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January 29, 2024

Midyear 2024: Housing and eviction issues take center stage

The COVID-19 pandemic put unprecedented pressure on an already challenging housing market. The future remains uncertain for many homeowners and renters who are still struggling to keep a roof over their heads — or even find affordable housing.

Housing advocates and stakeholders will take a look at these issues in the program, “Post-Pandemic Trends and Challenges in Housing and Eviction Cases: An Analysis by the Legal Services Corporation and the ABA,” sponsored by the Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defense. The panel will be held at 3:30-5 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 1, at the ABA Midyear Meeting in Louisville, Kentucky.

Panelists include:

  • Jackson Cooper, housing justice attorney, Kentucky Equal Justice Center
  • Jefferson Coulter, executive director, Legal Aid Society
  • Michael Santos, associate director, U.S. Poverty Policy, RESULTS Educational Fund
  • Matthew Vincel, managing attorney, Housing Practice Group, The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland
  • Frank Neuner (moderator), LSC board member and ABA Board of Governors liaison to the Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defense

Opening remarks also will be delivered by Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice Laurance VanMeter and Justice Michelle Keller.

The panelists will trade lessons learned from the COVID-driven wave of home eviction cases, share their most effective responses and explain the necessary reforms to ensure tenants’ due process.

“Housing is out of reach for a whole population of low-income renters,” including workers across a range of occupations and wage levels, said Coulter, whose Legal Aid Society is an LSC grant recipient. “Most people who are served with an eviction will not be able to pay an attorney to represent them, as the majority of evictions are filed for nonpayment.”

Vincel agreed. “Many of the resources that were present for tenants having difficulty making monthly rent payments are no longer available. This makes legal representation for tenants even more important than ever.” Tenants need assistance finding mutually beneficial resolutions with their landlords, or help raising legal defenses that allow them to remain in their homes.

The program also aims to spotlight the dire need for lawyers and how they can play a critical role in guiding tenants so that they can avoid homelessness and an eviction judgment on their record. With funding from the LSC, the Legal Aid Society was able to create its Volunteer Eviction Defense program to develop a training and recruitment program for attorneys to defend tenants in eviction court.

“Evictions are a cause, not just a condition of poverty,” Vincel said. “The effects of the instability and uncertainty of facing eviction are often felt most profoundly by children who are at risk of losing their homes and being transplanted to an unfamiliar place.”