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Alex Guzman, 31

Director of Fair Housing at HOME of Virginia

Growing up in rural Prince George County with parents who were from Puerto Rico, Guzman says he felt like a fish out of water.

“One of first things my parents told me: If someone asks you where you’re from, tell them you’re from here. They didn’t want me to suffer from racism.”

He would attend high school at Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School, where he now serves as the youngest member of the school’s board of directors.

After graduating from college, he did human rights work in Argentina, where he lived with a woman whose brother had been “disappeared” by the last dictatorship there. After a relative died he returned home early and took a job at Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. investigating auto claims, continuing to look for nonprofit work until he found the job at Housing Opportunities Made Equal five years ago.

“Investigating insurance claims actually provided a great foundation for investigating cases of housing discrimination,” he says.

Over the last year, Guzman led an investigation based on an application’s criminal screening policy at a large Chesterfield County apartment complex that led to the American Civil Liberties Union’s filing a federal lawsuit. It was settled over the summer.

Guzman, who also serves on the Virginia Latino Advisory Board, points out that where you live affects everything from your education, to employment and access to health care. “What we’ve done [at HOME] since the 1970s is work to ensure that more people have access to opportunity.”

He feels the city of Richmond isn’t prepared from a policy standpoint to handle things like gentrification, affordable housing and major transportation routes like Pulse.

“Going forward our vision is really toward the new challenges, now that housing discrimination doesn’t look the same as it did in the ’60s and ’70s.”

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