The White House called on faculty and students at Rutgers University Law School to recount their efforts to stop the pandemic evictions in Newark through free action and innovative outreach collaborations with community organizers and local artists.
The Stop Evicting Newark project began in the fall in response to a Supreme Court ruling against an eviction moratorium imposed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a decision expected to trigger a “tsunami” of displaced tenants in the coming months. Norinda Hayat, law school professor and director of the Newark Housing, Justice and Tenant Solidarity Clinic and the Economic Justice and Public Benefits Clinic.
The Hyatt team will be one of six law school groups that have appeared at a virtual event tomorrow hosted by the White House and the Department of Justice to highlight the issue of pandemic evictions.
The Rutgers-Newark project represents tenants threatened with eviction by the Newark Housing Authority, Newark’s largest stalker, but the cornerstone of it is an intense Get to Know Your Rights campaign that shares information about the law and how to apply for emergency rental assistance.
Students and faculty created public service announcements, flooded social media, knocked on doors, and partnered with the Newark Water Coalition, a local activist group that began distributing water to city residents after lead pipe contamination in tap water was discovered in 2019.
In the community, professional students wore neon green vision T-shirts, with a logo designed by Newark artist Andres Brady, and recruited Spanish-speaking members to reach residents in the city’s Iron Bound section, where many of the tenants are Latino. Hayat estimated that they reached approximately 200 people, including more than a dozen residents whose cases are treated by clinic students.
“You look for people at all costs, and you do everything in your power to find them,” Hayat said. “I see that as part of the strategy. We wanted to meet people wherever they are instead of coming to us.”
Anti-eviction efforts have been spurred by the US Attorney’s Office, which in August issued a call for law schools to begin supporting tenants before the eviction moratorium was formally lifted on January 1. The Hyatt team received a $1.1 million government grant to expand pandemic evictions. Working in the Clinic, which, along with the Economic Justice and Public Benefits Clinic, also challenges housing discrimination, helps homeless clients, and challenges displacement and modernization due to the loss of public, subsidized and affordable housing.
Part of the funding went to paying grassroots groups for their efforts and giving them in-kind donations. “It is important to work with community partners who already have legitimacy, so we are not disturbing this ecosystem but we are supporting it,” Hayat said. “And if we want to work with them, we must treat it as a real partnership that does not require people of color to work for free in well-resourced universities.”
An ongoing effort, the clinic has worked with tenants facing eviction since the first wave of COVID-19, helping them navigate a Byzantine legal process already complicated by opaque virtual court procedures. Many have difficulty accessing hearings because they lack technology.
“A lot of our clients are women who have children, some of them are elderly people. The stakes are high, especially if you are elderly during a pandemic or if you have children,” student Gianna Sanguinetti, who will be introduced to the university, said at the party.
Student Asia Norton, a fellow at the clinic and a member of the Newark Board of Education, played a key role in the campaign, drawing on her local networks and knowledge of the city. While she wasn’t looking for validation, she was impressed because the White House cites the team’s efforts as a model program. “When you work hard, you do it because you see a need, and you do your best to fill it,” she said. “You want it to be done right and you want it to be well received by the population.” In this way, heart-warming. ”