Ryan Chiao, Senior Photographer

In light of the economic challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Law School Housing Clinic has intensified its fight for local and national housing justice. 

The clinic provides law students with the opportunity to practice direct service across three tracks: evictions, foreclosures and fair housing. Each track offers a different scope of housing law from which students can select. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the clinic saw a significant shift in its work; the majority of these changes affected those within the eviction track. Due to the disproportionate effects of the pandemic on lower-income populations, many of which faced the threat of eviction over the last year and a half, the eviction track’s fight for housing justice escalated.

“Our agenda is making sure that our clients get to stay in their homes and getting to continue to represent folks,” said Evan Walker-Wells ’14 LAW ’22, the eviction track’s student director.

With the initial onset of the pandemic in March 2020, housing courts closed. This significantly impacted the eviction track’s pace of work, according to Walker-Wells. 

Consequently, the eviction track’s work shifted more towards negotiating with housing authorities, landlords and housing choice voucher providers to ensure tenants were being treated fairly.

“A lot of our work shifted more into … in some ways, social worker work, but in a lot of ways advocacy work,” Walker-Wells said.

Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a temporary eviction moratorium to decrease the transmission of COVID-19. However, landlords and lobby groups began to constitutionally challenge the moratorium, claiming that it was unconstitutional. 

Meanwhile, the clinic sought to uphold the moratorium, writing briefs in an attempt to support the moratorium in court. 

“We ended up working with a bunch of public health experts and eviction experts to explain to the courts … why the CDC moratorium was so important to protect people’s health and to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said Walker-Wells.

Law students such as Raymond Fang LAW ’23, who was involved with the clinic in spring 2021, helped draft the amicus curiae briefs that were eventually filed in defense of the moratorium. To do this, Fang searched journalistic reports and research studies for evidence to support that evictions would deepen the critical state of the pandemic. 

But despite the efforts of the group, the moratorium was ultimately found unconstitutional and struck down in August 2021. 

“I was definitely upset,” Fang said. “Obviously the pandemic has already hit … working class, low-income people of color the hardest, and to have this eviction moratorium struck down in the middle of all of this … it was extremely frustrating.”

Despite this setback, those within the clinic’s eviction track continued to push for housing justice. The clinic works alongside New Haven Legal Assistance to provide local residents with the necessary legal services to stay in their homes. 

Some students, like Sophie Clark LAW ’23, worked within this field of general eviction protection. However, with the rollout of new housing legislation during the pandemic, this meant her work expanded to include grappling with new legislative documents.

“We had to figure out what they were saying in real time,” Clark said. “We were trying to construct meanings one week after they were put into law.”

The clinic’s work is far from over, especially for those working within the eviction track. Connecticut recently passed a statewide Right to Counsel bill in the state legislature. This bill ensures that individuals facing eviction have a right to a lawyer in housing court. 

The clinic hopes to ensure that the new bill is implemented effectively. 

“We are paying a lot of attention to how it is implemented and seeing what we as a clinic can do to help make sure that it is implemented well,” Walker-Wells said.

Walker-Wells added that the eviction track’s fight for housing justice will continue, even past the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I want there to be as few evictions as possible,” he said. 

The Law School was founded in 1824.

CAROLINE CHEN
Caroline Chen covers Dwight Hall and community service. She is a first year in Silliman College majoring in English.