Bay Area Legal Services ─ The Law Working for Community

by | May 23, 2022 | COVID-19, Legal | 0 comments

Our laws define our freedoms and restrictions. Yet, navigating the legal system evades many. Unfortunately, the law can negatively impact those without legal guidance, including the poor, people of color, those with physical or mental health conditions, and veterans.

In 2021, Tampa Bay rents increased by 24%, the highest in the nation. Residents on fixed incomes, including seniors and veterans, are particularly affected by spikes in rental fees. Unable to make payments and unaware of legal remedies, they may face homelessness.

“In eviction actions, the likelihood of better outcomes increases dramatically with legal representation,” said Lisa Brody, assistant deputy director and managing attorney for the St. Petersburg office of Bay Area Legal Services (BALS). The need for legal representation is profound, whether to address evictions, code violations, or other housing stability issues. “Housing instability is a big stressor,” she said, noting that reducing stressors leads to better health.

BALS, the largest nonprofit public interest law firm in Tampa Bay, has supplied free civil legal services to low-income residents since 1967. 

Pinellas Community Foundation (PCF) understands that improving the community’s welfare means seeking solutions to social issues, such as access to free legal help.

Evictions Averted

Averting evictions at the height of the pandemic became a top priority for both organizations. Thus, when the county tapped PCF to administer over $18 million in CARES Act funds through the Pinellas CARES Nonprofit Partnership Fund, BALS applied for a grant right away.

The partnership fund was designed to augment nonprofit response to care for community residents impacted by COVID-19. “PCF played an integral role in the eviction crisis during the pandemic,” said Lisa. “We are so grateful for the role PCF played.”

“Because of CARES funding, our advocates provided critical legal assistance and representation to many Pinellas County families,” she said. An example includes the Miller family, a single-parent household with three children who faced eviction after the mother lost her job. 

With the grant from the partnership fund, BALS was able to represent the Millers, and other low-income families affected by COVID-19, by negotiating a settlement, accessing available rental assistance, and preserving their housing.

The majority of BALS funding comes from a grant awarded by federal, state, and county governments, independent nonprofits, and private foundations. “Charitable giving from the legal, professional, and other philanthropic communities also safeguards our mission,” Lisa said. Contribute or join the fight for justice.

Overcoming Other Legal Hurdles

Tenant-landlord disputes are just one potential hurdle. Caregivers may also face legal obstacles in making decisions for loved ones. “Grandparents, for instance, caring for minor children need legal documentation to make choices about schools, health treatment, and other caregiving matters,” said Lisa.

Grants from the PCF Senior Citizens Services Fund are helping BALS’ mission, including a grant for Veterans Support, Care/Kinship Care, and operations. The operating grant allows BALS to collect data identifying racial inequities in Pinellas County’s COVID-related eviction process. The statistics will help create a racial justice strategic plan, exploring how BALS can better help more low-income residents affected by evictions.

Support Critical Legal Help for Pinellas County Residents

Support the work of Bay Area Legal Services through the Tampa Bay Resiliency Fund, which builds resiliency for the nonprofit entities serving the most vulnerable throughout the region.