White House, DOJ Recognized UM Law for Answering Attorney General’s Call to Action for Stronger Access to Justice and Court Reform on Eviction Prevention

The White House and the Department of Justice virtually convened 99 law schools that responded to the Attorney General’s Call to Action to the Legal Profession to address the housing and eviction crisis.

The University of Mississippi School of Law was among those schools. The UM Law Housing Clinic led by Associate Professor Desiree Hensley, allows law students to assist individuals and families who are facing eviction or foreclosure and victims of predatory lending practices and illegal lockouts.

Last year, the Housing Clinic sued an apartment owner, property manager and constable for taking the belongings of client Samantha Conner. In December 2021, a federal judge found Mississippi’s eviction law unconstitutional and struck down a portion of it that allows landlords to take the personal property of tenants who are behind on their payments.

The 99 law schools in 35 states and Puerto Rico immediately committed their law schools to help prevent evictions. In just a few months, law students across the country dedicated nearly 81,000 hours total to provide legal assistance to households and communities across the country.

Law schools drew on resources, such as pro bono and externship programs, clinical offerings, and the service of the larger law school community to help struggling families avoid eviction through rental assistance application support, volunteering with legal aid providers, helping courts implement eviction diversion programs, among other initiatives aimed at increasing housing stability and access to justice.

“Five months ago, I asked the legal community to answer the call to help Americans facing eviction,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said. “Law students and lawyers from across the country stepped up to take on cases, and assisted their clients and communities at a time when our country needed it the most. Today, our work is far from over, and making real the promise of equal justice under law remains our urgent and unfinished mission.”

The call to action by the Attorney General and the response from 99 Law Schools is part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s government approach to help millions of families keep up on rent and remain in their homes. These efforts—along with the distribution of $25-30 billion distributed to well over 3 million households in need through in the American Rescue Plan Emergency Rental Assistance program by the end of 2021—has led to increased access to counsel and eviction diversion in jurisdictions across the country and kept eviction filing rates below 60% of averages in a typical year according to the White House.

“The housing crisis is a poverty and economic security issue because of the long-lasting effects that we know evictions have on families,” said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta. “It’s a racial and gender justice issue because of the disproportionate effect the spike in evictions will have on women and people of color. That’s why I have encouraged courts to adopt eviction diversion as an essential tool for keeping people in their homes and landlords to access rental assistance during the pandemic.”