December 15, 2017 Practice Points

Downtown Philadelphia Development Plans to House Dozens of Legal Aid Agencies in a Single Equal Justice Center

By Sathima Jones

In Philadelphia, an exciting project is underway that will transform the delivery of legal aid services to the city’s struggling residents. The Philadelphia Bar Foundation, in partnership with developer Pennrose, is now officially in the process of creating a one-stop shop for people struggling with poverty, abuse, or discrimination: the Equal Justice Center. The Equal Justice Center (EJC), which will co-locate dozens of legal aid organizations in a single facility in downtown Philadelphia, is the first endeavor of its kind and of this magnitude. In April 2017, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority awarded Pennrose and the Bar Foundation the right to develop the EJC on a site at 8th and Race Streets, pending city council approval.

Currently, 19 organizations are exploring co-location in the Equal Justice Center, including

  • The Public Interest Law Center;
  • Women’s Law Project;
  • Friends of Farmworkers;
  • Good Shepherd Mediation Program;
  • Community Legal Services;
  • Philadelphia Legal Assistance;
  • Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA);
  • Philadelphia VIP;
  • CARIE;
  • Support Center for Child Advocates;
  • Pennsylvania Health Law Project;
  • SeniorLAW Center;
  • Regional Housing Legal Services; and
  • Consumer Bankruptcy Assistance Program.

The ultimate goal of the EJC is to provide legal services to a single litigant or family at a single facility. EJC will consolidate dozens of legal-aid agencies, now spread across the city, into one building. This consolidation will benefit the public-service attorneys and their clients. For example, because the agencies are housed in a single facility, consultants seek to identify how these agencies can share processes and consolidate operations and administration—with an aim to reduce expenses and provide more efficient and expanded resources.

Additionally, the EJC aims to develop a unified methodology for client intake for agencies located in the EJC and other nonprofit legal aid agencies that will not be housed in the EJC. The goal is to integrate systems across agencies, including, for example, referral delivery and conflict checks. If integration proves successful, this system should also increase efficiency in the quality and quantity of legal aid to the community.

The EJC will be housed in a complex developed by Pennrose. The complex includes dwelling units, offices, hotel rooms, and shops on the largest parcel of municipally owned land in Center City. While Pennrose’s vision also entails market-rate housing, affordable senior housing, and parking, the EJC’s 160,000-square-foot office building will be the project’s defining feature.

The concept of the EJC has been more than five years in the making. With the recent land award, the dream is now being realized, and construction is scheduled for early 2019.

Sathima Jones is an associate at Offit Kurman in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.