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2011 January - February

Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act

An Overview of the New Federal Law and Its Application

By Samantha M. Tuttle & Kent Qian

Tenants residing in foreclosed properties were largely forgotten victims of the foreclosure crisis until the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act was passed in 2009. The Act contains core protections for all “bona fide” tenants and particular protections for those with housing choice vouchers. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and other federal agencies have issued guidance on implementation, and attorneys general in Connecticut and California have moved to enforce the law. Advocates should think creatively about using the Act—a valuable tool in defending postforeclosure evictions—in conjunction with tenant-friendly state and local laws in order to devise a battery of protections for their client tenants.

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Using Law for Change

Litigation to Challenge Systemic Violations

By Brad Seligman

Starting in the 1980s, the pursuit of social justice litigation has become challenging due to more conservative judges, tougher class certification and substantive law decisions, more demanding attorney-fee and cost-recovery requirements, the decline in federal enforcement of civil rights and environmental laws, and cutbacks and restrictions on legal services funding. Nonetheless, taking a holistic approach--using media, working with community organizations, and using the full range of procedures in a litigator's toolbox--advocates can still accomplish much on clients' behalf. Social justice litigation remains a potent weapon for change.

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Using a Human Rights Framework at the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau

By J. Peter Sabonis

Attorneys in legal services often puzzle over how to incorporate human rights principles into their busy practices. In 2009 the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau adopted a human rights framework to assist its attorneys in meeting broader advocacy goals for their clients. Although developing and implementing the framework took serious effort, using human rights concepts derived from international agreements has helped the bureau confront clients' problems in innovative ways. The framework has also opened up new opportunities for organization, mobilization, and collaboration.

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Using Consumer Law to Combat Criminal Record Barriers to Employment and Housing Opportunity

By Jason Hoge, Louis Prieto & Persis S. Yu

Employers and landlords often use criminal background checks to investigate potential employees and tenants, even though criminal record screening has been shown to be discriminatory, unreliable, and inaccurate. Criminal background checks often dash the hopes of people who have never even been convicted of crimes but were arrested at some point in the past. Understanding the Fair Credit Reporting Act and its interplay with state statutes can help legal services lawyers vindicate the rights of people harmed by criminal record screening.

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Using Human Rights to Move Beyond the Politically Possible

By Mariah McGill

The Vermont Workers' Center used a human rights framework to build a successful grassroots campaign for legislation requiring the state to design universal health care plans that incorporate human rights principles. Despite advice that the outcome was not politically possible, the organization built a base of citizen support that affirmed health care as a human right.

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Human Rights Frameworks, Strategies, and Tools for the Poverty Lawyer's Toolbox

By Gillian MacNaughton

Over the past decade many organizations at the local, state, national, and international levels have adopted human rights frameworks to deal with issues of concern to people living in poverty. As the use of human rights frameworks by advocates, organizers, and poor people increases, poverty lawyers need to become knowledgeable about international human rights law. Moreover, poverty lawyers should consider adding human rights frameworks to their toolbox of advocacy strategies.

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You Have a Federal Right, but Do You Have a Remedy?

By Rochelle Bobroff

Federal statutes confer many individual rights, particularly in the areas of the safety net and civil rights. However, recent U.S. Supreme Court jurisprudence prevents the enforcement of these rights in courts. When framing claims to vindicated individual rights, advocates must be mindful of these Supreme Court legal doctrines. Express and implied statutory rights of action, along with implied constitutional rights of action, are most likely to be successful.

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Beyond Advocacy Alone

Incorporating Social Work into Legal Aid Practice

By Mara Tencer Block & Andrya Soprych

When representing certain clients, a growing number of legal aid programs involve social workers. These attorney-social worker collaborations can often accomplish more for clients than either profession could accomplish alone, but attorneys' and social workers' ethical obligations may differ. A clear understanding of attorneys' and social workers' respective roles is requisite for collaboration to succeed.

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