How an eviction prevention program emerged after the moratorium ended

When the Supreme Court struck down the federal moratorium on evictions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in August 2021, experts and politicians predicted evictions would skyrocket.

But eviction records overall remained well below the historical average through 2021, according to White House and housing experts.

“[Eviction filings] increased after the end of the CDC moratorium, but they are still nowhere near returning to normal,” said Peter Hepburn, statistician and quantitative analyst at the Princeton Eviction Lab. “So we are still at 60% of the historical average.

Hepburn credited the influx of state and federal resources and stepped up legal assistance implemented during the coronavirus pandemic for the downward trend.

While some financial resources started during the pandemic survived the eviction moratorium, Attorney General Merrick Garland on August 30, 2021 also called on lawyers and law students to help fill the void after the moratorium ended in assisting with applications for emergency rental assistance, volunteering with legal aid providers and assisting the courts in implementing eviction diversion programs, among other initiatives aimed at increasing housing stability.

According to the White House, 99 law schools in 35 states and Puerto Rico responded to this call.

“Over the past five months, more than 2,100 law students have contributed more than 81,000 hours serving more than 10,000 households,” said a statement released by the Biden administration.

Gene Sperling, senior adviser to President Joe Biden who is leading the implementation of the US bailout, said the partnership with the legal community was an “amazing national experience”. The project – part of a “whole-of-government approach” – has contributed to eviction diversion programs as well as housing assistance programs that have kept eviction filings well below historical averages.

Funding worth $46 billion for the Emergency Rent Assistance Program — provided to households economically impacted by COVID-19 — also flooded the system just as these partnerships were emerging.

David Daix, a 45-year-old Ivorian immigrant and father of two residing in Henrico Country, Va., is one of the beneficiaries of a recently strengthened partnership between the Virginia Poverty Law Center’s Eviction Legal Helpline and the school of the University of Richmond. of the law.

After being fired from his customer service job in March 2020, Daix was unable to pay rent after his unemployment benefits expired a year later. Its owner filed for eviction in January 2022, he said. The helpline put him in touch with the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society, which had his case dismissed in early February.

Daix is ​​not alone. Richmond, Va., and its surrounding counties — Henrico and Chesterfield — have some of the highest eviction rates in the country, according to Princeton’s Eviction Lab.

These regions had a significant “access to justice” gap between represented and unrepresented individuals in court. From 2015 to 2019, only 1% of tenants in Richmond, Henrico and Chesterfield had representation in local general district courts, according to the 2017 Virginia Self-Represented Litigation Study.

In 2020, tenant representation in housing court increased by 11% while 30% fewer landlords obtained judgments, according to the RVA Eviction Lab. Four years ago, the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society didn’t have a single attorney practicing housing law full-time; now he has six.

“A new generation of housing advocates grew out of this era,” White House planning and policy adviser Erika Poethig said at an eviction prevention event in late January.

The program began after the Biden administration reached out to Georgetown Law School Dean Bill Treanor, who spearheaded the law school-White House partnership with the NYU Law School Dean. , Trevor Morrison.

Treanor said one of the most important legacies of the project is a renewed commitment to eviction prevention, and the White House and Justice Department have said they intend to continue partnerships with law schools after the pandemic is over.

“Even after the pandemic is over, the underlying housing crisis will continue. This has made us all aware [of] the importance of finding ways in which law students can help those facing housing challenges,” Treanor said.

Under this program, the University of South Carolina School of Law, located in Columbia, the city with the eighth highest deportation rate in the nation, has helped fund veterans’ legal clinics that serve indigent veterans with housing issues. The school has also partnered with the NAACP Housing Navigator Program.

“We have made the case to the South Carolina General Assembly that these access to justice initiatives are vital to the South Carolina public interest,” said William Hubbard, dean of the South Carolina Law School. University of South Carolina.

Angela Onwuachi-Willig, dean of Boston University Law School, said tenants often don’t have access to legal assistance and don’t know how to fight an unlawful eviction, especially during a pandemic.

“[Tenants] have no way to get it back, they have no way to fight an owner who used something inappropriate,” Onwuachi-Willig said. “And imagine and during all of this, during a pandemic, when you’re also trying not to get sick.”

Onwuachi-Willig partnered with Naomi Mann, associate clinical professor, and Jade Brown, clinical instructor in the Civil Litigation and Justice program, last spring. Brown helped develop the MA Defense for Eviction (MADE) for students to help tenants respond to initial complaints filed by landlords against them and to generate pleas based on tenants’ responses.

“I hope the pandemic has somehow exposed the cracks in our system and where they are. It has certainly shown us how huge the unmet need is, when it comes to housing law, the unmet legal need , in particular, is what we’re obviously working on,” Mann said.

The students didn’t need to have a background in housing law to participate and, according to Brown, the project had a “profound” impact on many of them.

“Being able to work with Naomi and Jade on this topic definitely strengthens this topic which will be part of my career for a long time,” said Julian Burlando-Salazar, a Boston University law student who hadn’t planned previously to pursue studies in housing law. .

Burlando-Salazar teamed up with fellow BU law student Marie Tashima to resolve tenant disputes with landlords through mediation.

The movement toward better tenant representation in court was already underway in many states before the pandemic began.

Three states – Washington, Maryland and Connecticut – have enacted laws that do not require any necessary qualifications for tenants facing eviction to be eligible for free legal representation.

Eleven states have established a qualified right to counsel, including New York, where the state’s eviction moratorium ended on January 15, 2022. On the same day, Ciji Stewart was scheduled to appear in court and requested an attorney at the Legal Aid Society.

Stewart, a mother of three living in Rockaway Beach, Queens, received a call from Sateesh Nori, the attorney in charge of the Legal Aid Society’s Queens Neighborhood Office.

“I was just telling Nori everything that was going on at my house and he got me an adjournment, which I didn’t know was or could happen,” Stewart said. “He helped me file a claim for repairs against the landlord.”

Because she lived in New York, Stewart may have already qualified to be represented by an attorney. But since the federal program was expanded, many others like her in other states have now begun to feel the same relief.

But while University of Richmond law school dean Wendy Perdue said the program represented progress in that it had helped show the need for legal representation, she said that it was still only a “drop in the ocean”.

“The Association of American Law Schools collected the data nationwide — literally millions of hours of service provided by law students nationwide,” she said. “It’s still just a drop in the bucket, but the only way to fill the bucket is with a series of drops and so law students are making a big impact by filling some of the gaps that exist in legal services. “

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