Pop-up clinic offers free legal advice to Durham tenants facing eviction
When the federal eviction moratorium ended this summer, Duke Law's Civil Justice Clinic stepped in to assist with a surge in rental assistance applications in Durham County.
On Friday mornings this semester, the Duke Law Civil Justice Clinic is holding a pop-up Eviction Advice Clinic in the Durham County Courthouse in downtown Durham. The clinic provides legal assistance to local residents facing eviction, often related to circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and exacerbated after the federal eviction moratorium ended on Aug. 26.
“When the moratorium was lifted in the summer, it was anticipated and it played out that there would be a substantial number of new of eviction filings,” said Clinical Professor Charles Holton ’73, who directs the Civil Justice Clinic.
With the Durham County Department of Social Services (DSS) overwhelmed by the surge – and with encouragement from Durham County Chief District Court Judge Patricia Evans – Holton and Clinical Professor Jesse McCoy, supervising attorney of the Civil Justice Clinic, moved quickly. On Sept. 14, the new initiative was up and running.
“It gives anyone from the community who has questions about their lease or questions, about the process or questions about the assistance programs, the opportunity to come in and talk to someone and get information straight and first-hand to make better decisions about what they want to do moving forward,” said McCoy.
In preparing to run the clinic, Holton and McCoy read up on the primary rental assistance application forms in Durham County, including the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) and N.C. Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Evictions (HOPE) Program. They also met with DSS to determine how best the clinic could assist applicants – many of whom do not have Internet access or “the capacity to fill out fairly complicated forms,” McCoy said.
They also turned to students to help staff the clinic, and “the Duke Law student response has been tremendous,” Holton said.
Added McCoy: “It’s really more of an operation than we initially conceived it would be when we first started. I think that’s all a credit to students who are ready, willing, and able to take on this position and help people in the community.”
The clinic is staffed by four to five students from either the Civil Justice Clinic or the broader student body. Amanda Joos ’23 showed an interest in working with the Civil Justice Clinic toward the end of her first semester and now has a paid internship as the Eviction Advice Clinic coordinator.
“I’ve had the opportunity to develop our interview intake questionnaires, where we get to learn more about the clients and really become familiar with the Emergency Rental Assistance Program,” Joos said. “Now, I’m there every week to answer student questions and keep things running smoothly for the three hours that we hold the clinic. It’s exciting to see students’ confidence increase weekly as they work their way through the questionnaire and assist the community.”
Andrew Tisinger ’23, who is pursuing a Certificate in Public Interest and Public Service Law, learned of the Eviction Advice Clinic through his work with the Economic Justice Project. Holton and McCoy are faculty advisors for the student group, and he was excited to work with them further. “The type of work that they’re doing just felt really important and interesting, and I wanted to be involved in it,” he said.
“Students have an opportunity to see real-world issues outside of the typical campus infrastructure and are able to exercise some of these abilities and skills that they are learning on campus for the benefit of someone who really needs it because but for these students, a lot of these clients would have no one.”