Victory! Renters United Philadelphia leader Nerva Nicholas wins a lease renewal after weeks of organizing and action

Nerva Nicholas _foreground_ and tenant organizer Ariel Morales
Nerva Nicholas (foreground) and tenant organizer Ariel Morales
On Friday, January 22nd, the tenants of Renters United Philadelphia / Inquilinxs en la Lucha (RUP), an organization we launched last year, won a victory for housing stability after two months of organizing and collective action. RUP organizing committee leader Nerva Nicolas received a month-to-month lease renewal just nine days before he was to be forced from his home. Even though Nerva, a tenant at Carver Hall, was ahead on his rent, MCM Management Solutions had told him in late November that he had to leave when his lease ended. RUP members knew that "if one of us received a non-renewal, then any of us could," so they came together to take action.

MCM sent Nerva a non-renewal notice after he had been renting from them for five years. Nerva had lost hours and wages working as a bus driver, as well as a food delivery contractor during the pandemic. MCM Management accepted rental assistance payments from the City covering Nerva's rent through mid-March, but decided not to renew Nerva's lease and told him to be out by January 31, 2021 without providing a reason.

RUP demanded that MCM renew Nerva's year-long lease with no rent increases. In December, they staged a No Home for the Holidays socially distant protest outside MCM's Carver Hall offices, and in mid-January, they held an online event as part the national Housing is the Cure Day of Action demanding MCM rescind their non-renewal notices. While the month-to-month lease renewal Nerva received is not the year-long security RUP demanded, it keeps Nerva in his home and comes with the benefit of being subject to Philadelphia Good Cause protections. This means MCM is required to provide Nerva with a lawful reason for any future non-renewal.

Even with this victory, MCM continues to issue non-renewals and engages in practices that leave renters and their children living in unhealthy and unsafe conditions, even as the pandemic emphasizes the importance of stable housing for public health. Federal, state and local government have taken necessary steps to curb evictions. But arbitrary lease non-renewals are just forced displacement by another name, and any displacement puts all of us at risk. At least seven other MCM tenants have either lost their homes or are facing non-renewals now. RUP will keep organizing and keep fighting for more wins like Nerva's. Read more on their website.
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Chester parents are fighting for a voice in the future of public education in their district, subject to a history of outsourcing

Chester Upland parents protesting for public schools
In Chester-Upland School District, a court-appointed receiver is moving forward with a Requests for Proposals (RFP) process that could lead to every public school in the district being outsourced to charter or private management--a process that is targeted to conclude before the beginning of next school year. Along with Education Law Center, we are representing a group of Chester parents and the Delaware County Advocacy & Resource Organization who intervened in the process to fight for a voice and for quality education that serves all students.
In December, we filed an emergency motion to suspend the RFP process. Parents only learned that the RFP itself had been issued more than three weeks after it had been sent to potential bidders, and it had not been publicly announced, in violation of the court's order. We also filed a motion to ensure that the RFP would comply with the court's requirements-most essentially, that the RFP ensures that any charter operator is evaluated not just on cost savings, but on their ability to educate all students, including students with disabilities. Several public schools in the district routinely outperform Chester Community Charter Schools, the current largest charter operator and one prospective RFP bidder, on standardized tests.
On January 11, Delaware County Court of Common Pleas held a hearing, which was covered in the Delaware County Times, on our motion and others. In an order released following the hearing, Judge Barry Dozor ordered revisions to the RFP and suspended the RFP process until the District could submit its completed 2019 financial audits, which it did on January 29. The new deadline for RFP submissions is now March 1, 2021. 

Our attorney Michael Churchill discussed the RFP process on Chester's local CMP Radio livestream. "Everyone has to pay attention," Michael said. "When these responses come need to ask officials--what do you think you're doing? Why would these outside operators be any better? What is your plan for kids' education?"
This is not the first time Chester-Upland has faced the prospect of widespread privatization, and the results are not encouraging. In 2001, a state-appointed Board of Control in the district outsourced the management of district schools to three for-profit companies, the largest of which was Edison Schools. After four years of reports of violence in schools and financial mismanagement, Edison pulled out of Chester in 2005. In an in-depth report in Forbes Magazine, education writer Peter Greene lays out the history of the district and its long struggles with state disinvestment, segregation, local mismanagement, and failed experiments in privatization. He also highlights how some Chester public schools, like Stetser Elementary, have overcome these obstacles to beat expectations for their students.
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Introducing our next Executive Director, Brenda Marrero!

Brenda Marerro
Brenda Marerro
We are thrilled to share that, following a nationwide search, Brenda Marrero will lead our organization as our next Executive Director, beginning on March 1! 

