Navigating Landlord Tenant Court and Housing Law in D.C.

It’s hard to believe that my summer internship is almost over. It’s been a jam packed summer full of learning moments. I’ve become familiar with not only my host organization but also the city of DC, as well. From navigating the metro to exploring the museums there is always something to do.  Washington DC is a great place to be as an intern. There are many events geared towards interns. My cohort of interns have been to multiple events hosted by the Washington Lawyers Committee that explores law and politics. Recently we went to a panel featuring D.C. judges entitled “Poverty From the Bench”. We heard judges discuss poverty and how it affects our judicial system. They also shared how they try to make rulings that are not biased. It was inspiring to hear these judges speak.

As an undergraduate intern, in the housing unit at the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, I have  interacted with members of the client community in person and over the phone. As part of my internship, I spend two days of the week working at our courthouse project. The courthouse project provides clients with same day representation on their first court appearances in their housing cases. These cases tend to be eviction cases. In D.C. if a landlord wants to evict a tenant, they have to go through the courts in order to do so. I believe that this is a good process due to the fact that tenants have the right to fight against the eviction. However, I have learned that in practice there are many problems with the landlord tenant court proceedings.

A very important statistic that I learned early on in my internship is that 90% of landlords have lawyers in these proceedings, while only 10% of tenants are represented. This creates a power differential between landlords and tenants. Often times, tenants that are unrepresented get intimated by their landlords’ lawyers and consent to a move-out agreement even though they  frequently do not have anywhere else to live. There is a book by Matthew Desmond that goes into detail about eviction statistics entitled “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City”.

Photo From the Evicted Exhibit

There is currently an exhibit dedicated to this book and eviction work at the National Building Museum. Ironically, the museum is directly across the street from the landlord Tenant Courthouse in D.C.. As part of our internship program, I went to this exhibit with my fellow interns. It was truly an eye opening experience for me. I don’t think I ever knew just how bad evictions were not only in D.C. but across the country as a whole. The exhibition contained a section that talked about the Right To Counsel. Right To Counsel (RTC) is a movement that supports individuals having guaranteed representation in civil matters. While the sixth amendment of the constitution grants us a right to an attorney in criminal matters, it does not apply to civil matters such as housing cases.

Photo From the Evicted Exhibit

The Legal Aid Society of D.C’s Courthouse project is  a part of this movement. Housing lawyers are down at the courthouse five days a week to serve as “AOD” (Attorney of the Day) to help represent as many clients as possible. Unfortunately, there are to many cases on the docket and not enough attorneys. The average number of eviction cases on any given day is roughly 160. Of those cases, approximately half are deemed defaults which means that the tenant did not show up for court. This is very disheartening and something that the attorneys I work with are hoping will change. Being able to work down at the courthouse has been inspiring and motivating. It has led me to believe that my desire to go to law school is very much what I want to do in the future. I want to be able to help provide legal services to those that are underrepresented. I believe that everyone should have a right to counsel in cases that can have an affect on their well being such as eviction cases.

 

Post 1: Environmental Protection Equals Social Protection

The Sierra Club is a national volunteer-driven non-profit organization, and the Lonestar Chapter where I am currently interning is the oldest grassroots environmental group in Texas. Their mission is “to explore, enjoy, and protect the planet!” and they work towards this through various goals within each division of the chapter. These conservation goals include clean air and water, smart energy solutions, land and wildlife protection, water for the people and the environment, promoting responsible transportation choices, and achieving a stable climate.  These may at first seem like purely environmental protection goals, but at their core is environmental justice because the health of the human world is linked to the health of the natural world. Furthermore, the legislation having to do with issues such as where refineries are built or where toxic runoff ultimately ends up will more often than not negatively impact marginalized communities.

Since I’ve been working here, my supervisor, the director of the Lonestar Chapter, has allowed me to put a finger in each of these environmental issue pies, so to speak, and I’m usually given different tasks each day. I have worked with the Lonestar Chapter’s water resources specialist, who also works with the Texas Living Waters Project. Under her supervision I compiled cases of drinking water contamination (mostly limited to ground water cases) across Texas. This issue is quickly becoming more and more prevalent, and it is important to get this information available to the public in an easy-to-access form.  Too many rural, lower-socioeconomic-class communities are being affected by tap water that comes out with harmful biological, chemical, or industrial pollutants.

