7 posts

Access to Justice in “Lawyerless” Housing Courts: A Discussion of Potential Systemic and Judicial Reforms

By Gabe Siegel

“Housing courts—and lawyerless courts more broadly—are broken.  Only one side has access to lawyers.  And given the institutional expertise, strategic knowledge, and unfair use of procedure that housing court lawyers bring, only one side has genuine access to justice.  By changing the ways in which judges interact with pro se and represented litigants, reform can provide access to justice to all parties in housing court.  Judicial reforms would decrease delay, elicit more facts, inject due process and procedural fairness into proceedings, and minimize bias.  The most important of these reforms is active judging, including procedural reform, evidentiary reform, and easier access to hearings.  As the effects of the active reforms taken by Alaska District Court Judge Washington indicate, the reforms are simple to implement and quickly make a tangible impact.  More broadly, reforms would benefit pro se litigants and the judicial system as a whole: it is ‘more effective to train one judge on how to assist a self-represented litigant than to teach hundreds of [litigants] how to be lawyers.’  It is an ‘essential democratic goal’ that the court system work fairly for all.  Reforming judging in lawyerless housing courts helps it do just that.”

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Still Underwater: The Need for Temporary Foreclosure and Mortgage Relief for Victims of Future Natural Disasters

By Jason M. Sugarman

Over four years ago, Superstorm Sandy decimated New York and New Jersey. Homes were destroyed, individuals were displaced, and the costs of repairing damaged properties were enormous. Many Superstorm Sandy victims could not maintain their monthly mortgage payments, and as a result faced foreclosure.

This Note proposes that New Jersey adopt legislation providing temporary foreclosure and mortgage relief to victims of future natural disasters. Part II of this Note describes FEMA;s origination and its role in assisting natural disaster victims. Part III outlines Superstorm Sandy‘s destructiveness and its impact on homeowners. Part IV explains the National Flood Insurance Program and specifically why so many Superstorm Sandy victims had underpaid flood insurance claims. Part V describes HUD’s role in helping natural disaster victims and the state sponsored programs in New York and New Jersey that used grants from HUD to assist Superstorm Sandy victims. Parts VI and VII outline additional problems, such as foreclosure, that Superstorm Sandy victims faced while trying to return to their homes. Part VIII examines New Jersey legislation that provides temporary foreclosure and mortgage relief for Superstorm Sandy victims. Finally, Part IX describes the terms of this Note‘s legislative proposal and the policy basis for enacting temporary foreclosure and mortgage relief for victims of future natural disasters.

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College Student Homelessness: A Hidden Epidemic

By Chad Klitzman

This Note examines a surprising obstacle for an increasing number of college students: homelessness. After first offering an overview of legislation in the education field dealing specifically with the education of those experiencing homelessness, this Note then offers insights into how and why people experiencing homelessness tackle both the world of higher education and their respective institutions’ capacities to service their needs both in and out of the classroom. This exploration occurs largely through interview testimony conducted by the author. Many institutions lack the resources needed to service all of a students’ needs (food, clothing, etc.). After exploring the malleability of the higher education and social services systems, this Note argues that certain policy changes — legislation, community work, and change at the institutional level — would be beneficial in combatting this growing homelessness epidemic.

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This House is Not Your Home: Litigating Landlord Rejections of Housing Choice Vouchers Under the Fair Housing Act

By Maia Hutt

Over 2.2 million low-income households participate in the federal Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program. Voucher holders, who are disproportionately people of color and individuals with disabilities, are frequently discriminated against or denied housing by landlords. This Note argues that prospective tenants who are rejected by landlords for participating in the HCV program have a right of action against landlords under the Fair Housing Act’s disparate impact provisions. The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Inclusive Communities provides the necessary framework for evaluating these claims, and suggests that federal courts’ historical rejection of disparate impact claims brought by voucher holders is no longer good law. Integrating state and local source of income protection laws into the Inclusive Communities burden-shifting resolves the tension between state and federal approaches to source of income protection, and vitiates the rights of voucher holders.

