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An Evaluation of the Housing Justice Program and its Achievements

/ Blog Post

This summer, Equal Justice Works is expanding its successful Housing Justice Program to communities in Maryland and South Carolina. The program began as a cohort of eight Fellows in Richmond, Virginia, in 2019 and has grown to offer 31 Fellowships for attorneys and community organizers across three states. The Housing Justice Program and host organizations are currently seeking 20 Fellows in cities throughout Maryland and South Carolina to start as early as August. The expansion of the Housing Justice Program is due to the tremendous achievements of the first cohort of Fellows, which are detailed in a report by Philliber Research and Evaluation, an independent research firm.

Equal Justice Works launched the Housing Justice Program in 2019 to provide legal assistance to those facing eviction and advance systemic reforms to address underlying inequities related to housing in Greater Richmond. Three civil legal services organizations in Richmond partnered with Equal Justice Works as host organizations for the 2019 cohort, which included six Attorney Fellows and two Organizer Fellows. These Fellows combined direct legal services, education, outreach, and impact litigation to advance the rights of renters and hold bad-actor landlords accountable.

To understand the impact of the Housing Justice Program, Philliber Research & Evaluation used a mixed methods approach to evaluate its success. This analysis determined that the Housing Justice Program strengthened the legal community’s capacity in Greater Richmond and increased access to justice for low-income tenants.

According to Philliber’s evaluation, the first cohort of Housing Justice Program Fellows increased access to justice by providing direct legal services and filing group action cases on behalf of low-income tenants. Fellows delivered briefs and extended services to nearly 2,000 low-income tenants, who had a median income of $12,528. Seven in ten of their closed cases were won and only 3% of the cases were noted as lost. In addition to direct legal services, Fellows filed and won three affirmative group cases that could impact larger groups of tenants with similar bad-actor landlords. Other cases, such as an ongoing Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Agency voucher denial case, could set precedence and ultimately benefit many public housing tenants.

Philliber also found that the Housing Justice Program strengthened low-income tenants’ capacity to advocate for themselves by facilitating “Know Your Rights” trainings and tenant town hall meetings. Through their outreach efforts, Housing Justice Program Fellows reached more than 40,000 people. Fellows further mobilized tenants by helping them to form or strengthen fifteen tenant organizations. Tenants became more engaged in advocating for their interests, with many renters attending meetings at the Richmond Redevelopment Housing Authority (RRHA) as it was reviewing an annual plan, policies, and planning for redevelopment. As a result, RRHA instituted an eviction moratorium in November 2019, and followed many of the Housing Justice Program team’s recommendations. Additionally, they succeeded in making changes to RRHA’s Admission, continued occupancy policies, and practices; and the agency agreed to participate in Richmond’s eviction diversion program, which has prevented hundreds of evictions in the city by facilitating payments plans for back-rent and connecting tenants with financial assistance.

Finally, Philliber’s evaluation showed that Fellows and their host organizations contributed to system advocacy efforts, which achieved changes to Virginia’s landlord-tenant laws that provided more protections for tenants. They strategically produced more than 100 media placements, conducted meetings with policymakers at the local and statewide level, published policy papers associated with General Assembly advocacy, and raised the voices of tenants during the legislative session. Through their efforts, Fellows supported the passing of legislation, including a bill to the right of redemption which allows tenants to pay rent-owed and cancel an eviction, and bills to strengthen protections against unlawful evictions.

Learn more about the key findings of the Housing Justice Program Evaluation by reading the summary report.

Learn more about becoming an Equal Justice Works Fellow