I then moved on to work with the Lonestar Chapter’s clean energy coordinator. My tasks here included reading through the annual State Energy Conservation Office (SECO) reports from all the co-op and municipal electric utility groups in Texas. I then had to compile certain factors of each report into an energy efficiency scorecard, which we use to rank these utilities on all their measures to achieve more clean energy and energy efficiency. Finally, I drafted emails to each of these electric utility companies explaining the score they received and breaking down the categories in which they could improve to give their customers more access to energy efficient programs or equipment in their residences or their commercial businesses.

The latest work I’ve been doing is under the Chapter’s communication manager. He has put me in charge of our organization’s Media Clip Report, which compiles anytime we are mentioned in the media and asses the tone put out into the world. I’ve also been collecting information on the Sierra Club-endorsed challengers in Texas house and senate elections so that it can be put in one place for our members, or the public, to access.

Overall, my tasks are often spreadsheet- and research-oriented, but these intern-level tasks help the organization flow like a well oiled (or rather, green energy powered!) machine. By the time I depart from the Sierra Club, I would like to have accomplished more direct outreach and education with the local community, and also simply expand my knowledge of all the overlap between environmental and social justice issues.

Post 2: Connecting Knowledge with Action at BridgeYear

 

BRIDGEYEAR

One of the biggest realizations I had during my time at Brandeis came while taking Professor Wallace’s class, Sociology of Race, Gender and Class.

The class used a variety of media to analyze how race, class and gender as axes of identity and inequality create, and even recreate, forms of domination and subordination in schools, labor markets, families, and the criminal justice system. It was in this class that I was able to learn about the term intersectionality.

As most of you probably know by now, intersectionality, in its most straightforward form, refers to the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage. After quite some time of self-evaluation, I was able to own the word. Intersectionality is more than just a buzzword; it is a way of life, and one of the only things I can do is to accept it and help others realize the strength that comes from that word. Under-represented students currently facing the effects of their unique, personal intersectionalities need to understand that there are resources out there for them.

I don’t mean to sound preachy or anything like that; I know I am not the only one who has had this realization. However, it is important for me to provide under-represented students with the tools to succeed in our current society. I feel that I was very fortunate during my high school years to have been guided throughout the entire college enrollment process. I am also aware that not every student is presented with such an opportunity.

This is the reason why I believe BridgeYear’s work is truly important. At BridgeYear, rather than concentrate on the overly supported top 25% of students, we place our resources on the other 75% of students. These are the students that are often times forgotten because they do not take AP classes, perform the best on their tests, or participate in a number of clubs. Through personal one-on-one advising, we make sure our students understand the exact steps necessary in order to either enroll into community colleges or partake in apprenticeship programs.

Even though I have only been advising students for about a month now, I already feel like I am having an impact on them. A good number of our students have been very grateful for the tips and reminders they receive from the BridgeYear team of advisors. I am delighted to say that I feel as if I am walking the same steps my mentors took in order to guide me to where I am now. My only hope is that the students I am advising realize their potential and become the kind of young professionals our society truly needs.

Post 1: Finding Dreams

Hello! My name is Liat Shapiro and I received a Summer 2018 Social Justice WOW Scholarship. A little about me: I am a rising junior at Brandeis University majoring in linguistics and minoring in journalism. This summer, I have the opportunity to serve as the summer intern for Korean Kids and Orphanage Outreach Mission.

In a way similar to how the Korean War is the Forgotten War, Korean orphans are also often forgotten. Generally speaking, the word “orphan” is associated with a mental image of a starving child from a third-world country. Although these children should also be given love and support, the voiceless children in industrialized countries whose families are absent, missing, or otherwise unable to care for them ought not be ignored.

Although the number of children staying in South Korean welfare institutions dropped 26.8% from 17,517 orphans in 2006 to 12,821 in 2017, the vast majority of Korean orphans will grow up without a traditional family.

Emotional and financial insecurity are just a few of the hurdles faced by children who grow up in and age out of Korea’s welfare system. Ill-equipped to compete in the hyper-competitive job market, orphanage boys often end up accepting low-paying “3D” jobs — dangerous, demeaning, and dirty– while girls may find themselves sucked into South Korea’s $13 billion sex trade industry. Yet, I’m also told that there are bright spots: examples of KKOOM students who have gone to college, have excellent jobs, and are raising families.

