| From Maria's Desk |
President Obama presented his proposed budget to Congress Monday, starting a process that currently does not bode well for Americans who are homeless or poor.
The president's budget proposes an additional $520 million, a 28% increase, for homelessness programs, as well as $1 billion to fund the National Housing Trust Fund. At the same time, the budget proposes cuts to public housing, senior housing, and housing for persons with disabilities. Overall, compared to other agencies, the cuts to the HUD budget were less and the agency came out better. But proposing cuts to housing assistance at all during a time of housing and economic crisis - when instead it should be increased - is just a recipe for more homelessness.
Even worse, some members of Congress are proposing even more draconian cuts, and our battle is just beginning. Earlier this week, on Valentine's Day, advocates joined in a national day of action to protest these proposed cuts, and advocate for increases instead. The Homeless Advocates Group, a coalition of national advocacy organizations convened by the Law Center, has launched a letter a day campaign to alert lawmakers to the devastating impacts of cuts to homeless assistance programs. For more information about this campaign, click here. We urge state and local advocates to send similar letters to your Members of Congress and their staffs, detailing the impact of funding cuts on your organization's ability to address homelessness in your community.
As Bob Herbert noted in this New York Times column on Saturday, recent events in Egypt raise troubling questions about the state of American democracy, where the suffering of so many Americans is often all but ignored. Fortunately, we can make change-but to be effective, we need as many voices joined together as possible. Please join us so that the voices of homeless and poor Americans are heard.
|HEARTH Act Provisions Go Into Effect |
With HUD's recent announcement of McKinney-Vento grant awards, a number of key provisions from the HEARTH Act of 2009 will now go into effect.The Law Center pushed strongly for the enactment of these new requirements, which will help ensure that local Continuums of Care and homeless service providers protect the educational rights of homeless children and youth and take additional steps to keep those children and youth housed with their parents.
The specific requirements are below:
- Agencies must certify that they will establish policies and practices that are consistent with, and do not restrict the exercise of rights provided by the education subtitle of the McKinney-Vento Act, and other laws relating to the provision of educational and related services to individuals and families experiencing homelessness. Sec. 304(b)(4)(C).
- Continuum of Care plans must describe how the recipient will collaborate with local education agencies to assist in the identification of families, and how families and youth will be informed of their eligibility for McKinney-Vento education services. Sec. 427(a)(1)(B)(iii)
- Agencies must certify that programs that provide housing or services to families will designate a staff person to ensure that children are enrolled in school and connected to appropriate services in the community, including early childhood programs such as Head Start, part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and McKinney-Vento education services. Sec. 304(b)(4)(D).
- Collaborative applicants for HUD Continuum of Care funding must take the educational needs of children into account when families are placed in emergency or transitional shelter and will, to the maximum extent practicable, place families with children as close to possible to their school of origin so as not to disrupt children's education. Sec. 304(b)(7).
For additional information, contact Policy Director Jeremy Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org
|HUD Officials Met to Discuss Human Rights Obligations|
In late January, senior officials from across the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) met with a broad delegation, led by the Law Center, of national and local housing advocates and directly-affected victims of housing rights violations to discuss follow up steps to accept and implement the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Council.
In November 2010, the U.S. government underwent review by the Council and received a list of more than 200 recommendations, over 50 of which addressed housing or homelessness related concerns.
The Law Center requested a follow up meeting with HUD, the Department of Justice, and the State Department to determine appropriate responses to these recommendations, in consultation with other housing advocacy organizations.These officials met with advocates on January 24 to hold a discussion focused on recommendations in four primary areas: racial discrimination, homelessness, affordable housing, and housing as a right.
"We are very excited about this progress. This was the first meeting of senior HUD officials discussing housing policy within a human rights framework," said Eric Tars, Human Rights Director at the Law Center. "Now, we look forward to seeing actions to match the concerns raised in the meeting as first steps toward implementing our human rights obligations here at home."
The U.S. government will formally submit its response to the Human Rights Council's review on March 18 in Geneva. The Law Center and other advocates will be watching to ensure the response contains pledges to implement the recommendations and uphold the basic human rights and needs of homeless and poor people in the United States.
Protecting Renters' Rights in Foreclosure
The Law Center continues to advocate for tenants living in foreclosed properties. In January, we signed on to an amicus (friend of the court) brief filed in the Arizona Court of Appeals on behalf of a tenant who was illegally evicted from her rental home following a foreclosure. In the case, a bank became the legal owner of the home when its owner fell behind on his mortgage. The tenant, who was living in the property, paying rent, and complying with her lease, received a notice from the bank ordering her out of her home within five days. The trial court found that because the bank did not actually file court proceedings to remove the tenant until after 90 days, it had not violated the federal Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act (PTFA).
