ACCESS TO JUSTICE
In La Plata County in Southwest Colorado, with a population of just over 55,000 people concentrated in the city of Durango, the threat of eviction poses a problem for many residents. An eviction order can be devastating and can lead to homelessness because many landlords and most low-income housing providers won't or can't rent to someone with a record of a prior eviction order. The La Plata County housing stock is expensive, and affordable rental housing is in short supply, so an evicted tenant will struggle to find a new home. Once homeless, myriad other issues can ensue, including interference with children's education, loss of social support networks, job loss, property loss, and various psychological effects.
The Eviction Pilot Project
Colorado Legal Services (CLS)1 identified a clear way to help in La Plata County, which already had a consolidated docket of eviction cases. With seed funding from the American Bar Endowment's (ABE) Opportunity Grant Program,2 CLS's Durango Office developed and launched the Pro Bono Eviction Defense Project as a mechanism for pro bono lawyers to advocate for low-income tenants facing eviction. CLS believed that with pro bono attorneys at the ready, eviction orders could be at least delayed and, in many cases, avoided. They were right.
With the primary goal of reducing homelessness, pro bono lawyers helped prevent an eviction order for 16 of the 18 tenants (plus 32 household members, including 15 children) served by the Project, thus demonstrating the viability of the concept. These successful efforts provide a roadmap for growing the Project i n La Plata County and replicating it in other parts of the state.
A Team Effort
To ensure success, CLS recruited nine volunteer attorneys. Once trained, the attorneys appeared in court on the days of the eviction docket to help financially eligible tenants better understand their rights, mount a defense to the eviction, or negotiate a settlement with their landlords.
One of these attorneys was Pat Hall, a former La Plata County judge and current of counsel attorney with Maynes, Bradford, Shipps & Sheftel LLP. Hall came to the Project with many years of landlord-tenant law experience and felt she could make a difference for low-income clients at risk of losing their homes. A landlord herself, she could see the challenges from both perspectives. Hall also serves on the CLS Board of Directors and is a strong advocate of pro bono service...