Interagency Collaborations 2 11 2011


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Presentation on collaborative housing advocacy in Seattle, 2005-2011. Given at the University of Washington School of Social Welfare, 2011.

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Interagency Collaborations 2 11 2011

  1. 1. Anti-poverty advocacy in Washington: Reflections on Inter-agency Collaborations
  2. 2. Northwest Justice Project <ul><li>Publicly-funded, not-for-profit law firm </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Most funding comes from state (Office of Civil Legal Aid) and federal (Legal Services Corporation) grants </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Indigent clients (generally, income ≤ 150% FPL) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Civil (i.e., non-criminal) cases only </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Cases must affect basic human needs </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Examples: family safety and security, housing preservation, protection of income, access to health care, education  </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Statewide program </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Seventeen field offices throughout Washington </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>CLEAR hotline (888-201-1014) available statewide </li></ul></ul>
  3. 3. So many cases, so little time… <ul><li>87% of low-income households in Washington have a civil legal problem in any given year </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Or, about 1.1 million legal problems per year </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Housing, family and employment matters account for nearly half (44%) of cases </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Also significant: consumer law, public services, public benefits, health </li></ul></ul><ul><li>NJP has about 100 attorneys on staff </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Some level of assistance in 18,000 cases per year </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Low-income people face 88% of legal problems without any assistance from an attorney </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Source: Washington Supreme Court, Civil Legal Needs Study, Sept. 2003 </li></ul></ul>
  4. 4. Setting Priorities <ul><li>Cases with the strongest merits </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Best chance of achieving favorable outcome </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Minimizes risk that precious attorney time will be “wasted” on unsuccessful representation </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Clients in greatest need of assistance </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Client is vulnerable, unable to represent self </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Case is too complicated for non-attorney </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Highest stakes </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Cases with potential for broad impact </li></ul>
  5. 5. Examples of priority cases (Housing) <ul><li>Archdiocesan Housing Authority v. A.T., King County Superior Court No. 05-2-41539-8 SEA </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Extremely vulnerable client (34-year-old woman with profound disabilities, including ataxia, PTSD, anxiety & depression, impaired gait, major hearing loss, other cognitive and physical impairments and a history of physical and sexual abuse) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>High-Stakes (client facing eviction from adult family home, likely to result in actual homelessness, disruption of health services) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Hendrix v. Seattle Housing Authority, U.S. District Court No. 07-657-MJP (W.D.Wash.) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Potential for broad impact (action sought to reform SHA’s Section 8 housing voucher termination hearings, thus improving due process rights for 8,800 participating households) </li></ul></ul>
  6. 6. Archdiocesan HA v. A.T. <ul><li>A.T., faces eviction from her adult group home </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Allegations: (1) A.T. does not participate in house meetings, (2) A.T. is loud & disruptive </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Defenses: (1) group home has denied disability accommodations necessary to enable meeting participation; (2) A.T. not unreasonably loud & disruptive </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Procedures: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>A.T. must appear & testify at court hearing </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>A.T. must prove disability, need for accommodation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>A.T. must refute evidence of unreasonable noise </li></ul></ul>
  7. 7. Archdiocesan HA v. A.T. (Cntd.) <ul><li>Barriers to effective representation </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Trouble communicating effectively with attorney </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Unable to gather documents, evidence </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Unable to recruit witnesses </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Lacks insight into disabilities </li></ul></ul><ul><li>How A.T. overcame these barriers: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Social worker helped enable effective communication between A.T. & lawyer </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Physician supplied expert evidence to establish disabilities and accommodation needs </li></ul></ul>
  8. 8. A.T.: Outcome <ul><li>Eviction case dismissed in return for A.T.’s promise to make good faith effort to move </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Legally, A.T. probably could have won case </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>However, A.T. not happy at the group home, and stress of litigation harmed mental health </li></ul></ul><ul><li>A.T. moved into her own subsidized apartment six months later </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Social worker helped A.T. find & move in </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Attorney dealt with credit problem that initially caused the landlord to deny A.T.’s application </li></ul></ul>
  9. 9. Hendrix v. Seattle Housing Authority <ul><li>Low-income tenants may receive federal rent subsidies (“Section 8 Vouchers”) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Vouchers are administered through local gov’t agencies called “Housing Authorities” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Tenant pays 30% of income in rent, subsidy covers difference between rent & tenant portion </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Tenants must comply with program rules </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Tenants who violate rules can be “terminated” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>But, tenant may contest termination at hearing </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>14 th Amendment guarantees due process of law </li></ul></ul></ul>
  10. 10. Hendrix v. SHA (Cntd.) <ul><li>Problem: Tenants participating in the Section 8 Voucher program through SHA were being terminated without proper hearings: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Relevant arguments and defenses were not being considered, were categorically-excluded </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Hearing officer lacked training, expertise </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Most tenants could not appeal their cases to court because they did not have attorneys </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Hundreds of families affected (270+ from 2004-07) </li></ul></ul>
  11. 11. Hendrix v. SHA (Cntd.) <ul><li>Key Issues: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Large volume of families being terminated from SHA’s Section 8 Voucher program </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Inadequate hearings violate constitutional rights </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Goal: reduce the number of families being terminated from SHA Section 8 program </li></ul><ul><li>Method: force SHA to meet due process requirements when terminating families </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Families with defenses to termination can win their cases </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Increased costs, burdens may slow termination rate </li></ul></ul>
