The Dudley T. Dougherty Foundation

Eviction Prevention: Using Pro Bono Legal Services to Help Low-Income Families

Grant Information
Categories Community
Location Texas
Cycle Year 2020
Organization Information
Organization Name (provided by applicant) Volunteer Legal Services of Central Texas (VLS)
Organization Name (provided by automatic EIN validation)
Contact Information
Contact Name Alisa De luna
Phone 2104765550
8001 Centre Park Drive, Ste. 120
Additional Information
Used for Funds will be used to continue increasing our capacity to handle additional pro bono cases, in anticipation of the inevitable end to the Eviction Moratorium, and the corresponding increase in eviction cases that will be prevalent among low-income and indigent families. These families have been hardest hit financially by the pandemic, and inevitably, they will also bear the brunt of the eviction issues that we are facing.
Benefits By providing low-income and indigent families with free legal representation, we can ensure that these families stay housed and do not fall into homelessness. Many of these families already lived on the edge, paycheck to paycheck, before COVID-19. Now their living situations are ever more tenuous as layoffs, reduced hours, and business closures have stretched these families to their financial limits. As a society, it is our duty to provide the help and protection these families need to remain in safe and stable housing.
Proposal Description This spring, VLS began preparing for one of the inevitable consequences of this year’s pandemic: an eviction crisis. In April, VLS General Law Staff Attorney Jonathan Buck participated as a speaker in an Austin Bar Association CLE on the new rules related to COVID-19 and evictions, including the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. He then formed the new VLS Evictions Task Force in anticipation of an influx of eviction cases. The Task Force is comprised of 11 experienced attorney mentors who guide newer attorney volunteers handling these types of cases for the first time. Mentors provide training on both general eviction cases as well as education on specific COVID-19 rules. The cases come through our weekly clinic, as well as through direct referrals from Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid (TRLA) and specific appointments from the Travis County Court at Law, which handles eviction appeals.

"We wanted to stick as closely as we could to our base model, which is recruiting attorneys to take cases," said Buck. The Task Force has provided an opportunity for VLS to reach out to firms and engage new volunteers, and especially newer attorneys.

One such volunteer is Abigail Griffith, a new associate attorney at Jackson Walker. Griffith took on an ongoing eviction case involving an undocumented immigrant and first time homeowner taken advantage of by a predatory lender. The case was originally handled by another volunteer, but when Bastrop County set an in-person hearing for August, he had to step back as someone in a high risk category for COVID-19.
That's when Griffith stepped up to handle the case. “She put herself in harm’s way for our client and took care of it… she saved the day,” said Buck.

Since its formation, the Task Force has handled 15 evictions cases. Currently, a CDC order has delayed evictions due to non-payment until the end of the year. Buck expects a significant influx of cases in early 2021: "It's a constantly changing game, and we've done the best we can to be on the ready. It's pretty well-understood that [the influx] is coming, it just keeps getting kicked along." In conjunction with the Task Force, VLS has worked with Judge Nicholas Chu of Travis County Justice of the Peace Precinct 5 to provide information to tenants facing eviction at the time they are served. Tenants are provided with a flyer about VLS's weekly legal advice clinic and are invited to apply for services online.

Funding will be used to training, supplies, staff salaries, to handle the influx of Eviction cases that we will see after January 1, 2021.

VLS hopes to change the world for low-income and indigent families who will be caught up in the COVID-19 financial crises for months, if not years, to come.