Say It Louder An eviction wave is coming. Law firms need to step up and help.
David A. Lash is the managing counsel for pro bono and public interest services at O’Melveny & Myers LLP.
Housing justice is racial justice—a truth that will become all too clear in the coming months as eviction moratoriums expire. As this civil rights crisis unfolds, lawyers must act: By assisting tenants facing eviction, lawyers can help keep families in their homes and prevent a looming disaster..
In the next 60 days or so, our country will see an unprecedented wave of eviction proceedings. And a tragically disproportionate number of tenants facing the loss of their homes will be those whose health and economic stability have been hit hardest by the pandemic: low-income families of color. COVID-19 laid bare our nation’s legacy of systemic racism and historical discrimination, as Black, Latino, and Indigenous Americans contracted the often-deadly coronavirus and lost jobs at significantly higher rates than did whites. Now, those same communities will face additional fallout from the combined forces of the pandemic and decades of housing discrimination. A perfect wave of homelessness is coming, and low-income individuals and families, particularly in communities of color, are in its path of destruction.
Throughout our nation’s history, housing discrimination has made communities of color especially vulnerable to eviction and all the calamities it brings. The pandemic underscored, exacerbated and further stoked the flames of underlying historical racial inequities, disproportionately impacting those who live at the intersection of race and poverty. Starting in the 1930s, government-backed redlining made it nearly impossible for families of color to get mortgages, much less at the favorable rates and low down payments available to whites. The Federal Housing Administration in the 1930s and 1940s excluded Black Americans from participation in the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation programs, which helped white families buy homes they might otherwise have found unattainable. When Congress passed the G.I. Bill, which provided unprecedented post-World War II opportunities for veterans to purchase homes and build family wealth, it largely excluded Black veterans. Restrictive covenants likewise kept people of color out of white neighborhoods, further limiting their opportunities to participate in the postwar real estate boom. In all of these ways, our country blocked Black families from acquiring homes and building the kind of wealth that could be passed to succeeding generations. Shut out from home ownership, Black Americans and other people of color were left to rent their homes — making them victims rather than beneficiaries of the near-constant rise in property values. Eviction is the leading cause of homelessness, and it is no coincidence that homelessness disproportionately affects communities of color. In Los Angeles, just nine percent of the population is Black, yet of the more than 1,200 people who die on the streets each year for lack of shelter, about 35 percent are Black.
Read the story on Above the Law
More of This Want to find more workers? Make it easier to hire people with criminal records
The U.S. economy seems poised for revival, but “help wanted” signs that keep popping up in windows across the country tell a different story. With millions of positions going unfilled each month, it’s clear that our recovery won’t work unless it works for everyone.
And yet for decades, an entire population of our labor force has been overlooked and undermined: the 77 million Americans with a criminal record.
Because of stigma and misguided laws from the “tough-on-crime” era, job seekers with criminal records — no matter how old the offense — face numerous hurdles to being hired. Job applications often ask candidates to disclose convictions before an interview, effectively halving the likelihood of a callback from a hiring manager. States have imposed tens of thousands of restrictions on licenses for individuals with felonies and misdemeanors, barring those with convictions from profitable trades such as plumbing, real estate and cosmetology. And it was only in September that incarcerated individuals in California who volunteer as firefighters became eligible to fight fires professionally upon leaving prison.
These restrictions contribute to a significant labor crisis: Nearly half of all formerly incarcerated individuals experience unemployment during the full first year following their release. And these challenges are even more acute during the pandemic, with total employment still down from where it was in February 2020. One study from a criminal justice scholar at the University of Central Florida suggests that 30 to 50 percent of people on parole or probation have lost a job during the pandemic.
Beyond hindering our recovery, these barriers also fly in the face of employer needs. Research from the Society for Human Resource Management shows that formerly incarcerated hires achieve the same or better scores on job performance, dependability, promotion potential and retention. While many employers say they are open to hiring people with a record, outdated laws and discriminatory hiring practices remain prevalent, keeping millions of Americans from securing jobs — while denying our economy a swift recovery.
This isn’t just a crisis of opportunity. It’s a crisis of inequality. Because of long-standing bias in the criminal justice system, Black and Brown people are far more likely to be arrested, convicted and incarcerated than their White counterparts — and, in turn, they are more likely to confront barriers to full employment.
Read the story on Washington Post
Less of This Most Judges don’t understand what it’s like to be sick and incarcerated
Wendy E. Parmet is director of the Center for Health Policy and Law at Northeastern University. Mackenzie Darling (she/her) is a J.D. candidate at Northeastern University School of Law.
Joe Messere died while behind bars. Although he first sought compassionate release in March 2020, the Massachusetts Parole Board and Department of Correction repeatedly denied his pleas for help. It wasn’t until Messere was on a ventilator in the ICU that the DOC commissioner finally acted and granted him a medical parole. It was too little, too late. He died a week later from COVID-19.
As of June 2021, there have been over 417,441 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in correctional facilities across the country. At least 2,730 people have died due to COVID-19 while incarcerated; the expected death rate for people in prison during the height of the pandemic was three times higher than the expected death rate for people not incarcerated. And it’s not just those behind bars who have suffered: there have been 114,237 cases of COVID-19 among prison staff. And cases in correctional facilities have also led to major outbreaks in surrounding communities.
Compassionate release — in some states known as medical release parole or medical release — could be a lifeline, stemming the spread of COVID-19 within and outside prison walls. But judges have refused to grant enough release requests to make a difference.
One of the challenges is that judges often fail to recognize the social roots of public health threats. Most judges have had little exposure to the science related to social determinants of health, the conditions including access to safe housing, nutritious food and education that affect health. Legal norms tend to rely on a view of each person’s health as solely dependent on their own actions and biology; the role of law in creating and reinforcing health disparities is rarely taught. As a result, legal professionals are left without the tools for making informed decisions while applying laws that relate to public health and safety.
It’s time to fill this gap in judicial education. Judges need to develop a more nuanced understanding of the social determinants of health, and how their rulings affect health outcomes.
Read the story on WBUR
Read This Incarcerated as children, these poets are sharing their experiences through their art
Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop is a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., that uses the literary arts, workforce development, and violence prevention approaches to support incarcerated and formerly incarcerated youths and adults. Over its nearly 20 years, it has worked with over 1,500 people to help them access opportunities, inspiration, and support to write new chapters in their lives.
Later this year, Free Minds will publish its third book, an anthology of poetry and personal reflections. Incarcerated as children, the poets below are only a few of the critical voices featured in the forthcoming anthology, When You Hear Me (You Hear Us). The full collection includes poems, personal stories, and reflections from young people charged and incarcerated in the adult criminal legal system, as well as from the community around them: the parents, loved ones, correctional staff, public defenders, and many others harmed and left with unhealed trauma. Through its collected works, the anthology illustrates the ecosystem that surrounds youth who are incarcerated — and exposes how the harm of their incarceration affects us all.
Read the poems on Inquest
Grants to address the pending eviction tsunami
To address this housing crisis, the California Access to Justice Commission is excited to announce that The California Endowment has provided funding to strengthen the legal aid community’s capacity to represent and assist low-income BIPOC families and individuals in jeopardy of losing their housing because of back-rent due to COVID-19.
More information >
LEAP Fellowship for diverse students
For anyone who identifies as a diverse student who lives in California, and want to apply to law school in the fall of 2022.
Application opens September 1. Register >