Written by Rachel Rintelmann

Sep 16


The District Must Do Far Better than Mayor Bowser’s Migrant Services and Supports Emergency Act of 2022

Traducción al español al final

For months, the governors of Arizona and Texas have been busing migrants from the southwest border to the District to protest federal immigration policies that limit their ability to turn people away at the border. Just yesterday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott arranged for two buses of migrants to be dropped off outside of Vice President Kamala Harris’s residence in a publicity-seeking act of racism and xenophobia with callous disregard for the migrants’ human rights and dignity. Read more →

Nov 09


So-Called “Eviction with Dignity Act” Lacks Critical Tenant Protections

On Tuesday, the DC Council will hold a first vote on the Eviction with Dignity Act of 2018. We urge Councilmembers not to support the legislation without first making critical changes.

Since May of this year, Legal Aid, along with many of our colleagues in the legal services community, has been actively working with representatives of housing providers and members of DC Council on much-needed reforms to the eviction process. As my colleague Damon King wrote in July, our efforts suffered a setback when emergency legislation was put into place that lacked critical protections for the District’s most vulnerable tenants.  Legal Aid testified on September 24 about the serious need for revisions to the legislation before it became permanent, and many of the councilmembers appeared receptive to those concerns. Read more →

Apr 06


Monica Jackson, President of Terrace Manor Tenants Association, To Be Honored By Legal Aid

The Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia is proud to announce that we will be honoring Monica Jackson with the Partnership Award at this year’s 29th Annual Servant of Justice Awards Dinner taking place on April 24th.

Monica Jackson is the President of the Terrace Manor Organized for Change Tenants Association. Ms. Jackson has demonstrated tremendous leadership over the past three years during which time Terrace Manor’s tenants won a $360,000 settlement from notorious landlord Sanford Capital and secured a new buyer who committed to rehabilitating the apartment complex. Read more →

Oct 03


Legal Aid and Partners Collaborate to Obtain Substantial Relief for Tenants at Terrace Manor

Last week, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia approved a settlement in the matter of Terrace Manor LLC that will compensate tenants who endured severe housing code violations for years while ensuring that they will finally have access to the safe and habitable housing they deserve. Eleven tenants represented by Legal Aid will receive a substantial financial benefit totaling almost $360,000 for their years of suffering and for costs including repair bills, storage units and compensation for belongings damaged by mold and flooding. Importantly, the tenants will also receive ongoing rent protections, immediate relocation to safe housing, and the right to return to a rehabilitated Terrace Manor that will have renewed covenants ensuring it remains affordable for not just these but future tenants as well. Read more →

Mar 17


Why I — and Legal Aid — stand in solidarity with LSC

Before I joined Legal Aid, I was an AmeriCorps attorney with a Legal Services Corporation-funded organization in Ohio that provides legal services to low income Ohioans in 32 counties, including mid-sized cities, small towns and rural areas.

One of the first cases I handled there involved a young mother who had purchased a manufactured home and was renting the lot beneath it from the seller of her home. When I met my client, she was current in payments on her home, but at risk of eviction from her rental lot because part of her rent payment had been allocated to fees. As a practical matter, this meant that she would also lose her home – and all of the equity she had built – because she (like many manufactured home owners) could not afford the expense of moving it if her family was evicted from the lot. Read more →

Nov 13


Legal Aid’s Pilot Project Assists Clients Challenge Barriers to Re-Entry

In December 2014, I wrote about Maurice Alexander, a Legal Aid client who came to us for help when he was unable to secure housing because of an old misdemeanor conviction. This morning, the Washington City Paper published an article detailing Mr. Alexander’s story, and the lawsuit that the Washington Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs recently filed on his behalf.
Read more →

Apr 03


City Paper Article Highlights Shortcomings of Rapid Rehousing

Yesterday, the Washington City Paper published a provocative piece focusing largely on the District’s Rapid Rehousing program, which has been heralded in some corners as a solution for chronic family homelessness. However, as my colleague Shirley Horng recently testified, the clients we meet — like many of those featured in the article — tell a very different story.

The Rapid Rehousing program in the District of Columbia provides four-month rental subsidies, which can be extended for up to one year. After the conclusion of the subsidy, the family is left to pay the market-level rent on their own, without further support. The idea behind the program is that with this short-term assistance, the family can increase its income or take other steps to achieve financial independence. The idea is attractive, and the goal is laudable, but the reality is that Rapid Rehousing simply does not work for most families. Read more →

Dec 09


Legal Aid Client Featured in NPR Story

This past weekend, National Public Radio (NPR) ran a provocative piece on its website about the so-called “collateral consequences” of criminal convictions. The article focused on the challenges that a recent Legal Aid client had in trying to obtain housing.

