Pro Bono Corner: Helping the Poverty-Stricken Find Shelter
In Philadelphia, where nearly a quarter of the population lives in poverty, many families struggle to find decent, safe and affordable housing. When families spend more than a third of their incomes on housing, there isn't enough left for school supplies, food, clothes and transportation.
Thankfully, Philadelphia and the surrounding counties have dozens of effective and dedicated Community Development Corporations (CDCs) that work in neighborhoods to provide housing and supportive services. These organizations, large and small, rebuild the region's blighted communities through development work such as building housing on vacant properties or in reclaimed buildings, improving commercial corridors, and providing job training, day care or other direct social services.
I enjoy representing CDCs as a staff attorney at Regional Housing Legal Services (RHLS), where we provide the legal services CDCs need to do their good work. As an Independence Foundation Fellow, I focus on the preservation of permanent rental housing, so I help to preserve the affordable housing stock that currently exists. I have the pleasure of working with experienced attorneys who help CDCs create every kind of housing, including shelters, rental housing with supportive services, cooperatives, and home ownership. We work statewide to help our clients navigate the difficult and confusing field of funding sources and legal requirements which must be understood to create low-income housing.
RHLS is the only non-profit law firm in Pennsylvania with expertise in affordable, sustainable housing and its related components - community and economic development, utility matters and preservation of home ownership. We provide innovative project and policy solutions that help create sustainable communities. With our legal services and technical assistance, small CDCs have grown and professionalized, tackling projects they otherwise would not have been able to accomplish and becoming powerful forces of good in their neighborhoods. Likewise, we have helped larger CDCs be more productive and focus more resources on their community activities.
Through the work of our clients, we help eliminate blight, improve community safety, provide high-quality housing to those who otherwise couldn't afford it, and help individuals get supportive services they need. It is a point of pride for us that anyone can walk through Philadelphia and see the houses, apartment buildings and commercial spaces that have been built, rehabbed or improved with our help.
William B. Shuey is a Staff Attorney and Independence Fellow at Regional Housing Legal Services and can be reached at email@example.com.