Oral history interview with Alan Houseman, conducted by Victor Geminiani (1991-10-21)
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Oral history interview with Alan Houseman, conducted by Victor Geminiani, Oct. 21, 1991. Oral history collection, National Equal Justice Library, Special Collections, Georgetown Law Library.
Alan W. Houseman grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado. After graduating from high school, he attended Oberlin College in Ohio. While at Oberlin, Houseman was active in civil rights and civil liberties initiatives (he was the ACLU chairman and worked with the Oberlin Action for Civil Rights), and was a member of the Student Council. He graduated from Oberlin in 1965, and went on to attend New York University Law School, where he received his J.D. in 1968. During his first year of law school, Houseman volunteered with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and worked with Eleanor Holmes Norton, who was then assistant director of ACLU. Following his first year of law school, he also worked for welfare rights groups in Cleveland, Ohio, where he was a Law Student Civil Rights Research intern working with a private lawyer. While in law school, Houseman served as the legal research assistant to Edward V. Sparer -- the founder of the Center on Social Welfare Policy and Law. He also worked with George Wiley, the organizer and director of the National Welfare Rights Organization, and Bill Robinson, the director of the Law Students Civil Rights Research Council. From 1967-68, Houseman served as the National Assistant Director of the Law Students Civil Rights Research Council. From 1967 until 1968, Houseman was a Field Fellow in Social Welfare Law of the Hayes Civil Liberties Fellowship program. In this capacity, he worked on an early stage of the Goldberg v. Kelly case and was involved with the Shapiro v. Thompson case as well as the King v. Smith case. He also provided background research and drafts of a report on Robert Kennedy’s Hunger USA report. In 1968, Houseman became a Reginald Heber Smith Community Lawyer Fellow with Wayne County Neighborhood Legal Services in Detroit, MI (this was the second year of the Reginald Heber Smith Community Lawyer Fellowship program). As a Reggie, he worked with Ed Sparer as a co-trainer of other Reggies. In 1969, he founded Michigan Legal Services, a statewide legal services program that represented organizations working on welfare, health, housing, consumer, prison, mental health, education, and family policy issues. Between 1968 and 1976, he was general counsel for the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and co-chair of the legal committee of the National Welfare Rights Organization. From 1976 to 1981, Houseman was a senior staff member at the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) and director of its Research Institute, which he founded and developed. The Research Institute developed new directions in poverty law and researched the delivery of civil legal aid services. At the LSC, he also oversaw and was responsible for funding national and state support centers and the National Clearinghouse (now known as the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law). Prior to his time at LSC, Houseman was Vice-Chair of the Project Advisory Group (PAG), Chair of the Civil Committee of the National Legal Aid and Defender Association and Chair of the Organization of Legal Services Back-up Centers. He witnessed the funding crisis of the Office of Economic Opportunity legal services program during the Nixon administration, and was heavily involved as a lobbyist and draftsman in the efforts to enact the Legal Services Corporation Act. In 1981, he became the executive director of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), a national non-profit organization which seeks to improve the lives of low-income people. While at CLASP, he wrote numerous articles, manuals, papers and books on legal services, poverty law advocacy, and welfare policies. He also served as General Counsel to the Coalition on Legal Services, the Project Advisory and NLADA. In addition to directing CLASP, Mr. Houseman is a leader of national efforts to preserve and strengthen the federal legal services program. He stepped down from his position as Director of CLASP in August of 2013 and retired from CLASP at the end of 2013. He also has been involved in a variety of capacities with the American Bar Association (ABA). In 2005-2006, he was staff to the ABA Presidential Task Force on Access to Justice and a member of the ABA Task Force to Revise the Standards for the Provision of Civil Legal Aid. He also is a past member of the ABA Comprehensive Legal Needs Study Advisory Group, the ABA Policy Development Committee of the Comprehensive Legal Needs Study and the ABA Special Committee on Access to Justice. He has served as an advisor to the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants and other ABA initiatives. He was the head of the Legal Services Corporation Transition Team for President Obama. He is a US representative to the International Legal Aid Group. Mr. Houseman has been an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University Law Center and the University of Michigan Law School, and he previously taught at Wayne State University Law School. He has received numerous awards and honors including the National Equal Justice Award, the Oberlin College Distinguish Achievement Award and the Coalition on Human Needs 2012 Human Needs Hero Award. He is a member of the Board of Trustees of Oberlin College, Executive Vice-President of the Consortium for the National Equal Justice Library, Chair Emeritus of the Children’s Leadership Council and a board member of the Coalition on Human Needs.
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