By Nicolas Muñoz, USC Gould Irmas Legal Fellow
LawWorks is a school/legal partnership with Learning Works, a charter school serving disenfranchised youth in grades 6 through 12 who have been pushed out of traditional schools. Through this partnership, I provide legal support on matters that pose barriers to student graduation and successful transition into adulthood. This portion of my fellowship constantly reminds me of how important a stable household is to fostering positive educational outcomes.
One of my LawWorks clients, Joe (not client’s real name), is the father of Learning Works students. The students reached out for assistance after their father received a letter from the landlord threatening eviction. Joe received the letter after he called the city because his apartment was uninhabitable due to flooding caused by a leaking pipe and fetid water. In response, I drafted a letter to the landlord’s attorney stating that the threatened eviction was retaliatory and demanding that the termination notice be withdrawn.
The landlord refused to negotiate and filed an unlawful detainer action, which so overwhelmed and angered Joe that he decided to take no action and wait for the sheriff to lock him out. Joe was a Section 8 voucher holder so having an eviction on his record posed the threat of losing his voucher. Recognizing how challenging the situation was for Joe and how important it was for his family to avoid eviction and maintain their Section 8 voucher, particularly right as the school year was ending, I persisted in my efforts to counsel Joe about his rights, even though he protested that he was too upset to do anything further.
Through patient consultation, I was able to change Joe’s mind and convince him that he needed to file an answer to the eviction complaint within 5 days of receipt. Even after he filed an answer, Joe stated that he was just going to wait for his lock out. Through continued efforts to explain his rights under fair housing laws and the importance of avoiding eviction to maintain his voucher, Joe contacted a case worker and decided to attend his hearing. Through consultation with the client and, with his permission, his social worker, who agreed to attend court with him, Joe was sufficiently prepared to successfully negotiate a stipulation for more time to vacate his apartment, thus avoiding eviction and loss of his voucher.
Joe’s case is an example of the important role that legal advocacy can play in helping families to maintain housing and stability. Loss of housing causes extreme disconnection with support systems and can result in missed school and lost credits. My advocacy and support ensured that Joe’s children stayed in school and finished their coursework and that his family was in the best position possible to secure alternative housing by the time they had to vacate their premises.
USC Gould Irmas Legal Fellow