KKOOM’s acronym spells the English transliteration of the Korean word for “dream.” By providing scholarships and implementing events, KKOOM gives orphans a chance at survival in a society that systematically tears them down. We help bring balance to the unequal playing field Korean orphans find themselves fighting on.

This summer, I will help fight the inequality by planning and implementing KKOOM’s Dream Camp, creating a college ambassador program, and building fundraising strategies. The month of June I am finalizing administrative and logistical details for the two-week trip to Korea, while July and August will be focused on the college ambassador and fundraising programs.

Each week, I have a 1 to 2 hour phone call with the Chief Administrator, to whom I directly report. The past two weeks have been spent researching things from AirBNB options for 13 people to gently annoying friends currently in Korea about food and transportation prices.

My fundraiser for KKOOM’s 2018 Dream Camp.

I’m also grateful to report that my personal fundraiser for Dream Camp has reached $1,972. Thanks to the love and generosity of family and friends, within one short weekend, my $500 goal was reached, unlocking a personal donation of $500.

The last days of June will include connecting with the ten participating students, putting together activities such as scavenger hunts, museum visits, and tourist activities. I will also be in charge of reaching out to donors, thanking them for their generosity and analyzing the effectiveness of KKOOM’s fundraising efforts.

I also look forward to KKOOM’s annual Board of Directors retreat which will be held the last weekend of June in Los Angeles. While attending the retreat, I have the opportunity to learn more about the internal workings of the organization which, in turn, will help me more effectively contribute to fulfilling our mission.

The KKOOM Board of Directors and I during the 2017 Boston Annual Board of Directors Retreat.

In addition to running the Dream Camp, I will also go on a camping trip with the 52 children from Samsungwon Orphanage, attend a day of a soccer camp held at Yongsan Army Base with a KKOOM partner organization, and hopefully visit three other KKOOM partner orphanages and programs. 

At the end of August, I want to look back on my experience at KKOOM knowing I gleaned as much knowledge as I could from conversations and interactions with the Board of Directors. I anticipate fostering relationships with the Korean orphans and teaching them about my world while learning about theirs. I cannot wait to help these precious children find their dreams.

I’m grateful for this summer and cannot wait to share more with you! Thank you for reading.

– Liat Shapiro

My First Week At Legal Aid

 

This summer, I am interning at the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia. At the Legal Aid Society, the attorneys are committed to “Making Justice Real” for their clients. The organization is composed of 4 practice areas which are, Consumer Law, Domestic Violence/Family Law, Housing Law, and Public Benefits Law. This summer, I will be working in the housing unit. The housing unit is the biggest area of practice at Legal Aid. A majority of the housing cases that legal attorneys work on are centered on evictions.

In the District of Columbia, there is a two tier court system. There is the lower level court system, the Superior Court and the Court of Appeals (which is equivalent to a state’s supreme court). This two tier system is  unique to D.C. due to it operation as a city-state.  Fun Fact: Judges in D.C. are not elected but appointed  by the President and confirmed by Congress. Currently, there are vacant Judges seats on both the Superior Court level and the Court of Appeals level. This has resulted in Judges having to hear more cases than they normally would. Housing matters are heard in Landlord Tenant Court, which is apart of the Superior Court system. The Landlord Tenant Court has its own building due to the high volume of cases that occur daily. During my first week, I was able to take a tour of Landlord Tenant Court. On any given day, there are approximately 160 cases on the docket.

The District of Columbia has one of the highest income gaps in the country. This has led to wide gentrification throughout the city. Historically, D.C was a city that had a majority African American population. However, many of the families that have been here for a long time are being pushed out of the city in to areas of Maryland and Virginia. There is a book entitled, Dream City that goes into depth about the racial makeup of the city. It’s a good read for those interested in learning more about D.C.. The majority of clients that Legal Aid serve are apart minority groups.

I am very excited to be working at this amazing organization for the summer. As someone that is very much interested in law and social justice, the Legal Aid Society seems to be the perfect fit for me. I have academic, career, and personal goals for the summer. My academic goal is to be able to apply legal terms and concepts that I have learned in my legal studies courses to real world cases. My career goal is to learn more about Public Interest/Poverty Law. My personal goal is to develop and improve different skills that I have. Rather it be in foreign language, oral and written communication, or analytical skills.