Brenda comes to the Law Center having spent her career as a public interest lawyer. After representing clients as a staff attorney in the Aging and Disabilities and SSI Units of Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, Marrero became CLS's Deputy Director of Operations and Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer. Brenda will become the second woman to lead the Law Center and the first person of color to do so.
"I am beyond thrilled, and so humbled, to be the next Executive Director of the Law Center," Brenda said. "This is a trailblazing organization. As a Latina immigrant woman, I am very privileged to be where I am today, and I want to thank the Board and staff for putting their faith in me to lead them in the next exciting chapter for the Law Center. It is also very special to me that, as a woman of color, I have the opportunity to diversify leadership at the Executive Director level within our family of Philadelphia public interest organizations. I look forward to providing meaningful and engaged leadership to the dedicated and amazing staff, Board and external partners in furthering the mission, vision and values we all hold so dearly.
Brenda was profiled in Generocity's Power Moves column. Read more about Brenda on our website
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Vacant Land 215: Urban Agriculture and Community Gardening in Philadelphia

Raised beds and a gate

A person using a garden
Catalina Hunter Hunting Park Garden

Want to learn more about community gardening and farming on vacant land in Philadelphia? Our Garden Justice Legal Initiative and Soil Generation invite you to come discuss legal land access and preservation for gardens, farms, and other community-managed open spaces, including discussing resources available to growers during COVID-19. To view an online list of some of these resources and tips visit, Grounded in Philly.

Representatives from Soil Generation, the City of Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the Philadelphia Land Bank, and the Philadelphia Water Department will also be available during this event to discuss options and answer questions.  To make this program useful for you, bring property addresses and all your questions. Free registration here.  
WhenTuesday, February 2, 6:00-7:30 p.m. 

There will be 45 minutes of brief presentations from participating organizations followed by 45 minutes for questions.
Where: Online webinar

Cost: Free registration.

Register Here
Law Center in the News: Pulling Apart U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley's Argument about Pennsylvania's 2020 Election

Josh Hawley
Josh Hawley objecting to Pennsylvania's election results
Late on January 6 in the United States Capitol, following a delay in the process brought about by an insurrectionary mob who stormed the building, several members of Congress objected to the counting of Pennsylvania's electoral college votes--including several Pennsylvania representatives chosen in the same General Election. The effort was led by Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, who argued on the Senate floor that 2019 changes in Pennsylvania election law which made it possible for voters to vote by mail without requiring an excuse violated the Pennsylvania Constitution's election provisions. The 2019 law, Act 77, was passed with bipartisan support and introduced by Republican lawmakers. Hawley's argument was also advanced in a lawsuit filed several weeks after the election by U.S. Congressman Mark Kelly and others, who voiced no constitutional objection to Act 77 at the time it was passed more than a year before. 

We have been at the forefront of efforts to oppose attempts to nullify the votes of Pennsylvanians, representing voters in court in several cases. On January 7, our staff attorney Ben Geffen was quoted in a report from NBC10 rebutting Sen. Hawley's claim that Pennsylvania's constitution places a limit on voters' rights. "The much stronger argument is that the constitution is setting the floor, not the ceiling and that the legislature has very broad authority," he said. Read more from NBC10.

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Webinar: Empowering Local Communities to End Gun Violence

Philadelphia cityscape
Speaking at the preemption lawsuit press conference
Handgun with bullets

For years, the General Assembly has failed to address the epidemic of gun violence while handcuffing local officials from taking action to save the lives of their constituents. In the fall of 2020, CeaseFirePA Education Fund joined with the City of Philadelphia and survivors to sue the state for creating a danger for Pennsylvanians through firearm preemption laws. In the case, we are representing Pennsylvanians who have lost loved ones in shootings.

Join Scranton Mayor Cognetti, CeaseFirePA's Executive Director Adam Garber, and our staff attorney Ben Geffen for a discussion about the dangers of preemption, the legal path to safer communities, and what local officials can do to address the violence in their communities. 
Free registration here
WhenTuesday, February 2, 12:00-1:00 p.m.
Where: Online webinar. 

Cost: Free registration.

Register Here

This program is hosted by CeaseFirePA.
Welcome new staff attorney Sari Bernstein! 

Sari Bernstein
Sari Bernstein
We're excited to welcome Sari Bernstein to the Law Center as a staff attorney, focused on housing and environmental justice! Before joining the Law Center, Sari was a housing staff attorney in the civil division of The Legal Aid Society in New York City. There, she defended tenants facing eviction in Housing Court. She also filed a case against one of New York City's largest landlord-representing law firms for federal consumer protection violations. Help us welcome her by liking her post on LinkedIn!