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“A Statement About Who Deserves to Live Here”: The Fair Housing Act Implications of Housing New York

By Pablo Zevallos

New York City faces the twin problems of housing segregation and a shortage of affordable housing. In response, Mayor Bill de Blasio developed Housing New York, a plan to create or preserve 300,000 affordable units across a variety of income bands. As part of this plan, the City instituted inclusionary zoning policies and modified density caps in certain neighborhoods while targeting units for households in a range of income brackets citywide. Yet many residents and community advocates have long argued that homes developed under the plan are unaffordable to working-class, disproportionately affecting Black and Latino New Yorkers.

This Note takes a first pass at analyzing the plan’s compliance with the Fair Housing Act of 1968 through the lens of the plan’s income affordability targets and its household targets (the latter being deciphered through the aforementioned changes to city policy on density and the number of bedrooms targeted in new housing units). It examines key neighborhood demographics for communities targeted for inclusionary zoning and argues that the plan’s income affordability targets and its household targets, taken together with the City’s existing community preference policy, likely have a disparate impact on Black and Latino New Yorkers by disproportionately denying members of these communities housing and by perpetuating segregation within and between neighborhoods. This Note then propose a non-comprehensive set of remedies that would fall within jurisprudential constraints on Fair Housing Act cases.

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When Fido is Family: How Landlord-Imposed Pet Bans Restrict Access to Housing

By Kate O’Reilly-Jones

Renters today face widespread landlord-imposed pet restrictions. At the same time, Americans increasingly view their pets as family members, and many do not see giving up their animals as an option when looking for housing. Consequently, pet-owning renters often struggle to find suitable places to live and end up compromising on quality, location, and safety. As homeownership drops and renting becomes more prevalent across the United States, landlord-imposed pet restrictions increasingly constrain choices, effectively reducing access to housing for many Americans. These policies particularly impact low-income families and those with socially-maligned dog breeds.

This Note analyzes how landlord-imposed pet restrictions burden renters with dogs, with a particular focus on renters in the Los Angeles area. Parts II and III explain how legal and cultural attitudes toward pets are evolving, and how public and private restrictions constrain pet ownership. Part IV discusses the impact of landlord-imposed pet restrictions on renters and compares the situation to non-rental contexts in which people have sacrificed their own well-being to protect their pets. Part V asserts that the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause and the penumbral right to privacy can be interpreted to protect pet-owning families from government-imposed pet restrictions. It argues that while these constitutional protections do not apply in the private rental context, they do suggest that landlords unreasonably infringe on renters’ privacy interests and that legislators should act to constrain landlord control.

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Proxy War: The Role of Recent CEQA Exemptions in Fixing California’s Housing Crisis

By Annelise Bertrand

As California’s housing crisis continues to balloon, legislators are scrambling to identify its root causes and fashion fixes. One major challenge to the state’s housing fix is its existing fix for a different issue: environmental protection. The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is one of the strongest state-level environmental statutes in the United States, and mandates that residential projects of a certain scale and potential impact undergo rigorous rounds of public review prior to approval. It also grants a private right of action against a project approval to any anonymous individual, and given the glacial pace of such litigation, the exercise of this right often informally functions as an injunction. Recognizing its defensive potential, prosperous communities have repurposed a law intended to preserve the environment into a weapon of exclusion that preserves property values and views by preventing the construction of new and affordable housing where most needed.

To counteract CEQA abuse in the housing domain, the California legislature has passed three bills that streamline environmental review for projects that reserve a certain portion of units for affordable housing: SB 35, SB 540, and AB 73. This Note examines each bill in turn and, after reviewing their requirements in light of inclusionary housing literature, ultimately argues that the streamlining efforts are unlikely to produce the effects hoped for due to their mismatched incentives and concessions. Finally, the Note concludes with several recommendations for improving future CEQA-based affordable housing initiatives in the Golden State.

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