Amid the pandemic, the nation was facing a deepening rental crisis with estimates that nine percent of adult renters in New Jersey were confronting eviction. Last week, New Jersey featured prominently among the 99 law schools applauded by the White House for the responsive action to combat the eviction and housing crisis.
“Keeping a roof over people and families’ heads is foundational to their social and economic success,” said Assembly Speaker Craig J. Coughlin (D-Middlesex). “I’m proud of the recognition New Jersey has received for our success in leveraging the strength of our legal community and state resources to aid vulnerable renters.”
On July 22, 2021, ahead of the August U.S. Supreme Court ruling that lifted a federal pandemic-based eviction moratorium, New Jersey enacted legislation creating experiential housing advocacy programs through the Seton Hall and Rutgers Camden and Newark law schools.
The law, sponsored by Speaker Coughlin, provides $2 million in state funding to support the experiential programs, which are providing free legal assistance to low and moderate income tenants. This includes counsel, representation in litigation, and assistance applying for housing benefits or aid such as federal Emergency Rental Assistance.
“With the State’s support, Seton Hall Law has established the Housing Justice Project, a broad range of programs to support tenants facing eviction and other housing crises. We have expanded our clinics and developed new pro bono and fellowship programs,” said Lori Outzs Borgen, Associate Clinical Professor and Director of Seton Hall Law’s Center for Social Justice. “We are monitoring the implementation of the new laws related to eviction and landlord/tenant court procedures and collaborating with our colleagues at Rutgers Law to ensure that tenants’ rights are protected.”
Having identified housing security among the priorities for the current legislative session, the Assembly’s Housing Committee will hold a hearing Thursday on the current state of homelessness in New Jersey. Director Borgen is scheduled to testify before the committee to further detail the impact of the experiential programs.
“Twenty-eight law students and twenty-four volunteer attorneys have been trained by Seton Hall Law’s Housing Justice Project to provide legal assistance to tenants. Students at Seton Hall dedicated more than 500 hours providing legal assistance on tenancy matters in the fall semester and the Project assisted more than 30 families,” shared Diane K. Smith, Managing Attorney of the Housing Justice Project at Seton Hall Law. “With the expansion of the clinics due to the new State funding, the Center for Social Justice expects that clinic students will dedicate more than 2,800 hours during the spring semester to eviction prevention.”
Rutgers Law School, across its Newark and Camden campuses, saw students serve over 350 households and dedicate over 3,700 hours to increasing housing stability through their eviction defense work in the fall 2021 semester.
“When the Supreme Court found the eviction moratoriums unconstitutional, and with eviction proceedings taking place on Zoom, there was an urgent need to make sure people who had fallen behind on their rent during the pandemic had information, resources and, importantly, counsel to help them maintain their housing,” said Norrinda Hayat, Associate Professor and Director of the Civil Justice Clinic at Rutgers Law in Newark. “That’s where our law students came in to help. Through the Stop Evicting Newark campaign and in partnership with the Newark Water Coalition we brought Know Your Rights information about the federal and state Emergency Rental Assistance Programs to food and clean water distribution sites and students engaged several hundred community members. We also offered to represent tenants in Landlord Tenant court to stop their evictions and keep them in their homes.”
The law school’s Camden campus developed a Housing Justice Clinic aimed at increasing eviction defense, as well as a new pro bono project to connect tenants with rental assistance and help them apply for dismissal of their eviction case.
“We realized from the beginning the need to work with other community agencies to reach tenants facing Covid-related evictions,” said Anne Mallgrave, Adjunct Clinical Professor and Director of the Eviction Prevention Project at Rutgers Law in Camden. “Our students participated in several community events throughout the fall to share information with Camden County residents about rental assistance, the need to submit the self-certification, and our program, and community agencies generously offered to help share this information about our programs with their clients.”
“As we navigate through our economic recovery from the pandemic with eviction moratoriums lifted, empowering renters with free legal support and resources is a proven means of boosting positive housing outcomes,” said Speaker Coughlin. “The partnerships created under these programs serve as a critical means of support for New Jerseyans and are well-deserving of the national attention they are receiving.”