January 23, 2012
Landlord/Tenant Legal Help Center Opens Jan. 30
Advocates for access to justice and leaders of the Philadelphia courts are launching the first Philadelphia Landlord/Tenant Legal Help Center on Monday, Jan. 30, providing access to free legal information, advice, and limited representation for unrepresented, low‐income individuals of all ages who are facing eviction and other legal rental housing problems in Philadelphia.
This independent project, housed in Municipal Court, will be coordinated by SeniorLAW Center, a nonprofit organization that protects the rights of older Pennsylvanians, and will be staffed by a supervising attorney, volunteer attorneys and law students. The center will be on the 5th floor of the Municipal Court Building, 34 S. 11th St. Members of the Housing Working Group of the Civil Gideon Task Force of the Philadelphia Bar Association, including SeniorLAW Center, Philadelphia Legal Assistance, Community Legal Services, Regional Housing Legal Services, Homeless Advocacy Project, VIP, TURN, and pro bono leaders at Dechert LLP and Pepper Hamilton LLP, were instrumental in crafting this project over the past year, with the support and leadership of Philadelphia Municipal Court President Judge Marsha H. Neifield and her staff.
While housed at the court to make access meaningful, the project is an independent and collaborative venture of legal services agencies and pro bono leaders.
“More than 95 percent of low‐income tenants regularly face the legal system and eviction from their homes without an attorney and without basic information about their rights and the legal process,” said Karen C. Buck, executive director of SeniorLAW Center and co‐chair of the Housing Working Group. “While our ultimate goal is to provide a true right to counsel and individual representation for low‐income tenants facing the loss of shelter, this project is a first step towards expanding access to basic legal information and an opportunity to talk through their problems and learn about their rights in an area of essential human need.”
“Philadelphia Municipal Court is pleased to be able to work with SeniorLAW Center, the Civil Gideon Task Force, and the Bar Association to provide a location for volunteer attorneys to meet with unrepresented, low income individuals who are facing rental and eviction issues,” added Judge Neifield. “We anticipate that the Philadelphia Landlord/Tenant Legal Help Center will be a tremendous resource for those who are eligible for this service and that the opportunity to consult with counsel will enable the cases to be addressed more easily by the court.”
Gerald A. McHugh Jr. of Raynes McCarty and president of Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network sits on the Civil Gideon Task Force and is also Pennsylvania state chair of the American College of Trial Lawyers. He took the project to the Foundation of the College, proposing a challenge match: if the Foundation would fund half of the cost, he would raise the remainder from Pennsylvania Fellows.
The proposal was accepted. “This represents an historic undertaking for the American College, because it is the largest grant its Foundation has ever made independent of its annual award for public interest law, and it marks the first time Fellows of the College are contributing directly as part of a matching campaign,” McHugh said.
“Without the College’s grant, and the generosity of its Fellows, this project would likely still be on the drawing table,” noted Anita Santos Singh, executive director of Philadelphia Legal Assistance, and Housing Working Group co‐chair.
The Philadelphia Landlord/Tenant Legal Help Center will provide limited representation legal services, but also outreach, community education, a web presence, volunteer recruitment and training, and, eventually, services through a legal helpline for low‐ income tenants. Legal advice and information will also be provided to low‐income individual landlords through an initiative of the landlord bar, headed by David Denenberg and Todd Baritz.
For more information, please contact Rebecca Meschio at firstname.lastname@example.org
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