In Just Times header
News and Commentary for May 2011  
Lawyers Working to End Homelessness
In This Issue
Congressional Briefing: Federal Plan to End Homelessness
National Forum on the Human Right to Housing
Arizona Court Upholds Tenants' Rights in Foreclosure
New Realtor Partnership
Help Prevent Source of Income Discrimination
Orlando Upholds Food Sharing Restrictions
Improving Your Intake Process
Human Rights & Concrete Solutions to Homelessness
New Pro Bono Coordinator
 From Maria's Desk     

Early next month, the Law Center will host our National Forum on the Human Right to Housing at the historic Thurgood Marshall Center in Washington, D.C.  It's an annual event, and this year it promises to be more important than ever.

 

At a time when much of our attention is focused on responding to extreme budget cuts, it's essential to take a step back and frame affirmative strategies for moving forward in our work to end and prevent homelessness. Advocacy for the human right to housing is a powerful tool that can help us do this.

 

As we recently reported, advocates recently achieved breakthroughs at the international level, where the U.S. for the first time acknowledged homelessness as a human rights concern, and committed to do more to advance economic and social rights here at home. Our challenge-and opportunity--now is to use these commitments to continue to build the U.S. movement for the human right to housing, and to continue to achieve concrete change on the ground. Strategies to do so will be a focus of the Forum.

 

We'll also discuss in more depth specific new laws and issues, including the latest developments in implementing the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act, fighting the criminalization of homelessness, securing vacant federal property, protecting the housing rights of domestic violence survivors, ensuring education rights for homeless kids, and more. We'll put these issues in a human rights framework, while also giving you concrete tools for change.

 

Read on for more information about the Forum. I hope to see you there!

Congressional Briefing: Federal Plan to End Homelessness  

The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty will hold a congressional briefing on Wednesday, June 8,  2-3 p.m., in the Capitol Visitors Center, Congressional Meeting Room North (CVC-268).  The briefing is entitled, "A Human Rights Perspective on Opening Doors: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness," and will feature a panel of local advocates discussing housing, vacant property, education, and criminalization of homelessness elements of the plan, one year after it was approved. Speakers will focus on steps Members of Congress can take to implement the plan and help move towards an end to homelessness in the United States.

 

Speakers will be:
  • Maria Foscarinis, Executive Director, National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (Introduction)
  • Paul Boden, Western Regional Advocacy Project (Housing)
  • Rob Robinson, National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (Vacant property)
  • Kathi Sheffel, Homeless Liaison - Fairfax County, VA. (Education)
  • Kirsten Clanton, Southern Legal Counsel (Criminalization)

The briefing will be held in conjunction with the Law Center's National Forum on the Human Right to Housing, but one does not need to be a forum participant in order to attend this free event. If you are not attending the forum, but wish to attend the briefing, please RSVP to Jeremy Rosen at jrosen@nlchp.org, or contact him with questions at 202-638-2535.

forumNational Forum on the Human Right to Housing

 

At the 2011 National Forum on the Human Right to Housing, June 7-8 in Washington, D.C., housing advocates will convene to participate in the national conversation about how to use international human rights standards to reframe the public debate around housing and homelessness, craft and support legislative proposals, supplement legal claims in court, support community organizing efforts, and more. Workshops will address specific advocacy topics, like domestic violence, education, civil rights, and veterans. A full schedule is available here.

 

NPR's Pam Fessler will kick off the first morning, moderating a roundtable conversation among Barb Poppe, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, Maria Foscarinis, and other national experts about where our government currently stands, both in principle and in action, with regard to the human right to housing. Carol Anderson, author of Eyes Off the Prize: The United Nations and the African American Struggle for Human Rights, will deliver the lunch keynote, and describe how the civil rights struggle was originally a human rights struggle, how it shifted its focus, and why it needs to go back. In the afternoon, best-selling author Barbara Ehrenreich will moderate a panel of formerly homeless individuals, as they reflect on how the lack of a right to housing impacted their lives. Throughout the day, we'll hear from distinguished speakers from government, the media, academia, the advocacy community, and, most importantly, the homeless and low-income community, and will share strategies and collaborate to plan future work together. More speakers listed here. The evening will conclude with a celebration of the contributions of pro bono attorneys to the effort to end and prevent homelessness.

