The DC Bar Foundation’s current strategic plan has the stated goal of transforming the District’s civil legal aid network, and we have five strategies that we hope will lead to that transformation. This month, I want to focus on our intentional use of the word “network.”
You may have heard about the tsunami of eviction filings that could be coming to DC this fall. This will certainly put many of our neighbors in need at risk of losing their homes. According to data from a new eviction estimation tool, 32% of renters in DC are currently unable to pay rent and at risk of eviction. Potential eviction filings over the next 4 months are estimated at 19,000 – last year in DC, there were roughly 30,000 eviction filings for the entire year.
Fortunately, our neighbors facing eviction have access to a critical tool: the Landlord-Tenant Legal Assistance Network (LTLAN). LTLAN is the most recent evolution of the publicly-funded Civil Legal Counsel Projects Program (CLCPP), which began when the Foundation funded six organizations in support of eviction defense in 2017: Bread for the City, DC Bar Pro Bono Center, Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, Legal Counsel for the Elderly, Neighborhood Legal Services Project, and Rising for Justice.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, these six organizations came together to create a single phone line for tenants facing eviction, where attorneys are available to help those in need. The original plan was to create a new, in-person intake and referral system at the courthouse, but the pandemic and closing of the courts necessitated a shift in their approach.
This did not happen overnight. What started as six organizations working on eviction defense has transformed into an unprecedented collaboration: no one organization is in charge, and they all have shared goals and objectives. DCBF supported a facilitator, Steve Brigham of Public Engagement Associates, to help them work out conflicts, understand shared interests, and identify areas of shared work so they could improve delivery of services and ultimately create better outcomes for our neighbors.
Lucy Newton, Co-Director of Eviction Defense Services at Rising for Justice put it this way:
“I am just so thrilled to see this all come together. I think it's such a big improvement for DC tenants, and it helps to streamline the process for folks getting access to legal assistance at a time when they're in a real crisis situation with a possible eviction. I also appreciate the Court's partnering with us to publicize the LTLAN telephone number, and to alert litigants who are before the Court for a video hearing of our availability to provide assistance.“
And according to Gabriella Lewis-White, Managing Attorney at the DC Bar Pro Bono Center,
“The facilitated meetings helped us to see as providers what our differences are and where we can improve to make things better for the litigants we serve. Change can be hard, but sometimes working through a difficult process is necessary to achieve extraordinary results. We did have to push each other to create a system that serves the best interests of our client community. Once we developed the Network, we were able to quickly come together to ensure that we are conducting appropriate outreach and that we have a consistent presence in the remote hearings held by the Court. This way tenants and the Court both know that we are immediately available to provide legal assistance. Creating the network has definitely made for a more client-centered approach. It’s not solely focused on our goals as individual providers, but on the shared the goal of providing efficient, high quality legal services to tenants in need.”
We still have a lot to learn about eviction defense in DC – what works, what needs improvement – but we are already seeing what happens when organizations commit to common goals and shared changes. And this is what the Foundation means when we say in our Strategic Plan, that we want to “transform the civil legal aid network, working closely with all stakeholders, so District residents have a fair and equal legal experience.” Transforming the network happens one step at a time, and we are proud to support our grantees in taking the critical step to develop the LTLAN.
Thank you for standing with us as new projects unfold in our shared fight for access to justice. We are excited to see what comes next.
Together for equal access to justice,
Kirra L. Jarratt
Chief Executive Officer