I often reference DC Bar Foundation’s Strategic Framework and the five strategies that guide our work within the civil legal aid network. The Framework centers community, collaboration, people, and, of course, justice. It allows us to work intentionally toward creating programs and services that directly help DC residents. With this in mind, I am excited to share a new program that will support housing efforts in the District—the Eviction Diversion Pilot Project.
At the end of the grantmaking cycle in April, the Foundation awarded $4.3 million to the six Civil Legal Counsel Projects Program grantees for collaborative work on upstream eviction diversion efforts that will benefit 5,000 District households. This program is unique because it works to prevent evictions by reaching tenants at risk of displacement as early as possible and connecting them with the support and services they need to stabilize their housing.
The housing crisis in DC is not new—long before March 2020, eviction defense was a top unmet legal need for financially disenfranchised DC residents. Since then, the pandemic has created new challenges for many families who are still trying to recover from shutdowns, unemployment, and the end of the eviction moratorium. As more landlords file for evictions, tenants not only have to deal with the threat of losing their homes but also the financial ramifications of taking time off to go to court and making childcare arrangements. Simply put, evictions—even the threat of eviction—create widespread problems for individuals and families.
The six grantee organizations—Neighborhood Legal Services Program, Bread for the City, DC Bar Pro Bono Center, the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, Legal Counsel for the Elderly, and Rising for Justice—will work collaboratively to prevent tenants from being burdened with these issues, providing services based on their organization’s area of expertise and capacity.
Together, they will find ways to keep DC residents in their homes. They will do this by: 1) partnering with organizations that will reach out to tenants who have received pre-filing eviction notices, 2) connecting tenants with non-legal supports, such as public benefits, childcare, child support, and other social services, and 3) connecting tenants with the legal services they need.
I am especially proud because this is the first time in our history that the Foundation has received a joint proposal from multiple grantees, in partnership with community-based organizations. This speaks to the desire—and need—for growing collaboration among grantees. We cannot do this work without you, the community, and all the stakeholders who have a vested interest in ensuring that the needs of our vulnerable populations are met.
The impact of this grant is felt deeply by the grantees, too. Su Sie Ju, legal director of Bread for the City, notes, “Before the Eviction Diversion grant, Bread for the City only had the resources to focus on tenants facing eviction in court. We are excited to now have the funds to support efforts to reach tenants before they even step foot in court, ensuring that tenants know their rights and get connected to a range of supportive services that can prevent self-eviction or eviction by a landlord.”
The Eviction Diversion Pilot Project represents the Foundation’s interest in doing more upstream work, which means we are addressing issues that clients face before it becomes a legal crisis. In fact, the DC Legal Aid Transformations Network, which is meeting virtually next on June 8, will feature a case study of this effort to demonstrate what upstream work looks like in action. If you would like to join the conversation, we invite you to RSVP for the convening on our website.
Earlier I mentioned that the Strategic Framework guides everything we do – and it is true. When we fund with intention, we create programs that allow us to work together for the greater good of our community.
Kirra L. Jarratt
Chief Executive Officer