SLLS Year in Review – Top 10 Achievements of 2022Posted on: December 30, 2022
Below are our Top Ten Significant Achievements of 2022, made possible by your support and dedication to justice for all. Thank you for being part of our team! We hope we can continue to count on you in the fight for fairness.
Remember, you have until midnight on December 31st to make your 2022 year-end gift. You can donate now at www.slls.org/donations.
As of early December, 29,007 people received free civil legal aid from SLLS, resulting in almost $32 million of direct economic benefits thanks to the tireless efforts of our staff and the generous backing from our devoted team of donors, funders, and volunteers.
SLLS was awarded an almost $6.5 million Disaster Legal Services grant from the Legal Services Corporation to enable us to provide disaster legal services to families still trying to rebuild their lives and to improve our resiliency over the next three years.
SLLS, in partnership with the Louisiana State Bar Association Access to Justice Department, convened Louisiana’s inaugural Disaster Law Collaboration Summit. Over 200 public interest lawyers, emergency responders, disaster case managers, faith-based partners, librarians, and other community stakeholders attended the event.
SLLS was awarded $2 million from the City of New Orleans to sustain our innovative and award-winning Right to Counsel Program. This project has provided critical legal help to over 1,600 households composed of over 3,400 people. The White House highlighted it in its first-ever Eviction Reform Summit with remarks from visionary leader First City Court Chief Judge Veronica Henry.
We launched new projects in collaboration with community partners, including our Baton Rouge City Court Eviction Desk, new Heir Property Projects teamed up with Southern University Law Center and Louisiana Appleseed, and increased our capacity to serve vulnerable veterans in greater New Orleans and the Northshore.
SLLS team members received numerous awards in 2022 for their dedication to our mission, including the National Housing Law Project’s Housing Justice Award, the Capital Area United Way ALICE Award, the New Orleans Bar Association’s Mark A. Moreau Award, and a Louisiana State Bar Association Children’s Law Award.
SLLS returned to hosting our in-person fundraiser, the “Bar Exam,” and had our most successful event to date with strong support from the legal community.
SLLS and the Louisiana Budget Project both independently raised the difficulties clients faced with the state food stamp agency when SNAP renewals came due. The agency had stopped including paper renewal forms with its notices, instead seeking to have recipients submit renewal updates online. Clients without internet access had to call to either report information or request paper forms with an hour or longer wait time. This often caused people not to renew timely and to lose assistance. The agency responded to SLLS by agreeing to resume sending paper renewal forms out to recipients at the end of their eligibility periods. This returns the mail-in option to about 400,000 households and will help protect the most vulnerable from losing food stamp assistance.
Last year, SLLS intervened in the foreclosure of six properties with over 500 units of New Orleans’ most infamous slumlord, Joshua Bruno. We represented individual tenants and a group client, the New Orleans Renters Rights Assembly, in trying to improve the living conditions for tenants at the properties. To try to get out of the obligations we were raising, Bruno filed a Chapter 11 business bankruptcy in 2022. Business bankruptcies are beyond our experience. With the aid of pro bono counsel, SLLS followed him into bankruptcy court. SLLS clients and other creditors moved for the appointment of a Trustee to take over managing the properties during the bankruptcy. After a four-day trial, the Judge ruled that a Trustee be appointed to take over the properties. In re Westbank Holdings, LLC, No. 22-10082, 2022 Bankr. LEXIS 2109 (Bankr. E.D. La. Aug. 1, 2022). With our advocacy, the City also arranged relocation assistance and deposits for tenants of one of the developments. SLLS now seeks to go beyond the management change towards permanent redevelopment as safe, affordable housing. SLLS is also working to see that tenants who are unsecured creditors in the bankruptcy will get some compensation for their claims.
In response to a Councilmember request, SLLS provided information and comments to councilmembers on the New Orleans Healthy Homes ordinance during the drafting and amendment process. The ordinance passed on November 3, 2022, and will go into effect on July 1, 2023. Though lacking in many protections, there is an anti-retaliatory protection against eviction for tenants who make reports and then face eviction. We will be engaging in more advocacy on this right in 2023.