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News

Land Use,
Government,
Civil Rights

May 21, 2024

Inner City Law Center to bolster affordable housing advocacy

In formalizing its advocacy arm, the Center joins other legal organizations who have broadened their remit to include policy development.

Adam Murray at the Inner City Law Center's annual fundraising lunch earlier this month.

The Inner City Law Center in Los Angeles is gearing up to become a more active player in the housing affordability debate, as the issue continues to grip the city and boost the Center's workload. It began a search earlier this month to fill a Public Policy Advocate role.

The organization, based in Skid Row and in its 44th year, has historically focused on providing free legal services to low-income residents who are struggling with housing stability.

"We've been doing this for decades, and continue to do it," explained CEO Adam Murray. "We're really focused on representing individual clients who are struggling with those issues and helping them connect the public benefits or navigate their eviction proceedings or deal with a habitability issue with their property or whatever it might be."

The Center had, "at times," also weighed in on policy debates, particularly as it related to the protection and expansion of tenant rights, enhancing housing standards and the "criminalization" of homelessness, Murray said. Now it was expanding this activity.

The role, open to lawyers or those with a background in public policy, would see the organization add another pillar to this work: advocating for the creation of more affordable housing.

"At its core, we are not going to solve homelessness in Los Angeles unless we solve our affordable housing crisis," Murray said. "That is the additional area of focus that we are putting a lot more attention on."

The position would focus on identifying areas for reform, developing policy proposals, and building coalitions to advocate for their adoption, Murray explained.

"We are making efforts to encourage, both at the local city and county level, and at the state level, policies that would both protect the existing affordable housing that we have better, and also promote and support, and in some cases fund, others to produce more affordable housing."

Murray pointed to rising rents in Los Angeles and an increase in evictions to highlight the nexus between housing affordability and demand for the Center's services.

"There are a bunch of studies that find very direct correlations, across the country, between rents going up and homelessness increasing," he said. "That is what increases homelessness rates, almost universally. If you want to reverse that you have to bring down those rents or at least stop them from rising in a way they have in the past."

In formalizing its advocacy arm, the Center joins other legal organizations who have broadened their remit to include advocacy. Perhaps the most prominent, and controversial, of these was a pivot by the ACLU, particularly in the years following the election of President Donald Trump, to focus on advocacy efforts.

The Center's "expansion" into the policy space had the "strong consensus and support" of its board, Murray said. It was also in response to a clear gap in the current landscape: despite housing affordability being a constant topic of discussion among Californians, policy formation tended to be dominated by housing developers, both non-profit and for profit.

"There's just not enough voices advocating for our clients in the policy space," Murray said. "There are not enough organizations and individuals who are representing people who are on the streets and saying, 'Hey, this is what we need from our public policy.'"

The Center, by contrast, had a unique expertise owing to its client work, and could help provide a "bridge" for the different communities and group affected by housing policy.

"I think the best public policy is inspiring and big picture, but it's also rooted in experience of people who are actually going to live with the details of how this plays out," he said. "The details of public policy can be complicated, and the devil is often in the details. And as lawyers, we are particularly well suited to understand what legislation does and what impact it will have, and how to craft language to have the impact that we want to have."

"If you want to talk about reforming that process of changing what the rules are around whether or not somebody can stay in their home, we have a lot of experience with those rules and we know how they play out on the ground in practice," he added, by way of example.

Whoever is announced to the role, putting a dent in the state's housing affordability crisis will be a tough job. But there's already a bright spot: the planned introduction of a right to counsel for low-income tenants, funded under Proposition ULA at the city level and proposed under the Stay Housed LA County program.

"That is happening in some way shape or form here in Los Angeles, in the next year or so, and that will be very, very positive for our clients," Murray said.

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Jack Needham

Staff Writer/General Interest
jack_needham@dailyjournal.com

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