Aaron Carr is Holding Landlords Accountable
“Psychology is everywhere,” says Carr of his UConn major.
Aaron Carr ’12 (CLAS) started a small housing watchdog nonprofit at age 28. Less than a decade later, that group has filed the largest housing discrimination lawsuit in U.S. history.
Originally from Long Island, Carr plied his psychology degree after graduation as campaign manager, then chief of staff for a New York state assembly member representing the Bronx. While there, he heard countless constituents complain that they were trying in vain to hold their landlords legally accountable.
So in 2016, Carr founded the Housing Rights Initiative with a few thousand dollars of his own money and began filing lawsuits and issuing scathing public reports. A 2018 New York Times profile summed up his work with this headline: “Are Landlords Telling the Truth? The City Doesn’t Always Check. He Does.”
The group now operates in five states and maintains six full-time staffers led by Carr as executive director, an army of interns and contractors, plus multiple partner law firms and government agencies. “The biggest challenge of starting an organization when you are only 28 is that, well, you are only 28. You have no idea what you are doing,” says Carr, laughing. “But the benefit of starting an organization when you are young is having a high level of energy and motivation, which is half the battle!”
Last year, his group filed the largest housing discrimination lawsuit by defendant size in U.S. history. Suing 124 real estate companies, it alleges discrimination against would-be tenants who intended to use rent subsidy vouchers. According to the complaint, in the last pre-pandemic year of 2019, only around one-fifth of New Yorkers who received such vouchers were able to actually secure housing with them. In January, a New York Supreme Court justice ruled that Carr’s organization had standing, allowing the lawsuit to proceed. (As of this writing, no final decision has been issued.)
“I graduated from UConn in psychology. And while I ended up doing something totally different, the best part about psychology is that it’s transferable to whatever you decide to do in life,” he says. “Psychology is everywhere. It’s in transactions, it’s in management, and it’s in execution. It’s been over 10 years since I graduated from UConn, and I am still applying many of the things I learned then today.”
By Jesse Rifkin ’14 (CLAS)
Photo by Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times