The Law Center joined Community Legal Services of Arizona, the National Housing Law Project, the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, and eleven other amici to argue that Congress passed the PTFA in order to guarantee bona fide tenants the right to receive both clear notice of a foreclosure and at least 90 days to relocate after the new owner's request. In this case, the misleading notice provided by the bank robbed the tenant of the full protection of the PTFA. On February 9, the Court of Appeals granted the request to file as amici and the case, De Meo v. The Bank of New York Mellon, has been set for judicial conference in early March.
|UN Expert on Violence Against Women Visits U.S. |
On January 24, the Law Center presented policy recommendations on economic stability for domestic violence survivors to Rashida Manjoo, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women. This Washington, D.C. event was the first of a series of meetings that Ms. Manjoo held with national stakeholders during the course of a two-week fact-finding mission to the United States.
After traveling to North Carolina, Florida, California, Minnesota and New York City, where she met with government authorities and representatives of civil society, Ms. Manjoo returned to D.C. on February 7 to debrief the Law Center and its partner organizations on the initial findings of her visit.Based on the information obtained during the visit, she will present a report with her final findings and recommendations to a forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council.Once released, the report promises to serve as a useful vehicle for continued legislative and administrative advocacy in support of the housing and economic rights of domestic violence survivors.
The Law Center joined NOW, the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the Family Violence Prevention Fund, the ACLU, and the National Congress of American Indians for the event. It also briefed Ms. Manjoo on violence against women in the military.
|HPRP Changes to Accomodate Oral Leases |
Thanks to advocacy from the Law Center, HUD recently reversed a Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) policy that prohibited recipients of HPRP legal services funding from helping renters without written leases.
In particular parts of the country, many low income tenants rent housing on long-term oral leases, excluding them from accessing assistance many desperately needed. When the Law Center demonstrated the frequency of this practice, HUD altered the policy. HUD's new policy does stipulate, however, that there must be some documentation of the existence of a lease, even if that lease is not in writing.
The policy had been in effect since the program started in the fall of 2009, and was intended to ensure that HUD could properly document that all tenants being provided legal help to stay in their housing were entitled to remain under a valid lease.
HUD's new policy can be found here.
For additional information, contact Policy Director Jeremy Rosen at email@example.com.
|Free Vacant Federal Property Available in South Carolina |
Since the Law Center's founding, we have continually monitored the federal agencies responsible for administering Title V of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which requires that the government make all excess, surplus, and underused federal real estate available for free to eligible homeless service providers. Part of the monitoring activities include reviewing the Federal Register for its weekly publication of new Title V property. After researching one building, a large former naval hospital located in Charleston, South Carolina, the Law Center appealed its categorization as being "unsuitable" for the Title V program. When the Law Center reached out to HUD for assistance, the Navy reviewed its initial assessment, and the property was recently re-listed as suitable for participation in the program.
Any non-profit homeless service providers may apply for property under Title V. If you know of any groups in South Carolina or elsewhere who are interested in applying for the naval hospital, another federal building, or simply learning more about applying for free surplus property, contact Housing Attorney Geraldine Doetzer.
|Pro Bono Corner: Dechert LLP |
As mentioned above, the Law Center was instrumental in planning, hosting, and briefing the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women on the intersection of economic security and violence against women, as well as violence against women in the military.This work was ably assisted by a team of pro bono lawyers from Dechert LLP.
The Dechert team provided very timely assistance researching and drafting a comprehensive paper to brief the Special Rapporteur on the prevalence of intimate partner violence within the military. The paper discussed the U.S.'s efforts - through law, policy, and practice - to promote, prevent, and protect against this violence within military families, and proposed recommendations on how the U.S. could improve its efforts to prevent and protect against further violence.
The team's analysis of intimate partner violence united a variety of the themes and trends the Special Rapporteur was hoping to learn about during her visit, including economic insecurity, gun violence, and lack of institutional accountability, among others.
The Law Center thanks Krystyna Blakeslee, Jessica Seger Bula, Katherine Burroughs, Sara Corris, Kristina Moon, Eric Reed, and Suzanne Turner for the hours they spent researching and drafting this report over the holidays, and for their timely assistance preparing for Special Rapporteur Manjoo's mission. We appreciate your pro bono support and your work to end and prevent domestic violence, and homelessness!
|Board of Directors Profile: Dennis Dorgan |
Since 1997, Dennis Dorgan has been a Legal Services Development Consultant at his own consulting firm, where he provides fund-raising and planning consultation, training, and assistance to legal services programs. In this capacity, he has worked with over 80 legal services or bar organizations across the country.
Prior to his work at Dennis Dorgan Consulting, he was the community advocacy director at Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services, where he helped develop new legal services programs for victims of domestic violence, dislocated workers, farmers, and immigrants. He organized planning efforts, program development, and fund-raising activities for the organization. He has also acted as the interim director of the Farmers' Legal Action Group and served as the associate director of the Community Planning Organization, which provided research, planning, and consulting services to organizations in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.
Additionally, Dennis has served as an adjunct faculty member at Metropolitan State University and served on many commissions and committees for the City of St. Paul and the State of Minnesota. He has also served on the boards of directors of several local and national service organizations.
A leader in fund-raising and development for public interest law organizations, Dennis provides invaluable expertise and guidance to the Law Center. We are grateful to have him on our team!