  12. 12. Hendrix v. SHA (Cntd.) <ul><li>Barriers to effective resolution </li></ul><ul><ul><li>SHA not responsive to direct complaints </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>No “market-based solution” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>If you want Section 8, SHA is only game in town </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>No viable options through political system </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Mayor appoints SHA comm’rs but no direct control </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Not enough support in city council or state legislature </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>HUD unwilling and largely unable to help </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Limited constituency </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Affects discreet, insular minorities </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Issue not widely understood </li></ul></ul></ul>
  13. 13. Hendrix v. SHA (Cntd.) <ul><li>Barriers to obtaining a legal remedy </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Strings attached to federal funding: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>No lobbying (legislative or executive) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>No grassroots organizing </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>No class action lawsuits </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>No soliciting clients </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Other minor restrictions (state and federal) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Limited options through litigation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Difficult to establish case (must prove “illegal policy”) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Difficult to formulate, enforce practical remedy </li></ul></ul></ul>
  14. 14. “… when it drops, you gonna feel it…” <ul><li>Obtaining a satisfactory, long-term solution requires a multi-faceted approach: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Education (generate pressure on SHA to make necessary reforms by informing more tenants about the issue and how it affects them) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Organizing (concerned stakeholders combine to assert pressure collectively) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>“ Soft” advocacy (obtain commitments for reform through persuasion) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Litigation/Legislature (secure enforceable changes to relevant contracts, policies, laws) </li></ul></ul>
  15. 15. What’s gonna work? Teamwork! <ul><li>Tenants Union of Washington State </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Tenant education through hotline, website, training </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Organized tenants (Sec 8 Tenant Org. Proj. (STOP)) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Soft advocacy through “Community Evaluation” </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Solid Ground </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Tenant education through hotline, counseling programs </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Soft advocacy through persons of influence </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Real Change News </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Education, media pressure through news stories </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Northwest Justice Project </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Legal advocacy to secure reforms by consent decree </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>TU, legal services collaborate to implement, enforce </li></ul></ul>
  16. 16. Hendrix v. SHA : Outcome <ul><li>SHA obligated by federal consent decree to make extensive reforms to §8 hearings </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Single hearing officer replaced by rotating roster </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>HOs must have law degrees, 3 yrs. experience </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Tenants & tenant-advocates involved in selection and retention of new hearing officers </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>HO training & performance reviews </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Number of terminations declined from about 7.5 per month to about 1 per month </li></ul><ul><li>Charges against Tina Hendrix dropped </li></ul>
  17. 17. Tenant-Screening <ul><li>Objectives: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Improve access to housing for low-income people by reducing the use of unfairly exclusive admissions criteria </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Compel tenant-screening services to provide more accurate and more complete information to landlords and present adverse information in its proper context </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Prevent the use of categorical exclusions (especially eviction case filings, home foreclosures, old criminal records, DV protection orders) from undermining existing legal protections </li></ul></ul>
  18. 18. “ Eviction” Records in Washington <ul><li>SCOMIS </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Case management system for 39 superior courts </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Launched in 1977, practically statewide by 1985 </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Data entered by court clerk upon case filing </li></ul></ul>
  19. 19. Inclusions & SCOMIS-sions <ul><li>SCOMIS contains: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Party names, filing date, case type </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Eviction appears as “unlawful detainer” </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Docket entries (recent cases only) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Often cryptic, not informative of case outcome </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Appear on a separate screen </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Information archived (unavailable) after 18 months </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>SCOMIS does not contain: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Case outcome/disposition </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Access to actual documents </li></ul></ul>
  20. 20. Why is SCOMIS a problem for tenants? <ul><li>A SCOMIS record is permanent </li></ul><ul><li>A SCOMIS record is free </li></ul><ul><li>A SCOMIS record can be accessed from anywhere in the world (by internet) </li></ul><ul><li>Any person can access a SCOMIS record </li></ul><ul><li>Many residential landlords in Washington refuse to rent to applicants with unlawful detainer records in SCOMIS </li></ul>
  21. 22. D.I.Y. Tenant-Screening
  22. 23. Chilling Effect <ul><li>Residential landlords routinely deny housing to applicants with UD records </li></ul><ul><li>This deters tenants from contesting unlawful detainer actions because: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The ability to secure housing in the future is usually more important than one specific tenancy </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Tenant can avoid creation of court record by moving out before the landlord files suit </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Effectively undermines many tenant rights </li></ul><ul><ul><li>RLTA can only be enforced judicially </li></ul></ul>
  23. 24. “ The Unhouseables” <ul><li>“… the increasingly popular use of tenant screening reports has resulted in a new class of people who are unable to access rental housing because of past credit problems, evictions, poor rental histories or criminal backgrounds. While tenant screening agencies are not responsible for this issue, it is a serious problem that must be addressed by those working with tenants, particularly those in need of affordable housing.” </li></ul><ul><li>HousingLink, “Tenant screening agencies in the Twin Cities: An overview of tenant screening practices and their impact on renters,” Summer 2004 </li></ul>
  24. 25. Multi-Agency Advocacy Plan to Combat Abusive Tenant-Screening Practices <ul><li>Research & Investigation </li></ul><ul><li>Education & Media </li></ul><ul><li>Grassroots/Community Organizing </li></ul><ul><li>Soft Advocacy </li></ul><ul><li>Hard Advocacy </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Litigation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Legislation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Administrative </li></ul></ul>
  25. 26. <ul><li>Eric Dunn, Staff Attorney </li></ul><ul><li>Northwest Justice Project </li></ul><ul><li>401 Second Ave. S., Ste. 407 </li></ul><ul><li>Seattle, Washington 98104 </li></ul><ul><li>Tel. (206) 464-1519, ext. 234 </li></ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul>Jonathan Grant, Executive Director Tenants Union of Washington State 5425B Rainier Ave S Seattle, WA 98118 Tel. (206) 722-6848 [email_address] Laura O'Connell, Housing Counselor Solid Ground – Tenant Services 1501 N. 45th St., Seattle, WA 98103 Tel. (206) 694-6848 [email_address]