In partnership with the Wells Fargo Foundation, Legal Services of Greater Miami (Legal Services) helped 2,082 people stay in their homes at a time when many renters in Miami have faced eviction. Through the Housing Stability Grant awarded in 2020, Legal Services has sustained and expanded its advocacy for low-income tenants by hiring Sha’Tarria Davis, a staff attorney solely dedicated to eviction defense work.
Over 14,000 evictions have been filed in Miami-Dade County since the onset of the pandemic despite the eviction moratoriums as well as rental assistance programs available to struggling tenants. Now that the moratorium has ended, the number of evictions will only increase and our advocacy is that much more critical.
These are a few stories to show the impact this program has had over the past year:
Meet Joice and Her Son James
Joice is a 30-year-old single mother, who is full of life and dedicated to raising her amazing son, James. A resident of a rental apartment in Hialeah, she received an eviction notice after she fell behind on rent. Joice applied for the county’s rental assistance program, which is available to those who meet certain income qualifications and are experiencing financial hardship as a result of the pandemic. Once she was approved, she paid off the outstanding balance and was relieved she was able to catch up on her rent. However, her landlord continued to pursue the eviction against her, so she turned to Legal Services for help. Even though Joice was protected by the CDC’s eviction moratorium as well as qualified for emergency relief aid, the landlord filed an eviction claim against her which put her and her son at risk of losing their home. Ms. Davis represented Joice in the eviction case which was ultimately dismissed.
In Joice’s own words, “Legal Services saved my son and my life from ending up in the streets. The scariest feeling is not being able to provide a home for your child. Ms. Davis did everything she had to do in order to stop the eviction from taking place. She’s my guardian angel. I will be forever grateful to her and the hard work of the staff.”
Andrea is a 64-year-old disabled woman who lives in subsidized housing and is considered high-risk for COVID. She sought the assistance of Legal Services after facing eviction following a dispute with her landlord and the Homeowner’s Association. She lived in her rental home for more than a decade and suffers from a number of health issues, so she was desperate to resolve the eviction. Moreover, she feared the eviction against her could place her at risk of losing her housing subsidy which could render her homeless. She sought the assistance of Legal Services, and after reviewing her case, Ms. Davis learned the landlord had continued to accept her monthly rental payments even after the eviction had been filed. Andrea decided she wanted to fight the eviction and have her case heard in court, so Ms. Davis represented her at a hearing and argued the landlord had waived his rights. The judge dismissed the eviction against Andrea, which has allowed her to remain safely housed during the pandemic as she searches for a new home.
Four years ago, Katia, a single mother, was excited to get a fresh start in her new rental home. Shortly after moving into her complex, she found work at the property management office. When a new management company took over a few years later, Katia parted ways and shortly thereafter was served with an eviction notice although she was in good standing as a tenant. The company claimed she could no longer live there as she was a former employee of the management team. Legal Services agreed to represent Katia so she would not have to give up her home solely because she was no longer employed by the property manager. Ms. Davis zealously advocated on Katia’s behalf at a contentious evidentiary hearing, and ultimately the Judge ruled in Katia’s favor. She no longer lives with the uncertainty and stress of not knowing where she and her young son would go had they been ousted from their home.
In Katia’s own words, “I love the help I received from Legal Services of Miami; the attorney who helped me was Ms. Davis. The professionalism from Ms. Davis was extraordinary, the respect was unmatched; she guided and provided me with the utmost transparency, the honesty was remarkable. I do not believe I could have found anyone else who could have helped more effectively, and or more efficiently than Ms. Davis. I would recommend them to anyone in need of legal assistance.”
Legal Services’ attorneys have been working tirelessly to help tenants avail themselves of the COVID-19 eviction moratoria. Tenants like Anitra, who for the past 11 years has lived with her disabled son in an apartment, while her husband lives in a nearby assisted living facility. Shortly after the onset of the pandemic, she began to fall behind on rental payments after being burdened with the increased cost of other living expenses, as well as temporarily losing her job as a security guard. She scrambled to pay the back rent owed after the landlord served her with an eviction during the moratorium. Nevertheless, the landlord refused to dismiss the eviction action against her and insisted on taking her to court. She feared losing her home, especially since it was conveniently located near her husband. Legal Services successfully filed a Motion to Dismiss, which the Judge granted and allowed her and her son to remain in stable housing until she found other work. Due to Legal Services’ advocacy, Anitra asserted her tenant rights and successfully resolved the eviction against her.
Thanks to the Wells Fargo Housing Stabililty Grant, Legal Services has the attorneys and resources available to meet the needs of these families and so many more like them, many whom have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Legal Services is now positioned to handle potentially mass evictions once all the protections expire. We remain committed to providing free legal representation to tenants facing eviction which undoubtedly will have a meaningful, lasting impact on their lives. We are grateful to Wells Fargo for the leadership and support during this time!