate discrimination'

Menino thanked HUD for its commitment to fair housing.

“This is a very important issue in our city, country and world,” he said. “Our goal is to eliminate discrimination and increase access to housing regardless of where you were born, sexual orientation, race, religion, or family status.”

Legal lessons

Housing discrimination remains pervasive not only in Massachusetts but throughout the country. The program allows students to increase their familiarity with housing rights through substantive course work, clinical opportunities and externships with HUD and its partners.

“This is a springboard for students to gain practical skills that they can apply for the benefit of the community,” said Suffolk Law School Dean Camille Nelson. “It reactivates our mission of service and reminds us that we are in a service profession. It is a privilege to stand up for those who face oppression and injustice.

“We are thrilled to be part of this collaboration with HUD,” said Nelson. “The Housing Discrimination Testing Program is a win for the law school, a win for the government and a win for community partners. The program will help uncover insidious behavior that can have such a crushing impact on individuals and families.”

Clinical experience

Suffolk Law students currently work on housing matters on behalf of indigent individuals, including fair housing cases.

“We are looking forward to focusing attention on housing discrimination,” said Clinical Professor of Law William Berman, associate director of Suffolk Law School’s clinical programs. Berman and his colleagues are working to develop protocols for the Suffolk program with F. Willis Caruso, professor and co-executive director of the Fair Housing Legal Support Center & Clinic at John Marshall Law School in Chicago.

Before signing a proclamation marking the launch of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s National Fair Housing Collegiate Partnership Campaign, Trasvina said that everyone has a role in making sure that housing decisions are made with an eye toward fair housing.

“Through this great relationship, my hope is that we will be able to say that we were all part of ending housing discrimination,” he said.