The housing crisis in DC disproportionately impacts residents with low incomes, and with housing costs continuing to soar over the last two years, it is becoming increasingly difficult for these individuals to stay in their homes. We know the impact of not having stable and secure housing. It affects employment, health, family, and so many other areas. Every year, we continue to see an urgent need to keep DC residents in their homes.
Over the last several years, DCBF has been more strategic and intentional about how we approach housing and eviction issues within the District. Since 2018, DCBF has administered the District’s Civil Legal Counsel Projects Program (CLCPP) grants to legal services organizations to assist DC residents with low incomes who are facing eviction proceedings or the loss of a housing subsidy. The six grantee organizations—Bread for the City, the DC Bar Pro Bono Center, the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, Legal Counsel for the Elderly, the Neighborhood Legal Services Program, and Rising for Justice—have been working closely together to help tenants facing eviction and displacement.
The collaboration among the CLCPP grantees has resulted in the Eviction Diversion Project, which aims to prevent evictions by reaching tenants at risk of displacement as early as possible and connecting them with the supports and services they need to stabilize their housing and avoid an eviction filing. Eviction diversion is a three-pronged approach that requires coordination, collaboration, and outreach. Its work includes the following initiatives:
1. Partner with organizations that will reach out to tenants. For the last five years, six CLCPP grantees have partnered with community-based organizations, such as Empower DC and Latino Economic Development Center. These partner organizations are responsible for calling tenants who have received pre-filing eviction notices or court filings and canvassing the areas where residents might be facing an eviction. This outreach will better inform tenants of their rights and connect them to the services they need.
2. Connect tenants with non-legal supports and services. If needed, clients are connected to services related to rental and utility assistance, public benefits, child support, tax credits, mental health services, childcare, housing search assistance, housing inspections, recertification of housing subsidies, job training, and other services.
3. Connect tenants with the legal services they need. Clients are connected to legal support that includes public benefits, consumer debt, domestic violence, eviction, criminal and eviction record-sealing, retaliation and the right to organize, illegal rent increases, and building-wide issues, such as housing conditions.
Another critical piece of the work that CLCPP does is the Landlord Tenant Legal Assistance Network (LTLAN), a single phone number for tenants to access legal help for housing issues, most especially eviction, in a timely manner. It was launched in June 2020 as a means of improving and streamlining the intake process for tenants. DCBF’s recent Landlord-Tenant Legal Assistance Network Customer Survey Study Report found that clients who used the service consider it a valuable community resource. The report highlights that over time an increasingly high percentage of tenants who became CLCPP clients have connected to services through the LTLAN, growing from 39% of clients in early 2021 to 75% in late 2022. It is now the most used access point to CLCPP services.
As CLCPP enters its fifth year, I am encouraged by this recent report that highlights the overall success of LTLAN. Through survey results, we see that we can connect more tenants with the legal services they need in an efficient and timely process. Most survey participants indicated they received a call back within 48 hours of their first contact with the LTLAN and appreciated the short wait time to talk with an attorney. Another key indicator of LTLAN’s success is that an overwhelming majority of the participants surveyed said they did not contact other legal services organizations for help with their legal issues because they were satisfied with LTLAN as their sole source for connecting with an attorney. As one interviewee said, “I just called [the LTLAN]. From the website, it was clear that this was the best number to call. I didn’t need to call anybody else after I called that first number.”
We know that our work is impactful and makes a difference in the lives of our clients; however, seeing the results of this study helps to put into perspective the importance of the services we fund.
DCBF continues to fund the Eviction Diversion Project and the LTLAN because they are essential to our clients who need housing support. Creating access to civil legal aid for our most vulnerable populations in DC is the essence of our work. Knowing that the LTLAN helps eliminate barriers is evidence that coordinated intake processes are vital to ensuring clients get connected to the services they need.
Kirra L. Jarratt
CEO, DC Bar Foundation