Micaela Alvarez

  • Hosted by Centro Legal de la Raza
  • Sponsored by Intel, WilmerHale
  • Service location Oakland, California
  • Law school Harvard Law School
  • Issue area Housing/Homelessness
  • Fellowship class year 2017
  • Program Design Your Own Fellowship

The Project

Micaela is working to prevent the escalating unlawful displacement of Oakland’s low-income tenants of color by providing direct legal services to tenants and bringing affirmative lawsuits against non-law-abiding landlords.

Rapidly rising rental rates are causing widespread displacement of low and middle-income tenants of color throughout the Bay Area. This trend is particularly acute in Oakland, where 60% of the city’s over 400,000 residents are tenants and rents rank among the highest in the nation. Poverty, cultural and linguistic barriers, and the fear of immigration consequences often make tenants unlikely to assert their rights and particularly vulnerable to displacement. Oakland’s Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance prohibits evictions of law-abiding tenants, but dishonest landlords are turning to unlawful measures to remove low-income tenants in favor of affluent professionals. Landlords falsely use the owner move-in and owner-occupancy exceptions to evict tenants, and increase rent far beyond what is legal, knowing that low-income tenants are unlikely to enforce local rent control laws. Other landlords have begun constructively evicting tenants by harassing them, illegally locking tenants out without warning, or letting housing conditions deteriorate until tenants are forced to leave.

Fellowship Highlights

In the first year, Micaela has:

  • Run a twice weekly walk-in legal clinic for Alameda County tenants, providing brief service to 250 clients;
  • Provided full representation to 10 tenants in responding to unlawful evictions, illegal rent increases, landlord harassment, and uninhabitable living conditions;
  • Managed existing affirmative litigation cases against non-law-abiding landlords;
  • Identified two new cases and managed process of preparing and filing cases with assistance of co-counsel, including client intake, investigation, drafting of complaints, discovery, and preparation for mediation.

What’s Next

In the next year, Micaela plans to:

  • Continue to staff weekly walk-in legal clinic, assisting tenants facing a range of housing issues;
  • Continue to act as lead attorney for Tenants’ Rights Program’s affirmative litigation caseload, under supervision of Centro Legal’s Litigation Director;
  • Leverage clinical experience to monitor emerging trends in displacement crisis and identify potential plaintiffs for additional high-impact affirmative cases.

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