Q&A: Fair housing
Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc. and the University of Baltimore School of Law have teamed up to put on a fair-housing symposium this Friday. (Interested in attending? Go to law.ubalt.edu/fairhousing. It's free, but organizers recommend you pre-register.)
Michele Gilman, a professor who directs UB's Civil Advocacy Clinic, talked to me last week about the event and the housing issues her clinic is seeing.
Q: Why did you decide to organize the symposium with BNI?
It's their 50th anniversary, so they wanted to do something big and statewide. We thought it was a great opportunity to do something and come together. …
Fair housing is always an issue, but at a time of recession, it's an even more urgent issue. We're seeing that in our docket of cases at the clinic. It's exciting to be part of something that's really tackling these issues head on. Our keynote speaker is James Carr, the chief operating officer of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, and he's going to be focusing on the intersection of fair housing and the foreclosure crisis.
Q: What is that intersection, in your experience?
The foreclosure crisis has disproportionately impacted low-income Americans and Marylanders, which is also the population that I serve in the clinic. ... And it tends to be more moderate- and low-income communities that are also bearing the brunt of dealing with the foreclosure crisis, as far as … abandoned and foreclosed properties and all the harms that flow from that.
But it's also an issue because we have an affordable-housing crisis in this country, and yet at the same time, we have all these empty shells of homes that aren't being used. Certainly, there could be affordable-housing strategies that better take into account what's happening on the foreclosure side. …
We're seeing a unique issue in the clinic where there are clients who are being evicted from homes because their landlords are being foreclosed on. There are so many unintended consequences and ripple effects of the foreclosure crisis.
Q: What is your clinic doing for those evicted tenants?
My students also testified last year in the General Assembly on tenants' rights. ... Eventually people realized, 'Oh my god, it really is a problem.' This year, working on the issue, there's so much energy and empathy. Not only did you do nothing wrong, you're not getting your security deposit back.
Q: Aren't tenants in that situation legally entitled to their deposit?
But they're not getting it back. Because if your landlord isn't making his mortgage payments, your security deposit has been spent long ago. ... The odds of getting it, for someone who's been foreclosed on, is just really low.
I'm just really happy that attention is being focused on the problem this year. ... On the tenants who are truly the innocent victims in the whole thing.
Q: I thought I heard about a recent change meant to improve a renter's lot if foreclosure looms.
The Court of Appeals made some rules changes that are going to provide better notice for tenants. And those go into effect … sometime this spring.
Q: How many of the clinic's cases are housing-related?
I'm running a general practice clinic. We kind of do it all. ... But right now, probably a third to a half of our docket is dealing with housing issues in some way. I have to say, I'm seeing a lot more housing right now than I have in the past. This is my eleventh year here, and I think it's the economy.
Q: Homeowner or renter housing issues?
Mostly it's renters for us. And we do focus on tenants. Traditionally, homeowners were not the people who needed free legal assistance. I realize that's changing now.