Highlights from the 2023 Housing Justice Program National Needs Assessment

/ Blog Post

The expiration of pandemic-era tenant protections and rising rents have yielded an increase in eviction filing rates and the number of tenants in need of legal representation. The Equal Justice Works Housing Justice Program conducted a nationwide community needs assessment in May 2023 to understand how organizations are meeting the increasing need for housing legal services. Equal Justice Works distributed this needs assessment to more than 300 partners nationally and received 92 responses from across 29 states and the District of Columbia. The responses confirmed that there is a significant gap between community need and the capacity of legal aid organizations to provide housing-related legal services. The results of the needs assessment illustrated that:

  • 93% of legal services respondents indicated that their organization does not have the capacity to serve all eligible individuals seeking services for housing and eviction related issues.
  • 76% of respondents indicated that their service area does not have adequate access to free or affordable legal services related to housing stability.
  • 45% of respondents reported receiving a large increase in requests for housing-related services in 2023 (21-50% increase from normal intake), and 12% reported a massive increase in requests for services (51%-100%+ increase from normal intake).

Respondents noted several internal challenges related to meeting legal needs, including difficulty with staffing, retention, and increased caseloads. Despite 70% of respondents employing dedicated housing attorneys, only 5% are fully staffed to handle all eligible clients seeking housing services. To increase capacity, organizations have sought to grow the number of housing attorneys on staff. Seventy-five percent of respondents have increased the number of full-time housing attorney positions at their organizations since 2020; however, filling the positions is not always easy. Thirty-five percent of respondents reported that it typically takes 4-6 months to recruit a housing attorney and 10% reported that the process takes 7-9 months. Once hired, respondents indicated housing attorneys typically only stay for 1-3 years. Since most organizations do not have the staff capacity to serve all eligible individuals, they often must refer them to other providers, pro se materials, or provide limited scope service to try to address needs in their service areas.

Equal Justice Works enhances the capacity of legal aid to provide housing services by attracting and training talent through our Housing Justice Program. The needs assessment results indicate that 93% of respondents are interested in hosting an Equal Justice Works Housing Justice Program Attorney Fellow to increase their service capacity. Several organizations elaborated on their desire to partner with the Housing Justice Program:

  • “We could really use help with hiring an EPP attorney in Columbia, SC. An Equal Justice Works Fellow would be a revelation!”
  • “We are in dire need of capacity building strategies and support, and would welcome conversations to build this in NYC.”
  • “The housing issue in L.A. is dire and our clients, specifically transition-age youth and nonminor dependents, often slip through the advocacy cracks… We are excited to expand our advocacy efforts to include housing and hopeful that we can take these steps to build our program soon.”

Respondents to the needs assessment explained that, in addition to hiring more attorneys, they hope to improve housing stability in their communities through organizing and encouraging legislative change.

  • 33% of organizations currently engage in tenant and community organizing.
  • 67% of organizations participate in policy advocacy. The most common policies advocated for are right to counsel, just cause protections, and emergency rental assistance.
  • Of the organizations that participate in policy advocacy and tenant organizing, 80% are interested in hosting an Equal Justice Works Housing Justice Program Organizer Fellow.

Housing Justice Program Organizer Fellows assist their host organization and service area by advocating for reforms, conducting outreach and education on tenants’ rights, and helping form tenants’ associations. They also bolster the work of the Attorney Fellows by building trust between community members and legal service organizations and emphasizing the importance of having representation in court. Current Housing Justice Program Organizer Fellow DeAnna Smith recently wrote about the importance of community outreach and how it can help remove barriers to accessing legal counsel.

The results of the needs assessment underscore how the Housing Justice Program can continue to enhance the capacity of legal aid organizations across the country to meet the needs of low-income renters. As the nation’s largest facilitator of public interest fellowships, Equal Justice Works attracts top talent to our programs and provides tailored training to support the work of our Fellows. Our Housing Justice Program Fellows have helped nearly 4,000 households avoid eviction, secured $2.3 million in economic relief for tenants, and helped to pass tenant protections such as rent control. The program currently operates in Maryland, South Carolina, and Virginia, and aims to expand into new states in 2024.

Learn more about the key findings of the Housing Justice Program Needs Assessment by reading the report here.

If you or your organization are interested in lending support to expand the Housing Justice Program to meet the community needs highlighted in this report, please contact us at [email protected].

The Housing Justice Program includes Fellows hosted across Maryland, South Carolina, and Virginia. The Housing Justice Program is made possible thanks to the generosity of The JPB Foundation, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Abell Foundation, Maryland Legal Services Corporation, and Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina, and the Community Foundation for a Greater Richmond.

Learn more about becoming an Equal Justice Works Fellow