This is a four-credit hour clinic. It is offered only in the spring.
Students in this clinic represent low-income families on their housing-related legal problems. The primary focus of the work is helping clients to avoid homelessness and to obtain affordable housing. Students represent clients on a myriad of issues related to low-income housing programs. The work includes representing clients in threatened evictions, rent issues, threatened section 8 voucher terminations, and on denials of public housing, subsidized housing, and section 8 voucher housing. The work is especially interesting not only because of the compelling needs of the clients and the often egregious actions of the adverse party but because of the intersection of federal housing law and federal regulations, state landlord-tenant law and contract law. Moreover, many clients are persons with mental disabilities; representation requires use of the Fair Housing Act and the reasonable accommodation provision -- an area of the law that is rapidly evolving.
Two examples of cases from recent clinics:
(1) One student represented a public housing client who had been on the waiting list for a section 8 housing voucher for over four years but consistently passed over because she resided in public housing. Congress has prohibited public housing authorities from penalizing families applying for a voucher because they live in public housing. The student wrote the housing authority demanding a change in the policy and threatening suit. The housing authority changed its policy -- benefiting a number of public housing families. The client was subsequently awarded a voucher.
(2) Another student represented a client who had been denied a subsidized apartment on the basis of a sixteen-year old drug conviction. The student wrote a demand letter to the owner’s attorney. The attorney responded defending the owner’s policy and rejecting the efforts to resolve the case. The student drafted a lawsuit petition and filed suit before the clinic term ended. The suit subsequently settled with the landlord changing its policies and adopting reasonable criminal history “look-back periods.”
These are but two examples. Other students have defended evictions, represented clients in section 8 voucher termination cases, challenged rent calculations by subsidized owners and public housing authorities, filed bill of review lawsuits challenging eviction judgments, and drafted real estate documents clearing title to property for low-income homeowners.
The work is fast-paced and challenging, with a great deal of client and opposing party interaction. Most cases are completed during the semester, allowing the student to see the case from beginning to end.
Classes are held on Tuesdays from 3:30 p.m. to 5:20 p.m. at the offices of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid at 4920 North IH-35 (take Airport to 50th Street and go to IH-35 access road). Students must also spend a minimum of eight hours a week working on their clients’ cases at Legal Aid. Those hours must be spread over two different days during the week.
Cases are reviewed and discussed in class. Classroom lectures focus on tenant rights under federal housing programs and Texas landlord-tenant statutes. Significant classroom time is also spent on how to represent clients with the highest possible quality and ethics.
All credit is awarded on the pass/fail basis. Participants must have completed at least forty-three semester hours in law.
Students register for Law 497C by filling out an application. The application and instructions on how to apply for this clinic can be accessed on the web.