Alliance Member Profile: HOME Line launches Eviction Prevention Project
Andrea Palumbo recognizes the fear in the voices of tenants. In her attorney role at HOME Line, she has the expertise to explain the legal process of eviction. But she also has the lived experience of potential displacement.
“I was in the same position,” she says. “I got behind on rent and was terrified I would get evicted. When people get anything that even vaguely looks like an eviction notice, they panic — and I know exactly where they’re coming from.”
Building on a long tenure of legal advocacy, Palumbo is leading a new initiative at HOME Line, an Alliance member organization that provides free and low-cost legal, organizing, education, and advocacy services for tenants throughout Minnesota. As the attorney for the Eviction Prevention Project, Palumbo is at the forefront of a growing number of efforts, in the Twin Cities especially, to keep families in their homes by providing resources to forestall eviction.
While the heightened public attention to the eviction crisis may be relatively new, Palumbo knows from personal and professional experience that the issue has been a pervasive problem for years. While working at the Council on Crime and Justice, she focused on criminal expungements but access to housing was front and center. “Initially people were looking for criminal expungements to access employment, but then we saw they needed it more for housing than a job,” she recalls. “And then we started seeing more demand for eviction expungements, as well.”
With the Eviction Prevention Project, Palumbo is now working with tenants at the outset of the eviction process. The effort is tracking every eviction filed in the seven-county Twin Cities region and immediately sending a letter to each household offering advice and guidance from a HOME Line attorney, aiming to assist households as early in the legal process as possible. The premise is simple, Palumbo says: “We know that if people talk to a lawyer ahead of time they get a better result.”
In just the first month of the project, HOME Line sent out 933 letters and fielded nearly 150 calls from tenants. Offering advice in Somali, Hmong, and Spanish, as well as English, the organization has received as many as 10 calls in a single day, with the majority of evictions coming from Hennepin and Ramsey counties.
“Many people are dealing with this for the first time and they’re scared out of their minds,” Palumbo says. “There’s a lot of shame connected with it, too, so it’s not only getting the information but letting them share their story, and helping them understand the process.”
As an organization predicated on helping tenants advocate for themselves, Palumbo provides insight on all aspects of the eviction process, from where to park at the courthouse for their initial hearing to how to file an expungement to prevent an unlawful detainer from impacting future housing options.
“Most are getting evicted for nonpayment of rent,” Palumbo says of the calls she’s received. “People are generally about two months behind when an eviction gets filed, but very often they’ve been trying to work something out with their landlord and it’s because of losing a job or a family emergency or illness, all these outside circumstances, that are pushing them toward losing their home. We tell them they have the right to negotiate a settlement, to ask for what they need. So many have their mind put to rest knowing they don’t have to move out the day of court.”
While still in the very initial stages of a two-year project, Palumbo has already seen the impact of their efforts. “When I can I go to Hennepin County and watch what happens in court,” she says. “The people we talk to are generally coming up with settlements — and sometimes the settlement I’ve talked to them about.”
But there’s still plenty of work to meet the immense demand for legal advice for tenants facing eviction. At the regional level, Palumbo is connecting with social service providers to make sure they’re aware of the program as a resource for their clients. She’s also considering ways to make the letters themselves more accessible to recipients for whom English isn’t their first language. And going beyond the boundaries of the metro, she sees significant need statewide.
“Hennepin and Ramsey counties have referees that focus on housing, so you know you’ll be in front of someone who knows the law,” she says. “But that’s not always the case in other counties. I remember when I appeared in some counties on criminal expungements, I had to be prepared to educate the judge. So if you have a tenant that isn’t represented and a landlord that has a lawyer, that tenant could be at a huge disadvantage. So getting more education out statewide about what the law is and people’s rights is really important.”
Learn more about HOME Line and their efforts statewide at homelinemn.org. Questions about the Eviction Prevention Project? Connect with Palumbo at firstname.lastname@example.org or (612) 728-5770 x114.