 

On the second day, the Forum will focus on messaging and congressional advocacy, followed by an opportunity for individual visits with senators and representatives. Additionally, the Law Center will host a special congressional briefing offering a human rights perspective on the Federal Plan to End Homelessness.

 

You won't want to miss the tremendous opportunities available at this year's Forum. Register now to secure your seat! Time is running out!


The forum is co-sponsored by the American Bar Association Commission on Homelessness & Poverty and these organizational partners, and supported by the U.S. Human Rights Fund; Au Bon Pain; Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP; Jones Day; and Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP.


Arizona Court Upholds Tenants' Rights in Foreclosure  

In the February issue of In Just Times, we reported that the Law Center had joined 14 other amici in a friend of the court brief supporting the rights of renters to receive clear written notice at least 90 days before a post-foreclosure owner can evict them.This month, the Arizona Court of Appeals unanimously reversed the decision of the lower court and ruled that the Bank of New York Mellon had violated tenant Patricia De Meo's federal rights under the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act (PTFA).

 

In a strongly-worded decision that echoed the arguments set forth in the amicus brief, the Court wrote that "[o]bviously, a five-day notice, even when followed by an unannounced 90-day delay, is at best misleading."  Further, the Court found that "the bank's interpretation [of the PTFA] is contrary to the legislative intent...and the express language of the law."   

 

The case, De Meo vs. Bank of New York Mellon, involved a tenant who was living in a bank-owned property after its original owner defaulted on the mortgage.  Although the PTFA requires all post-foreclosure landlords provide renters with at least 90 days' notice before they can be asked to leave the property, the tenant in this case received only a five-day notice to vacate.  The bank did not act on the five-day notice for over three months, but then abruptly moved to evict the renter.  

 

The Law Center is proud of its contribution to this important decision, which sustains the rights of renters living in foreclosed properties to receive clear, timely written notice before a new owner can ask them to leave.  We continue to work on behalf of tenants in the courts and in Congress to uphold and strengthen their rights.  If you are a renter living in foreclosed property, or an advocate who works with renters in that situation, we encourage you to tell your story by filling out this survey or contacting Housing Attorney Geraldine Doetzer at gdoetzer@nlchp.org.

New Realtor Partnership

 

The first point of contact after a foreclosure is very often a real estate agent. In fact, real estate agents hired by banks to market rental properties for resale are often the only face-to-face representatives of their new landlords that renters will ever meet. And although they aren't lawyers, renters often turn to these agents to get information about their rights to remain in their homes. Because of this it, is essential that real estate agents have up-to-date information about tenants' rights in foreclosure.  

 

The Law Center is very pleased to be working with the National Association of Realtors to help ensure that its members have that information.  NAR is the largest trade organization in North America, with over 1.2 million members involved in all aspects of the real estate industry. The Law Center worked with the Realtors to develop a fact sheet on the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act and a Frequently Asked Questions document for Realtors working with renters living in foreclosed properties. We're also working with them to develop other means of reaching out to Realtors.

Help Prevent Source of Income Discrimination  

recent report from the Equal Rights Center in Washington, D.C. revealed that landlords are discriminating against 45% of Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher holders in the District, including 15% who are met with outright refusal to accept a voucher, an action which constitutes illegal "source of income" discrimination under the DC Human Rights Act. The report calls on the District government to better monitor compliance with this important statute, which prevents landlords from refusing to rent to a tenant simply because of the source of income used to pay rent. The District's law, and others across the country, typically include federal, state, or local housing subsidies as protected sources of income.

 

Source of income discrimination laws are an important tool to help ensure that low income people with housing subsidies can use those subsidies to rent apartments in neighborhoods of their choosing, with good schools, access to public transportation, and other amenities. Recently, HUD has recognized just how important these laws are. Last year, the agency's Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA), the application used by communities to request billions of dollars in federal housing and community development funds, highlighted the requirement that communities with source of income discrimination laws must comply with them, in order to continue receiving those dollars.

 

A list of federal, state, and local source of income discrimination requirements can be found here. The Law Center urges local advocates to press for similar legislation in your jurisdictions.

 

Orlando Upholds Food Sharing Restrictions

 

On April 11, the 11th Circuit issued an en banc opinion that upheld Orlando's food sharing restriction, which require groups sharing food with 25 or more people in certain public parks to obtain a permit and limits groups to only two such food sharing events per year. 