I am apart of a robust internship program. There are many things I have to look forward to this Summer, including being able to go to the Supreme Court. There are a total of 11 interns in my cohort (8 law students and 3 undergraduate students). I’m excited to get to know and learn from them. Week One was a success, and I can’t wait to start “Making Justice Real” throughout my internship.


– La’Dericka Hall

Final Week Reflections

As I finish my internship, I believe I have largely met my defined academic, career and personal goals I established before beginning my internship. My academic goal was to build upon the knowledge from the biology classes I have taken, as well as to expand that knowledge to better assist me in future classes. These goals were met as all my research either built on my basic biology knowledge, such as understanding how cellular respiration works and how DNA is replicated, or new lab techniques and concepts. These new techniques include ELISA and cell culture preparation, which will be useful when I take biology lab in the fall. More so, I was introduced to many neuroscience concepts, such as the role of PPAR agonist receptors and the importance of insulin in the brain, which I will be able to apply to my neuroscience courses.

Here is a link to an interesting article about the correlation between insulin resistance and AD, concepts on which my project focused, written by my PI.

My career goal was to gain research experience and decide whether research and neuroscience are areas I am interested in pursuing. This internship provided me with valuable research experience that will make me a far more competitive candidate when applying to future research labs. Additionally, the experience of working in in a lab made me realize that while I find research interesting and would like to continue it throughout my undergraduate education, I don’t think I would like to pursue a career solely involving wet lab research. However, this experience has also helped solidify my choice in majoring in neuroscience, as it has given me further understanding of how uncharted the brain remains and how vital an understanding of this organ is to the future of society and medicine.

My personal goal at the start of my internship was to challenge myself to fully understand all concepts of my research. I feel as though I have met this goal through asking questions and feeling comfortable in being wrong in my understanding, giving me a better grasp of my research through my mistakes.

Overall, as a result of this internship I feel capable of taking on and successfully completing challenging projects. Although my research project appeared daunting and confusing at the beginning of the summer, by working through the project slowly and asking questions when confused, I ended my project with a newfound confidence in my abilities and understanding.

Here is a picture of me at the lab:

I would advise a student interested in this internship to come with an open mind and be prepared to give his or her full efforts. Additionally, this lab prefers to reteach techniques regardless of a student’s previous knowledge, so it is important not to become frustrated or discouraged by this. It is also essential to stay very organized and have full command over your topic, and quality over quantity is key.

I would advise a student interested in an internship at the Brown University Liver Research Center to come into the internship with an open mind and be prepared to give their full efforts. By personally doing so, I learned far more than I expected to and produced results, such as the raw data from the experiment, my presentation for the lab, and a manuscript of the experiment, which I wouldn’t have expected coming into this experience. Here is the link to the lab’s website:

I would advise a student interested in this field to definitely try a hands-on experience, such as working in a lab, in order to interact with the field of study in a new light that differs from the textbook experience. This allows for a new perspective and better understanding of the topic, as well as more comprehensive look into whether you are truly interested in the field.

Looking back at my internship, I am most proud of my presentation at the lab and the manuscript I wrote about my experiment. I often do not present, and when I do, the presentations are often much shorter than the fifteen-minutes I was allotted. Additionally, this presentation was on a challenging and complex topic that required me to gain a comprehensive understanding of in order to make it a successful talk. Fortunately, applying the necessary time and effort allowed my presentation to run very smoothly and I felt I was successful in conveying all aspects of the experiment to my audience. I am also very proud of the manuscript I wrote on the experiment. This required a very extensive understanding of the topic background, results, and experimental significant, and required a style of scientific writing that I had never attempted before. However, I produced an end product that was something I didn’t think achievable before coming into this experience.

Dustine Reich ’20

 

Life Number 2: Starting Fresh in the United States

The Refugee Services of Texas (RST) serves refugees, asylees, individuals with Special Immigrant Visas, Cuban-Haitian entrants, Central American minors, survivors of human trafficking, and other vulnerable populations. RST is a social-service agency dedicated to providing assistance to refugees and other displaced persons. A list of the different services that the Houston office offers can be found here. Through its many services, it aims to build a welcoming environment for these underserved and vulnerable populations. The office of the agency is located on the fifth of six total floors of a square building surrounded by other office buildings and apartment complexes. Upon entrance, one may feel that he or she is in a clinic. Chairs are lined up against the wall and against each other in the middle. Toys for the children are stacked in the corner.

