Akilah Browne, Skadden Fellow
Akilah Browne is a Skadden Fellow at New Economy Project, providing legal and policy support to groups working to develop community land trusts (CLTs) and related initiatives. Akilah previously worked at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP, where she helped to coordinate the firm’s pro bono program, which served hundreds of low-income people and nonprofit organizations annually. Akilah received her J.D. from Fordham University School of Law and her B.A. from Hobart and William Smith Colleges, majoring in Media & Society. While in law school, Akilah was active in Fordham Law’s Community Economic Development Clinic, where she led student teams in advising organizations as they structured nonprofit CLTs, negotiated community benefits agreements, and formed tax-exempt entities.
Sofia Butnaru, Program Associate
Sofia helps staff the NYC Financial Justice hotline and works on community outreach and education initiatives in English and Spanish. Prior to working at New Economy Project, Sofia was a researcher at an architecture studio in Brooklyn and studied issues of affordability and urban space in New York City. She graduated from the University of Chicago with a degree in sociology and architectural studies. Her research focused on finance and urban land in Latin America with a particular focus on public housing and urban land struggles in Venezuela.
Deyanira Del Río, Co-Director
Deyanira has worked for more than 20 years to promote cooperative and community-controlled finance, immigrants’ economic rights, and equitable neighborhood development. At New Economy Project, she has worked closely on community land trust, public banking, and financial justice campaigns, and helped launch the organization’s community loan funds. Deyanira has trained community groups and policymakers, and authored reports and articles, on a range of fair lending and community development matters. She chairs the board of the Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union, a financial cooperative, and previously served on the boards of Inclusiv and New Immigrant Community Empowerment. She also has served on the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Community Advisory Group. Deyanira has received the Frances Perkins Working People’s Award from Fiscal Policy Institute, the Mujeres Destacadas (Outstanding Women) award from El Diario/La Prensa, and the Revson Fellowship on the Future of the City of New York.
Ben Hagen, Senior Research and Communications Associate
Ben coordinates New Economy Project’s community mapping and research, graphic design, video production and website management. Ben graduated from the University of Central Florida in 2010 and earned a master’s degree in Urban Planning from New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, concentrating on Housing and Economic Development policy. He has presented research at the national conference of the American Planning Association, contributed to Orlando Weekly and Untapped NY, and is currently completing a book on Garden City-inspired neighborhood development in Queens.
Sarah Ludwig, Founder and Co-Director
Sarah founded New Economy Project in 1995, as the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project (NEDAP). As a longtime leader in the movement for community financial justice and neighborhood equity, Sarah has testified frequently at public hearings, trained hundreds of community organizers and advocates, and built and led effective coalitions that address manifestations of structural racism and other systemic inequities in our economy. In 2013, she helped shepherd the organization’s transition from NEDAP to New Economy Project, returning the organization to its original dual mission of working with community groups to fight for economic justice, and to create community-led vehicles that ensure self-determination over people’s housing, work, money, land, energy, and communities at large.
Sarah received the 2000 Rockefeller Foundation’s Next Generation Leadership fellowship; the 2002 Union Square Award; The Ford Foundation’s 2004 Leadership for a Changing World award; New York Lawyers for the Public Interest’s 2008 Felix A. Fishman Award; and Chhaya CDC’s 2011 Architect of Change award. She serves on the board of directors of the Center for Responsible Lending, and for six years served as co-chair of North Star Fund’s Community Funding Committee. Sarah received a law degree from NYU School of Law, where she was an Arthur Garfield Hays Civil Liberties Fellow, and a master’s degree in urban planning, also from NYU.
Andy Morrison, Associate Director
Andy coordinates New Economy Project’s coalition organizing and helps plan and execute our strategic campaigns, in collaboration with community, civil rights, and labor groups, cooperatives, and others. He also co-leads communications efforts and supports direct-donor and other development campaigns. Andy previously worked at New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), where he ran the organization’s statewide canvassing operation, developed policy and organizing strategies, and trained students to be effective activists. His 2014 report exposing discrimination in New York’s auto insurance market initiated an investigation by the state’s insurance regulator, which led to a statewide ban on the use of education level or occupation status in setting auto insurance premiums. He is a graduate of CUNY School of Law and Columbia University.
Mike Sandmel, Campaign Organizer
Mike joined New Economy Project in 2018 and helps coordinate statewide coalition-building and advocacy for the NYS Community Equity Agenda. He also contributes to New Economy Project’s communications work and various campaigns. He previously served for five years as Membership Director for the New Economy Coalition, a national network of more than 200 organizations working toward a democratic economy rooted in racial, economic, and environmental justice. Mike graduated Magna Cum Laude from NYU with a degree in Economics and Ecology and is currently pursuing a Masters in Public and Non-Profit Administration.
Susan Shin, Legal Director
Susan directs New Economy Project’s legal strategies, including our direct legal services to low income New Yorkers and community groups, and impact litigation that challenges Wall Street corporations and advances economic justice in NYC communities of color. Susan also co-chairs the policy work group of the NYC Community Land Initiative. She is a recipient of the Rising Star Award from the Partners Council of the National Consumer Law Center, the Consumer Advocate Award from the National Association of Consumer Advocates, and an award from the Civil Legal Advice and Referral Office (CLARO) for outstanding service and dedication to helping New Yorkers in need of legal assistance. Susan was previously a Skadden Fellow and Staff Attorney with The Legal Aid Society in New York City. She is a 2006 graduate of New York University School of Law, where she was an Arthur Garfield Hays Civil Liberties Fellow.
Will Spisak, Senior Program Strategist
Will Spisak joined New Economy Project’s staff in February 2021. Will is a lifelong New Yorker from Queens committed to fighting for economic justice and an equitable city. For over a decade, Will has worked as an organizer and advocate with immigrant and working class communities. Before joining New Economy Project, he served for five years as a Program Director at Chhaya Community Development Corporation, where he expanded tenant organizing and foreclosure prevention services, organized small businesses to fight commercial displacement, started a community land trust initiative, and led the citywide campaign to legalize safe basement apartments. At New Economy Project, Will supports key campaigns, including the community land trust and public bank campaigns, and works as part of the development team. In addition, Will is an adjunct instructor in the Urban Studies department at Queens College. He holds a master’s degree in International Political Economy and Development from Fordham University and a bachelor’s degree from Queens College.
Raquel Villagra, Staff Attorney
Raquel Villagra works on New Economy Project’s impact litigation and provides legal assistance through our NYC Financial Justice Hotline. Raquel previously worked at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP as a litigation associate. Raquel received a J.D. from New York University School of Law and a B.A. in Art History from Columbia University. In law school, Raquel was a Helaine Barnett Fellow with Legal Services Corporation, was active in the Racial Justice Clinic and Juvenile Defender Clinic, and was Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Review of Law & Social Change.
Matt manages office operations and keeps the office organized and running smoothly. He also assists with outreach and research for New Economy Project’s campaigns. Additionally, he coordinates individual donor fundraising efforts and supports administration of grants and contracts. Before joining the team in 2017, Matt organized with community and food justice groups in his home state of Washington. He graduated from the University of Washington in Seattle with a B.A. in Community, Environment, and Planning and a B.A. in Geography. You can find him exploring NYC parks and neighborhoods on his bike, baking fresh sourdough bread, or working with neighbors at his local community garden.