ECLAA = free legal help on civil law crises for low-income Essex County NJ residents
Numbers of People:
Number of clients helped: 1,080
Number of people helped in client households: 2,945
Number of children in client households: 1,095
Where Our Clients Live:
East Orange: 17%
West Orange: 1%
All others combined (Caldwell, Cedar Grove, Glen Ridge, Nutley, South Orange, Verona, West Caldwell): 2%
Ages of Our Clients:
Age 18-59: 84%
Age 60+: 16%
Race/Hispanic (Fed Govt categories):
Native American: less than 1%
Asian/Pacific Islander: less than 1%
Gender of Our Clients:
Types of Cases:
Housing - Landlord Tenant: 96%
Consumer Finance: 3%
Other (Education, Employment, Juvenile, Health, Income Maintenance, Individual Rights, Family, Misc.): 0%
Types of Services Provided:
Brief Counsel and Advice: 87%
Brief Services/Limited Action: 9%
Referral After Legal Assessment: 4%
Full Legal Representation of Tenants: <1%
Our Clients' Income Sources:
Social Security: 21%
Child support: 1%
All other sources combined: 10%
Our clients are far more likely to be employed in 2019 than our clients were in 2010 -- rising from 38% to 57%. Social Security has risen as an income source from 11% to 21% of our clients. At the same time, unemployment insurance dropped as our clients' income source from 19% to 6%, and welfare dropped from 13% to 5%. SSI has dropped from 8% to less than 1%.
We help lower-income clients in 2019 who are far more likely to be working (57%) or receiving Social Security income (21%) earned by working.
The so-called "working poor" or at ever-increasing risk of eviction and homelessness.
Over those years from 2010-2019, the percentage of our cases that are Landlord-Tenant matters has grown dramatically and steadily from 65% in 2010 to 96% last year.
Evictions are a disruptive danger to our clients and their families.
Also worth noting is that the percentage of cases ECLAA can refer to other organizations for representation has plummeted from 14% in 2010 to just 4% last year. Dramatic cuts in available IOLTA resources and in LSC funding have affected LSNJ/ENLS's available legal aid for housing matters.
There are fewer resources for tenants elsewhere.
in 4Q2017, ECLAA began to represent tenants in Landlord-Tenant matters and is working to grow the number of tenants we can represent. Such ECLAA representation will meet at least some of the massive unmet need for tenant representation in Landlord-Tenant hearings in the Essex Vicinage. Each year, there are over 40,000 Landlord-Tenant summonses in Essex County, and the vast majority affect families facing imminent eviction from their homes. Currently, ECLAA funding allows us to help only about 1,000 tenants each year -- just 2.5% of the total number of Landlord-Tenant hearings in Essex County.
ECLAA is prepared to meet more of the unmet needs of tens of thousands of lower-income tenants -- if funded.
ECLAA is seeking financial support for added Landlord-Tenant court services for low-income tenants. We are working with a variety of interested parties whose attention has focused on evictions to find meaningful sustainable funding. These strategic allies currently include the City of Newark, a new nonprofit based in Princeton called EvictionLab, our local law schools, attorneys at corporations and at law firms willing to do such tenant representation pro bono, and paralegal students seeking to learn via community service.
If you are aware of foundations and other public or private grantmakers interested in finding solutions to the eviction crisis in our communities (through direct service to tenants or through public policy advocacy), please contact ECLAA's Bob Adler at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (908) 672-0738.
How COVID affected our clients and our services.
COVID had a major impact on our clients and on both the types of cases our clients presented to us (e.g., many more family matters than in any prior years) and the complexity of providing more help to clients who our attorneys could not meet face to face in our courthouse offices (closed to the public by government mandate since mid-March 2020).
In 2019, employment was the income source for 57% of our clients – working people with household incomes below the 250% cap used by both IOLTA and ECLAA to determine income eligibility for our free services. In the last nine months of 2020 when the full force of the pandemic hit so many low-income people, that percentage was dramatically lower – only 32%. While Unemployment income was the source for only 6% of clients in 2019, it rose dramatically to 20% of our clients from 4/1/20-12/31/20. Social Security fell from 21% to 8% -- and Other/Unknown (too often an indication of no income at all) was what 25% of our clients reported from 4/1/20-12/31/20.
Our normal caseload is over 1,000 each year and we served 1,080 clients in 2019, the overwhelming majority in 2019 (96%) had housing crises, That housing-related percentage dropped to 71% in 2020 – and to 57% from 4/1/20-12/31/20 after our office was forced to close, after moratoriums on rent-related evictions were put in place due to the pandemic, and after the Essex Vicinage shut down normal operations. The nature of our work for clients also changed dramatically in those last nine months of 2020 – with advice & counsel dropping from 87% to 53% of our work, since our clients needed and got more extensive services, given the evolving dire nature of our clients’ needs.
ECLAA will not speculate about how the case load or the type of work we do for our low-income clients with civil law emergencies will change in 2021. There are still too many unknowns – ranging from how the courts will be able tackle the expected “tsunami” of eviction matters whenever the moratoriums are lifted to the public health measures that emerge for public spaces like courthouses as vaccinations and other measures start to impact such public policy.
I intentionally highlight two ECLAA cases that pointed out unintended gaps in the COVID-19 public health moratoriums on rent-related evictions – which we raised with appropriate City and State parties after making sure that our at-risk clients were safe:
Illegal Lockout Leading to Full Representation and Court Victory:
Despite municipalities, counties, states and HUD each declaring that there is some sort of moratorium on evictions in NJ, we heard from a 72-year-old tenant the first week we were working remotely that he had been locked out of his apartment by his landlord, which would be illegal in normal times bur loathsome and possibly criminal with the life-saving public health executive orders in place. With our help remotely, the tenant got a court order that required the landlord to let him back into his apartment. Luckily, he had a cellphone, which allowed for calls and the exchange as necessary of texted photos. The landlord failed to show up at the appointed time to comply with the order, leaving our tenant waiting outdoors on a blustery, wet and cold day. We were able to get the client out of the rain and into a warm and safe shelter (for up to 30 days) run by a social services nonprofit with whom we regularly cooperate to meet our legal clients’ non-legal needs. At a Zoom hearing months later, our client won the case. Separately, we worked with the appropriate government authorities to assure that the tenant got proper justice for following the law — and to ask whether the landlord should suffer relevant justice as appropriate for breaking the law and the three public health moratoriums — city, county and state.
Getting a Moratorium Broadened:
We spotted a crack through which low-income tenants fell who took COVID shelter in hotels. Our client was being evicted for paying late one day. We helped the client find work and reported the unintended moratorium gap to NJ authorities.
More COVID cases appear elsewhere on our website: https://eclaanj.org/about-our-clients-1
Each $150 covers all of the costs of providing free emergency legal assistance to a low-income client and her family when facing a civil law crisis -- most often an imminent eviction from their home.