NEWEST LEGAL CLINIC AIMS TO HELP THE UNHOUSED
The Housing Rights Project at USD was founded in December 2021 to provide pro bono legal services to underserved populations facing homelessness in San Diego County. In January 2023, the project became the 12th clinic of the School of Law.
“We are very excited to hold our first classes this spring,” says Alysson Snow, professor of practice for the Housing Rights Project. “We are really focused on stopping homelessness before it starts.” And doing that begins with fighting evictions before they happen. “It often starts at the courthouse steps,” she adds.
The project began when the School of Law Legal Clinics received a $230,000 grant award from Price Philanthropies, a private family foundation dedicated to improving life opportunities for youth and families. The aim of the effort is to provide education, outreach and direct client representation to serve the legal needs of low-income and undocumented tenants facing housing instability and homelessness.
“The first part was just establishing our place in the community and figuring out where the biggest need was,” explains Snow. “There were people falling through the cracks who didn’t qualify for legal aid services. We’re designed to help the people who are most in need and really don’t have access to any other legal services assistance.”
“A main focus is to represent those who are undocumented,” explains Robert Muth, faculty director of the law school’s legal clinics. “This is a population that has a very difficult time finding pro bono legal services and a population that often gets targeted because most of the time, unscrupulous landlords feel that they won’t vindicate their rights because they are concerned about their legal status.”
Previously, the program had been using Civil Clinic resources. Now that the school has secured additional funding, the new clinic’s status will be ensured for the next few years. “This move demonstrates that we’re committed to the project. This will be an integral part of our clinical program for the foreseeable future,” adds Muth.
The School of Law Legal Clinics are a part of the experiential learning curriculum in which enrolled students receive academic credit and vital real-world experience. Students — who become certified — act as attorneys on cases and can conduct client interviews, make arguments and cross examine witnesses. Professors supervise their work, a similar dynamic to a professional law firm, where associates are under the guidance of partners.
“It’s designed to help law students learn the law by actually practicing with real clients in real situations,” Snow says. “The beautiful part is we are attacking housing instability.”
“The idea is that it’s a bridge,” Muth adds. “When students leave law school, they’ll be practice ready and able to go to a firm and have an idea of how to run a case.”
The Housing Rights Project was previously only able to take on one or two housing projects at a time. Establishing the new clinic will mean that a larger number of clients who have tremendous need can be served, he says.
“We saw people coming out of the pandemic who were struggling and who were going to be on the street,” Muth says. “It’s a really important resource for us to be able to provide to the community. These are usually people who are working and who have children in schools. Keeping them in a stable environment is really important, in San Diego County and more broadly, in California.” — Matthew Piechalak
Leave a Reply