Making Justice Real

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

DC Housing Right to Counsel Project Thanks and Honors Volunteers

A DC resident living in the Columbia Heights neighborhood was worried about the eviction case pending against her. But her pro bono attorneys filed a motion for summary judgment and promptly got the landlord to dismiss the suit. The tenant later noted, “It’s important to have a lawyer with you because the landlords have lawyers. There are things about the legal system I just don’t know.”

Her instincts were right. There is an overwhelming imbalance of representation in the Landlord and Tenant Branch of D.C. Superior Court, where over 90% of landlords have counsel, while only about 10% of tenants have counsel. Having a lawyer can make a world of a difference for a low-income tenant facing the devastating possibility of losing his or her home and being forced to battle his or her landlord through the complex court system.

DC’s Housing Right to Counsel Project is a joint initiative run by Legal Aid, Bread for the City, AARP Legal Counsel for the Elderly, and the DC Bar Pro Bono Center, with support from the DC Access to Justice Commission and the DC Bar Foundation. The Project aims to address this major access to justice issue by connecting many more low-income tenants, especially those living in subsidized housing, with legal services or pro bono attorneys in an effort to level the playing field in eviction cases, reduce unnecessary evictions, and stem the loss of affordable housing.

Last week, the Project’s partner organizations held an event at the National Building Museum to thank and honor pro bono volunteers from the 14 participating law firms and the federal government’s pro bono program for their commitment to the cause.

Peter Edelman (pictured on left), Georgetown Law Professor and Chair of the DC Access to Justice Commission, is one of the visionaries behind the Project and helped kick off the event by speaking of the importance of pro bono in this highly collaborative citywide initiative.

Indeed, the Project would not be the same without the passion of individual pro bono volunteers. Christopher Peña, associate at the law firm of Hunton Andrews Kurth, was recognized as a Rising Star for his dedication to pro bono and inspired leadership in increasing his firm’s involvement in the Project. The Project also presented an Outstanding Pro Bono Service Award to Catalina Martinez, who is an Attorney Advisor at the U.S. Small Business Administration taking pro bono cases through the Project in her personal capacity, for her zealous advocacy on behalf of multiple clients.

Jennifer Berger (Manager/Attorney, AARP Legal Counsel for the Elderly) presenting award to Chris Peña of Hunton Andrews Kurth.

Catalina Martinez, federal government pro bono attorney, receiving award from Gabriella Lewis-White (Managing Attorney, DC Bar Pro Bono Center).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition, the law firms of Covington & Burling and Sidley Austin were respectively recognized with Outstanding Pro Bono Service Awards for their exemplary client representation and sustained commitment to the Project.

Rebecca Lindhurst (Managing Attorney, Bread for the City) presenting award to Ted Voorhees of Covington.

 

Tim Webster, Mark Herzog, and TJ Herron of Sidley Austin accepting award.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beth Mellen Harrison (pictured below), Director of the Housing Right to Counsel Project and Supervising Attorney at Legal Aid, underscored the compelling need and broader impact of the Project. Tenants with counsel are more likely to stay in their homes, have safer homes to live in, and avoid the devastating effects of eviction. The Project’s results have shown that, compared to unrepresented tenants, represented tenants are sixteen times more likely to contest their case and raise defenses and eight times less likely to have a judgment entered against them.

The National Building Museum, which currently features Evicted – an exhibition highlighting housing inequality and the human impact of eviction – was the perfect backdrop to remind us why safe and stable housing is a fundamental human need. Sarah Leavitt, the curator of Evicted, made inspirational remarks that touched on the use of museums to raise public awareness and help drive social change.

Many attendees toured the poignant Evicted exhibition after the program.The Housing Right to Counsel Project thanks all of its volunteers, congratulates the award recipients, and continues to strive to preserve justice and housing for low-income tenants in our community.

Eric Angel (Executive Director, Legal Aid) speaking with attendees at the Evicted exhibit.

Sarah Leavitt (Curator) discusses her work on the Evicted exhibit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If your firm is interested in getting involved with the Housing Right to Counsel Project, please contact Neesa Sethi at nsethi@legalaiddc.org.

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