Monthly Archives: August 2009

O’Donnell Heights residents to unveil Declaration of Redevelopment

Addressing the lack of affordable housing in Baltimore City, the O’Donnell Heights Tenant Council will release its Declaration of Redevelopment at Save Our Homes!, a community forum Wednesday, Sept. 9. The free event is open to all public housing residents and housing advocates in Baltimore.

“This will be the first time a residents council has attempted to reach out to members of the housing advocacy community,” said Gregory Countess, assistant director of advocacy for housing and community economic development at Maryland Legal Aid. “The declaration presents a set of principles that folks should adopt to address the issues faced by public housing residents—principles that should be enacted by public officials.”

Residents of O’Donnell Heights—public housing located on Baltimore’s east side near Dundalk and major interstate highways—have been wrestling with redevelopment issues for the last decade. Out of 900 housing units in the development, about 600 have been demolished. The city is currently putting together a redevelopment plan for the community.

“The residents don’t believe their voices are being heard in the redevelopment process,” said Countess, who represents the tenant council. “It’s particularly important because the current plans don’t rebuild the community for them. It leaves a lot fewer units then it had before.

“It was a community with problems—but still a community,” Countess added. “They’ve got the right to return. But under the current plan, that promise can’t be fulfilled. It’s like a game of musical chairs. When the music stops, some people will be left standing.”

Countess calls the Declaration of Redevelopment “the community’s effort to shape what’s to come.”

“The hope is to reach out to other public housing communities so they can come and talk about their experiences,” Countess said. “This is about the residents’ homes, their future and their livelihood.”

Tabinda Riaz, another Legal Aid lawyer representing the tenant council, noted that Baltimore has adopted a 10-year plan to end homelessness. “Public housing is part of the solution to ending homelessness,” Riaz said. “The Declaration of Redevelopment will provide a forum empowering people to sign on and speak up about their communities and have a voice in the process.  Safe and decent housing adequate for the well being of oneself and one’s family is a human right.”

In addition to presenting the declaration, the two-hour forum will feature a presentation by Barbara Samuels of the American Civil Liberties Union, who will discuss Thompson v. HUD, a lawsuit challenging the city’s history of segregated neighborhoods.

Save Our Homes! will be held Sept. 9 at the Best Western Hotel, 5625 O’Donnell St., from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.


Gregory Countess, 410/951-7685

Joe Surkiewicz, Director of Communications, 410/951-7683

Ella Broadway, president/O’Donnell Heights Tenant Council, 443/756-4139

Michelle Holmes/treasurer/ O’Donnell Heights Tenant Council, 443/831-2926

Legal Aid awarded more than $500,000 to help the homeless

Baltimore City’s Homeless Services and the United Way of Central Maryland announced yesterday that $8,709,604 from the federal government’s Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program has been awarded to local organizations–including$529,593 to Maryland Legal Aid to provide legal services to prevent homelessness to low-income tenants not otherwise served facing eviction in rent court.

“In this economic environment, all resources that we have to end homelessness are greatly needed,” said Baltimore mayor Sheila Dixon. “I would like to again thank our congressional delegation for their efforts to provide this valuable resource to Baltimore’s most vulnerable residents.”

The funds being distributed to 13 organizations will be used to help advance the goals of “The Journey Home,” Baltimore’s 10-year plan to end homelessness.  The remaining funds will be used for evaluation and administrative costs associated with the program that may potentially fund additional projects. United Way of Central Maryland is acting as the fiscal agent of the plan and of the federal stimulus funds.

‘A life unraveled’: Legal Aid bankruptcy client interviewed by the Post

Leslie Powell, a 40-year-old mother of two, told the Washington Post how her life unraveled over a period of months: She lost her job, then her home and was about to lose her car when went for help.

“In December, she turned to attorney Hong Park at Legal Aid Bureau in Maryland and declared Chapter 13 bankruptcy,” today’s article continued.  “She opted for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which forces consumers to repay debts but allows them to keep certain assets, because it would keep her car from getting repossessed. Her attorney was able to negotiate a five-year repayment plan of her debts. She has since moved into her own place in Greenbelt.”

“You feel like you’re starting over again,” she said. “You don’t have the stress of people calling you all the time, of not sleeping, of hating to go to your mailbox.”

To read the article, click here.

Legal Aid awarded $106,547.20 cy pres

cypres809A bank accused of overcharging its customers turned into a $106,000 windfall for Maryland Legal Aid yesterday as executive director Wilhelm H. Joseph Jr. (second from left) accepts the cy pres award. The money is left over from a $16 million national class-action settlement fund against Chevy Chase Bank that alleged it overcharged fees to its banking customers in the 1990s. Presenting the award is Thomas J. Minton (left) and Kathryn Miller Goldman (second from right) of Goldman & Minton in Baltimore; and Claire Prestel of Public Justice in Washington. Goldman & Minton, Public Justice and Baltimore attorney John T. Ward represented the plaintiffs in the case, which started in 1999.

“This award couldn’t come at a better time,” Joseph said. “Legal Aid’s funding was cut almost $1 million by the Maryland Legal Services Corp. and this is a significant start to closing the gap.” Joseph added that a portion of the award will fund a one-day, statewide Legal Aid staff conference in the fall on efficient and effective strategies for meeting the needs of low-income Marylanders using a human rights framework.

Chief judge reaches out to lawyers over legal services crisis

Maryland Court of Appeals Judge Robert M. Bell has sent a letter to all Maryland lawyers about the funding crisis facing legal services for low-income people, the Daily Record reported yesterday. The crisis stems for a 70-percent drop in interest on lawyer trust accounts, which are a major source of funding for legal services organizations around the state, including Maryland Legal Aid.

“The latest missive from [Bell] to the more than 30,000 lawyers in Maryland highlights a decrease in legal services funding at a time when the need for such services is increasing and points out that lawyers can respond with contributions of time or ‘financial resources,’” the article said.

‘“Whether you choose one means or both, your contribution will make a meaningful difference in the lives of Maryland residents and will help preserve our justice system,’ Bell wrote in the letter, dated July 20 but still in the mail to many lawyers,” the report said.

Quoted in the article was Maryland Legal Aid executive director Wilhelm Joseph, who praised praised Bell’s longstanding commitment to access to justice.

Joseph also corrected the letter’s characterization that a continuing funding shortage would “likely require” Legal Aid to close some offices was inaccurate.

“Any diminution of services is not an option, and we don’t plan on closing any offices,” said Joseph, whose organization is the  largest individual grantee of funding generated by interest on lawyer trust accounts. “We feel quite secure about our position for 2009, and with a little bit of luck we can make it through 2010.”