2023 – Julie Elena Brown

Julie Elena Brown’s nearly forty-year legal career has been singularly dedicated to environmental justice, racial equity, and increasing access to housing for those living in underserved communities of Chicago. After beginning her legal career at the City of Chicago Law Department, Julie has served in several leadership roles for Impact for Equity (formerly known as BPI) since 1989. Her career has been filled with passionate, groundbreaking work as she advocates for marginalized groups and neighborhoods across the city.

Early in Julie’s career, she became an advocate for environmental justice issues. She represented environmental organizations, trained local volunteers to monitor compliance with environmental laws, and championed efforts to reduce pollution in Chicago neighborhoods. Julie joined with other environmental groups to lead the creation of the Safer Pest Control Project (SPCP), an independent non-profit that supported pesticide-free pest control methods. The SPCP was not only ahead of its time for its mission but was also a key early focus for Julie’s activism for vulnerable Chicago communities.

Julie added housing law to her work in the 1990s, where she continued to have a positive influence. She became Director of the Housing and Community Development Program, where she focused on increasing affordable housing, reducing segregated public housing, and investing resources in marginalized neighborhoods. She is one of the lead counsel for the plaintiff class in the Gautreaux v. Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) case, where she fights against systemic racial discrimination in public housing. She advocated for residents when the CHA announced its “Plan for Transformation,” and continues to work with public housing leaders and community stakeholders to reimagine the development of mixed-income communities.

Julie has also emphasized the need for continued investment in communities that are home to public housing residents, focusing on the particular needs of each community as expressed by its residents. She helped form the Altgeld Early Learning Coalition, an initiative to support young people and families in the Altgeld Gardens neighborhood. As one of her peers noted, Julie is willing to have tough conversations to determine what each community needs most, demonstrating the thoughtful care she puts into her work.

Julie’s selfless drive to improve the living conditions of those she represents and her tireless, decades-long commitment to public interest work make her an ideal recipient of the Thomas H. Morsch Award.