Upon my entrance into the office space on my first day, I was greeted by a large number of employees and interns. I felt extremely welcomed and happy to have landed this internship opportunity with RST. It’s not the beauty and aesthetics of the office that makes this agency special, it’s the work that impresses me and pushes me to do all that I can do to better the lives of the clients and the employees here. My work, which may evolve over time, mainly focuses on promoting oral health. My goal is to inform all clients of the importance of keeping good oral hygiene. I will be creating a curriculum for the volunteers to use while they welcome and orient the clients.

Although each client has Medicaid, clients of ages 20 and younger are only eligible to receive dental benefits. Thus, clients of over the age of 20 will have to pay out of pocket, depending on income. More information about this policy can be found at this website. The agency hopes that each client will end up having a dentist to serve their oral health care needs. This will allow for the clients to receive great health care that is vital and of much importance.

My work will be part of the cultural orientation given within the guaranteed 90 days of service that the agency provides for its clients. As of now, the agency informs all clients of health care opportunities and information, but does not do so for dental care. I am happy to help start this new program and service for the agency. I believe that my work will further help make the clients comfortable in their new lives as residents of the United States.

The agency provides services to all ages, including newborns and infants. There is no discrimination!

By summer’s end, I hope to learn about the different policies that govern how refugees, asylees, individuals with Special Immigrant Visas, Cuban-Haitian entrants, Central American minors, survivors of human trafficking, and other vulnerable populations arrive to the United States. As a child of parents who were once refugees, I want to learn more and connect with what it means to be a refugee, as well as the hardships that must be tackled. I hope to learn the many different ways that individuals can become settled into the States, and how present-day government policies affect the lives of these vulnerable populations. I also hope to become more comfortable with interacting with people of different backgrounds and traditions. The employees working in the office, a total of nearly 20, speak a total number of 30 languages. Thus, I am positive that by the end of my internship, I will be able to learn more about different cultures and customs.

At ETE Camp We Form Leaders!

 

Many schools in Haiti are limited in providing a good quality education and there are few extracurricular activities for students to participate in, if any.  To combat these issues ETE (Empowering Through Education) Camp was born, an organization that gives underprivileged students in Hinche, Haiti the opportunity to have access to a quality curriculum education which they do not have access to in their regular schools. Students in this program are exposed to leadership, engineering, English and math classes which are designed to strengthen their academic skills, build their confidence and teach them to become leaders in their community. Furthermore, the program serves two meals per day to approximately 60 participants and holds afternoon programming that includes icebreaker activities, soccer, and much-more.

ETE Camp was founded in 2009, by Myra Kraft Transitional Year Program (MKTYP) and Brandeis Alumna Shaina Gilbert as director, five other Brandeis students, and Shaina’s father, Boston Public Schools teacher, Garry Gilbert. ETE Camp has already served 200+ youth participants and provided summer work opportunities to adults in Haiti and it’s where I’ll spend my summer WOW placement.

Last year I had the privilege to work with these students and we were able to bond. I am so excited to see my students from last year again and look forward to meeting the new students.

WHAT IS IT THAT I DO? As a teacher with ETE camp, I will teach three classes on effective leadership practices a day. I adapted and refined a curriculum for this program. I will also help lead afternoon activities including debriefing morning classes with the students and leading games for community building. Afterward, I will attend the staff meetings and debrief the day and discuss what we can do as a staff to improve for the next day.

Also, this is my second year at camp and I intend to start a poetry competition for the students. The purpose of the competition will be to support graduates of ETE camp who may not have opportunity to continue showcasing their poetry talent.  From my previous experience with ETE Camp, one of the organization’s missions is to keep improving for its students and to form leaders in the community that will lead in the future.  I truly believe that by teaching a subject like leadership, I can show that a leader can also be a community influencer.  Now that I am done preparing the curriculum, I cannot wait to start working with the ETE Camp students in Hinche, Haiti.

END OF THE SUMMER GOAL: By the of the summer, I aim to create a ripple effect on the current ETE Camp students and the alumni; where they will continue to think critically and engage in conversation about how they can contribute to their community as leaders. I hope to create a book for ETE Camp with a combination of alumni stories and poems. I  also hope to discover new ways in which ETE Camp could be improved for next year. Working at ETE Camp is one of my favorite ways to spend the summer. I know how grateful and excited the students in the Hinche community will be to have us working with them again this year and I want them to know that I believe in them.