The term “collateral consequences” refers to the often long-lasting impact of an individual’s criminal conviction. In many instances, the issue arises years later, often long after the sentence is served (or in some cases, suspended and never served) and the debt to society paid. These consequences can be catastrophic for individuals as they try to reintegrate into the community, but instead encounter roadblocks to securing gainful employment, stable housing, and even an education.  Read more →

Nov 30


New York Times Editorial Highlights Inequity in Housing Courts, Presses for a Civil Right to Counsel

Rachel Rintelmann, Staff Attorney

An editorial published in today’s New York Times entitled “Tipping the Scales in Housing Court” describes the inequity that confronts tenants every day in local housing courts across the country. This opinion piece highlights not only the need for good, effective legal representation, but also the fiscal benefits of providing representation to low income tenants.

According to a 2008 D.C. Access to Justice Commission Report, while more than 90 percent of landlords in eviction cases are represented by counsel in the District, only 3 percent of tenants have attorneys.  Legal Aid’s Landlord Tenant Court-Based Legal Services Project was created in part to address massive inequality, and so far, in 2012 alone, we have been able to assist well over 200 individuals or families through that project.  Unfortunately, that is only a small portion of the more than 36,000 cases filed every year in landlord and tenant court, and a huge number of tenants are forced to navigate the complex laws and procedures of landlord and tenant court on their own.

Because there is no recognized legal right to counsel in landlord and tenant cases, that imbalance is likely to persist, resulting in often unjust outcomes for tenants who simply do not understand, or cannot effectively advocate for, their rights.

Nov 05


Tomorrow’s Elections, from the Perspective of Legal Aid Clients

Rachel Rintelmann, Staff Attorney

The presidential election is less than a day away.  Both sides have articulated and re-articulated their positions on all of the issues they view as critical.  Throughout the long run-up to the election, there has been much discussion about issues impacting the middle class.  But, far less mention has been made of the 46.2 million Americans living in poverty (1 in 5 people in DC).

As a poverty lawyer, I have my own ideas about what is important to our client community.  But, it seems to me that the best way to understand the issues confronting those who live in poverty is to ask them.  So, I spoke to several Legal Aid clients about the issues that matter most to them this election season. Though my poll was hardly scientific, it did help me better understand some of the issues of most concern to low-income people in the District.

Ms. J says that her primary concerns are jobs, education and affordable housing.  She is a proud parent of three college students or graduates, the eldest of whom will be graduating with a PhD in psychology next year.  She says that she believes that the primary and secondary educational systems need to be improved in order to give more students access to a college education.  She also worries about the cost of college, and says that her children have paid for their education with scholarships and loans.  Ms. J also emphasizes her belief that there needs to be more affordable housing for people like herself. “We need someone to get rid of all of the slumlords,” she says, “and we need to focus on making sure people aren’t becoming homeless.”

Ms. B says that she believes that, instead of cutting programs for the poor, the government should focus on creating more effective programs to help lift people out of poverty. “If they funded programs in a better way – not just so someone can get a job for six months and then be unemployed again – but something that is actually going to build someone a career in the job market.  This is what will be helpful for the country,” she says. “They should focus on training for jobs where there is actually a need.”  Ms. B also thinks there should be a greater investment in education: “That saying, ‘the children are our future,’ is true. If our children are not trained properly, we will lose doctors, professionals, people we need to be a strong country.” 

Mr. S hasn’t missed the chance to vote in an election since 1976.  When asked what issues are most important to him, he mentions global warming and access to affordable healthcare, the latter of which is more relevant to his everyday life.  Mr. S currently works two part-time jobs for minimum wage, and is ineligible for healthcare benefits through either position. “More and more companies are avoiding giving people benefits by not hiring them as full-time employees,” he says. “There have been times in the past when I have earned barely too much income to qualify for government insurance programs, but not enough income to afford private insurance.” But, he says, if he pays for private insurance, he won’t have enough money left over to pay his other bills. This brings up another issue, the one he would raise if he had the opportunity to talk to the presidential candidates: Mr. S says he would implore the government to raise the minimum wage. Minimum wage in D.C. is $8.25/hour, but Mr. S says you just cannot live on a job that pays less than $10/hour. (Indeed, to afford the average rent in DC, studies show you’d actually need to make $28.96/hour.)  “My rent goes up by 5% every year, but my wages are stagnant.  How can I afford to pay my rent? I feel like I am moving backwards.”

It is safe to say at this late date that many of the issues articulated above won’t be a topic of conversation this election cycle.  Still, one can hope that the issues confronting those living in poverty will find their way into serious discussions after the close of election season.  Whatever your political stripe, we encourage you to have your voice heard tomorrow, and we hope that you will keep in mind the interests of the most vulnerable among us.