 

A federal district court judge had previously found the ordinance violated the rights of the two plaintiff groups, Orlando Food Not Bombs and First Vagabond Church, who share food with homeless individuals. The district court ruled that the Orlando law violated plaintiffs' rights to free speech and to exercise religious beliefs under the First Amendment.  

 

The City had appealed the district court decision and, in July 2010, an 11th Circuit panel overturned the district court decision, upholding the food sharing restriction.  The plaintiffs requested a rehearing en banc and were granted a rehearing.

 

The en banc decision focused only on the free speech claim from Food Not Bombs and held that there was no free speech violation because even if sharing food with homeless persons is expressive conduct, the ordinance as applied to the organization was a reasonable time, place, or manner restriction, and a valid regulation of expressive conduct.  However, the en banc opinion reinstated the opinion of the 11th Circuit panel with respect to plaintiffs' other claims.

 

"The Law Center is disappointed by the 11th Circuit decision," said Tulin Ozdeger, Law Center Civil Rights Director. "Placing restrictions on community members' efforts to serve people in need does nothing to solve the problem of homelessness. Cities should be focusing more on solutions to homelessness rather than penalizing people who want to help." 

 

While the Law Center is disappointed in the decision of the 11th Circuit, we will continue to fight for the rights of homeless people to access food, a basic human right, and for the rights of those who serve them.

Improving Your Intake Process      

Two legal aid organizations, the Public Justice Center in Baltimore, Md. and Jacksonville Area Legal Aid in Florida, have integrated the Law Center's survey for tenants living in foreclosed properties into their intake process. By including the PTFA survey into their gateway interviews for potential clients, these organizations link the Law Center to a community of renters whose experiences we are eager to share with lawmakers and other national advocates. If your organization would like to integrate our short survey into your intake process, or you have any other questions about the survey process, please contact Housing Attorney Geraldine Doetzer at gdoetzer@nlchp.org.

 

Renters and advocates are also encouraged to complete our survey individually. If you haven't yet shared your story, you can do so online at www.nlchp.org/rentersurvey.cfm. Tenant surveys are available in English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole and both the tenant and advocate surveys take less than 10 minutes to complete.

Human Rights and Concrete Solutions to Homelessness

 

On April 16, 2011, Maria Foscarinis, the Law Center's founder and executive director, traveled to St. Petersburg, Florida to deliver the keynote address at the Conference on Concrete Solutions to Homelessness.   

 

This one-day conference was held at the University of South Florida- St. Petersburg, and gathered national and local homelessness experts to share solutions to homelessness with the local community. 

 

"Our topic in this conference is concrete solutions to homelessness," Maria said in her introduction. "It's what we all want. And I think we know a lot about what those solutions are. They are based in housing, plus supportive services for those who need them. They include a strong focus on prevention, because it's much, much better to prevent homelessness in the first place than to address it after it's happened. And they do not include criminalizing homelessness, but rather adopting constructive approaches that help people off the street and into housing."  

 

Maria's presentation focused on the importance of using the human rights framework when addressing housing and homelessness issues.  As she explained, "Understanding that homelessness is a human rights crisis helps us define the depth of the problem. Understanding that housing is a human right can help us move towards solutions."  

 

Read the full text of Maria's address here.

 

New Pro Bono Coordinator: Khalid Abdul-Khaliq 

In April, the Law Center bade a fond farewell to our pro bono coordinator, Katharyn Christian, and gave a hearty welcome to her successor. Katharyn left the Law Center to relocate with her fiancÚ. We are thankful for the incredible contribution she made to the Law Center's pro bono program and wish her much happiness and success in her new home.

We are thrilled to welcome Khalid Abdul-Khaliq to the Law Center. He comes to us from Squire, Sanders & Dempsey, where he was a litigation associate focused on complex commercial litigation. He served as the firm's associate pro bono coordinator to the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, where he previously worked as an intern in the Fair Housing Project. 

Prior to his career in law, Khalid served eight years as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy and was also his command's community service coordinator. Presently, Khalid is a member of the Board of Directors for the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland. He earned his J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center and graduated cum laude from Norfolk State University with a B.S. in Mathematics. Khalid also has a M.S. in Management Information Systems from Bowie State University.

Khalid is a great addition to the Law Center staff and we are excited to see how he will continue to strengthen and expand our partnerships with pro bono attorneys and law firms.  

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