Established in 1968, the mission of the National Housing Law Project (NHLP) is to advance housing justice for poor people. Its goals are to increase and preserve the supply of decent, affordable housing, improve existing housing conditions, improve and enforce low income tenants’ and homeowners’ rights, and increase housing opportunities for groups that have historically experienced housing discrimination. Over the course of its history, NHLP has helped to preserve more than one million units of affordable housing, established many basic housing rights enjoyed by low-income tenants and homeowners, and has worked to uphold those rights when new policies or regulations threaten to erode them.
In tandem with the government’s establishment of the legal services program in the mid-1960’s, NHLP was formed to serve as the designated resource and legal support center for those attorneys as they assisted poor people with their housing challenges. Since then, the network that NHLP serves has expanded to include other public interest attorneys; tenant, homeowner, and community organizations; state housing coalitions; housing providers; and other intermediaries who serve low-income people. Through initiatives that address housing problems at the root of other pressing social issues, NHLP’s networks have also expanded to include advocates of special needs populations: the elderly, immigrants, survivors of domestic violence, the formerly incarcerated, and people with disabilities.
THE CASE: NHLP’s grant from the Barbara McDowell and Gerald S. Hartman Foundation will support its engagement in high-impact litigation against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). NHLP is representing low-income rural families who lost their homes to foreclosure and whose home mortgages were financed by the USDA. It has been the practice of the USDA to pursue collection of the former homeowner’s debt, even after the home has been lost by the borrower and sold at foreclosure. With the housing market still suffering from plummeted values, USDA has been using an administrative wage garnishment procedure to collect borrowers’ deficiencies. Thus, under present policies, the agency can garnish up to 15% of a debtor’s wages, take from a debtor’s federal income such as social security, or fully capture tax refunds, which in some cases amount to several thousand dollars a year. The agency’s collection practices have created financial hardship for these low-income rural families that will likely continue for the rest of their lives in the absence of a successful legal challenge.
Contact: Marcia Rosen, Executive Director, National Housing Law Project, 703 Market Street, Suite 2000, San Francisco, CA 94103