Making Justice Real

The Official Blog of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia

Jul 22

2016

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D.C. Foreclosure Prevention Program Reopens, But With Limited Reach

The DC Housing Finance Agency recently announced the reopening of its HomeSaver foreclosure prevention program — funded by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Hardest-Hit Fund — which can provide substantial mortgage assistance to distressed homeowners under limited circumstances. The program focuses on homeowners who are actively receiving unemployment benefits, newly re-employed homeowners who have received unemployment benefits within the last six months, and homeowners who have experienced an involuntary reduction in income of 25 percent or more.

The HomeSaver program, described in more detail in yesterday’s article in The Washington Post and at https://www.homesaverdc.org/, can provide assistance in the form of a lump sum payment to cure mortgage arrears and keep District residents in their homes. The renewed availability of foreclosure prevention funds comes at a particularly critical time, as the flagship Home Affordable Modification Program is scheduled to sunset at the end of this year. However, the current parameters of the HomeSaver program are so limiting that it is unlikely to benefit the vast majority of District homeowners in need – including homeowners who have experienced longer periods of unemployment, homeowners who need to be able to pay down a portion of their arrears in order to qualify for loan modification, and homeowners facing foreclosure due to condominium fee arrears. Advocates are already in communication with DCHFA about these issues and will continue to push for changes to the program eligibility requirements to better reflect the needs of District homeowners and to increase the reach of the program.

Jul 15

2016

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Housing Shortage in DC Affects Domestic Violence Survivors

The Washington Post recently highlighted a disturbing trend that impacts domestic violence survivors attempting to leave abusive relationships: although funding for organizations providing safe housing has increased in the past six years, the availability of transitional housing and shelter units for survivors has decreased due to the rising cost of housing in the District of Columbia.  Fewer safe housing options for DV survivors means that more survivors often must continue to live with their abusers. Unfortunately, Legal Aid attorneys frequently see this trend play out in our client population.

One of my clients, whom I’ll call Ms. Smith, had been abused by her boyfriend for years.  Multiple times, she returned to live with her abuser after very violent abuse because she relied on him and his family for housing. After a recent violent assault, Ms. Smith filed a petition for and received a Civil Protection Order. She left court that day, order in hand, with no place to go.  With no income other than Social Security disability benefits, Ms. Smith’s prospects of finding sustainable, safe housing in the District were very limited.  She lived in a shelter for a few weeks, but time at DV shelters is short because beds are in high demand.  Ultimately, Ms. Smith returned to her abusive relationship. Read more →

Jun 30

2016

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Supreme Court Upholds Gun Ban for Domestic Violence Convictions

The Supreme Court issued its decision in Voisine v. United States on Monday, ruling 6-2 that people convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors can be banned from owning guns.  Justice Kagan authored the majority opinion, and Justice Thomas authored the dissent, which Justice Sotomayor joined in part.

The petitioners in the case were two men from Maine who were convicted of misdemeanor assaults – one against his wife, and the other against his girlfriend.  After their domestic violence convictions, both of these men were found with firearms, and charged with crimes under federal law.  These men argued that their domestic violence crimes were reckless, but not intentional, so the gun law should not apply.  The Supreme Court disagreed. Read more →

Jun 28

2016

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The Myth of “The Undeserving Poor”

How long will politicians use welfare and food stamps recipients as budgetary punching bags? For as long as we let them. The latest in this year’s scapegoating of the poor comes from Maine, where embattled Governor Paul LePage is threatening to cut his state’s Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (“SNAP,” the new name for “food stamps”) because the Department of Agriculture refuses to ban the purchase of certain items from the program. “I can think of only one reason the federal government would refuse to eliminate junk food from the [SNAP] menu,” said LePage, in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, “special interests.”  LePage isn’t alone in his quest to ensure Americans in poverty are without small pleasures like birthday cake. Read more →

Jun 24

2016

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Long-Time Legal Aid Lawyer Julie Becker Confirmed to Superior Court Bench

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Julie Becker, Supervising Attorney

We are delighted to announce that Julie Becker, Supervising Attorney in the Housing Law Unit, has been confirmed to serve on the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Julie was nominated by President Obama on April 30, 2015, and was confirmed by the Senate last night. As President Barack Obama said when announcing her nomination:  “Throughout her career Julie Helene Becker has shown unwavering integrity and an outstanding commitment to public service.”  We couldn’t have put it better ourselves. Read more →