Community Law Program and Bay Area Legal Services won the Foundation’s 2022 Goldstein – Van Nortwick Award for Excellence, a competitive award that recognizes significant impact work undertaken by a Foundation grantee.
Their project was a combined effort to expand access to free legal services for tenants impacted by COVID-19 who were at risk of eviction and homelessness.
The Pinellas Eviction Diversion Program was designed to provide holistic services to tenants in Pinellas County including free legal assistance, opportunities to mediate with landlords in a virtual setting using Zoom, expedited access to rental assistance and housing navigation, all within one location.
The project engaged in an aggressive and targeted outreach campaign both on the ground and via social media. It also engaged in policy advocacy with
Pinellas County to increase the efficiency of its emergency rental assistance program.
By the end of 2021, the project had served more than 1,000 tenant households. Seventy-two percent received extended services, resulting in them getting their past rent paid or remaining stably housed or gaining additional time to find alternate housing. Through formal mediation and informal negotiations, the project helped tenants access more than $3 million in rental assistance. Fifty-six percent of those helped were persons of color.
In addition to these outcomes for individual clients, Community Legal Program and Bay Area Legal Services collaborated with the Homeless Leadership Alliance, helping 84 tenant households find new housing without experiencing homelessness. Of this number, to date, 81 of the households remain stably housed.
The project’s advocacy efforts led to a number of changes, including the county fast-tracking tenant applications that were in active eviction status, the removal of birth certificate documentation for minors in the household and allowing for utility payments to be made at the point of a tenant being 30 days past due, as opposed to waiting until a shut off notice has been issued. As a result, the Pinellas Emergency Rental Assistance Program’s processing time has been cut from an average of 60 days to 20 days.
The first runner-up of the award was Florida Health Justice Project for its Enforcing Medicaid Rights of Former Foster Youth Project. The project worked to reform, statewide, the Department of Children and Families’ flawed eligibility determination process for young adults who, because they have aged out of foster care, remain eligible for Medicaid until their 26th birthday.
The second runner-up was Americans for Immigrant Justice’s COVID in Immigration Detention litigation, which was an effort to obtain the release from ICE custody of immigrants, with the initial focus on persons with comorbidities for whom detention conditions threatened their lives on a daily basis, holding ICE accountable to its obligations under the CDC guidelines.