Mary M. Lee is a consultant, attorney, and community advocate in Los Angeles. Recently she has been facilitating the development of a regional initiative building leadership and power for young people of color, and she is part of a team supporting the work of the California Reparations Task Force. She was formerly the Deputy Director of PolicyLink, a national advocacy organization working to advance racial equity, economic and social justice. During her 12-year tenure with PolicyLink, Mary provided research, strategic planning, technical assistance, and training to public and private agencies collaborating to build healthy communities. She also co-authored reports and journal articles on developing equitable communities, access to healthy food, the built environment, health as a civil right, and the impact of place and race on health. As a practicing attorney with more than 30 years of experience working in communities throughout California, Mary has placed special emphasis on issues of housing, land use and community economic development. Her work has always focused on the legal rights of low-income people. She began her legal career at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) and then joined the Western Center on Law and Poverty as a housing attorney. She later returned to LAFLA as Managing Attorney of that agency’s South-Central Los Angeles office. She subsequently maintained a private practice focusing on community economic development and housing law, including housing discrimination, landlord/tenant, foreclosure, land use law and civil rights.
Throughout her career, Mary has provided legal assistance to non-profit, community-based organizations committed to improving the quality of life in low-income neighborhoods. She has worked extensively with community groups, particularly in South Los Angeles to revitalize neighborhoods and enhance public participation in the public policy arena. Among the projects she has undertaken are strategic revitalization campaigns in the Vermont/Manchester, Hyde Park, and Central City East (commonly known as “skid row”) sections of Los Angeles.
She has also worked with groups that have developed affordable housing, child-care centers, created jobs, and challenged inequitable land use and redevelopment practices of local government. For many years, Mary has worked with neighborhood groups in a number of California cities on issues related to restricting the availability of alcohol and drugs, and the negative consequences that result from substance abuse. Her efforts on behalf of non-profit organizations include drafting legislation at the state and local level, providing training and technical support, strategic planning, non-profit management and board development, administrative advocacy, and litigation in state courts.
In addition, Mary has been an adjunct professor of law at Loyola Law School and taught public policy at Occidental College. For more than ten years, she taught a class she designed on Fair Housing/Fair Lending regulations as part of the Mortgage Finance certificate program within the Los Angeles Community College District at L.A. Trade Technical College. In addition, Mary teaches courses on Health Policy Advocacy, Health Leadership and Community Development, and Community Participatory Research, also at the community college level, as part of a certificate program that builds community-based leadership on issues related to economic development and healthy communities.
Mary has also served as a board member of several community organizations, including the Liberty Hill Foundation and Concerned Citizens of South-Central Los Angeles, and she served as the president of the board of the Fair Housing Congress of Southern California. She is a current member and vice-chair of the board of the Community Coalition. Mary has undertaken work in the public sector as well. She was recently named to the Commission on Civil Rights for the City of Los Angeles. Previously she was a Transportation Commissioner for the City of Los Angeles, and a campaign manager for a successful candidate for the Los Angeles City Council. She worked as a consultant to the commission elected to reform the Los Angeles City Charter, and she completed a Community Builder fellowship with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Mary served as a member of the Leadership Circle of the Los Angeles Food Policy Council that was established to make recommendations to local governments about food system reform strategies for the Los Angeles region. She is also a former member of the Los Angeles County Community Prevention and Population Health Task Force and was named by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Los Angeles County Commission for Women as one of the “Women of the Year” for 2016. Mary recently completed a Stanton Fellowship, awarded by the Durfee Foundation.
Mary is a native of Los Angeles. She is a graduate of Pitzer College in Claremont, California, and University of California, Berkeley School of Law
Fun Fact: I love to listen to music, and when I get the chance, to read fiction particularly by Black female authors.