Standing Up for Tenants' Rights to Safe and Healthy Housing

Yazmin Vazquez (right)
Yazmin Vasquez was renting a home that did not have heat, was infested with rodents and had raw sewage in the basement: 
"My apartment made me physically sick and I was stressed out all the time. Windows cracked from the intense cold, the smell of raw sewage made me sick to my stomach, and mice and rats ate my food." The Department of Licenses & Inspections deemed the apartment unfit for habitation. But when Ms. Vasquez tried to stand up to her landlord and her property management company to improve her living conditions, they retaliated by trying to lock her out of her home and making false statements in an eviction suit. 

This month, in partnership with Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, we filed a lawsuit against Ms. Vasquez's landlord, Marc A. Gilbert, and the management company, Obara Investment Realty Advisors, Inc., for violating state and local laws that protect renters from being forced to live in unhealthy and unsafe conditions. This lawsuit marks our first case in our newly revived housing project. 

Unfortunately Ms. Vasquez's story is repeated all too often in Philadelphia. But too many renters do not have access to a lawyer to help them stand up to delinquent landlords. An estimated 30,000 eviction cases are filed annually in Landlord-Tenant Court, but there are only 5-6 legal aid lawyers available to help with these types of cases. We hope to use this case, and future cases like it, to send a message to all landlords that they cannot get rich off rent while their tenants live in squalor and they will be held accountable.

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School Funding Lawsuit Heads to Oral Argument on Sept. 13

City Hall
Credit: Versatile Aure, Flickr
In just two weeks, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will hear oral argument in our fair funding lawsuit. On Tuesday, September 13 at 9 a.m. in Philadelphia City Hall, Room 456, we will ask the PA Supreme Court to give Pennsylvania's students their day in court by holding that the Pennsylvania courts have the power to rule on violations of the Pennsylvania constitution's education and equal protection provisions. We will ask the Supreme Court to send the case back to the lower court for a full trial to determine if the state has violated the state constitution by inadequately and inequitably funding schools. 

Please consider supporting our clients by attending the oral argument. Members of City Council, POWER, PCCY and Education Voters are organizing events in support of oral argument, including a rally immediately following the argument and a sing-in on September 12. Learn more and sign up for those events here:

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2016 Annual Event: Of the People, By the People, For the People
6 - 8:30 p.m.
FringeArts, Philadelphia
Join us on Thursday, October 6 for our annual event to celebrate the core conviction of democracy: "of the people, by the people, for the people." We will honor Soil Generation (left), a black-led coalition of urban farmers and community gardeners; longtime board member Nick Chimicles (center) of Chimicles & Tikellis LLP; and Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP (right), our dedicated co-counsel in our case on behalf of children enrolled in Medicaid in Florida. The event will feature inspiring speakers, delicious food, and some tremendous auction items, so we hope to see you there! Tickets are $150. Valet parking is available. Click here to purchase tickets and sponsorships.

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Advocating Against Prison Gerrymandering

Right now, the U.S. Census Bureau counts incarcerated people at the facility they are being held in on Census Day, instead of at their home address, even if those people are pretrial detainees or misdemeanants who are incarcerated only for a matter of days or weeks. This practice promotes gerrymandering by falsely bumping up the populations of rural areas in which jails tend to be located. And, it often conflates the demographics of those areas, which are largely white, because people held in prisons are predominantly black and Hispanic. 

The Census Bureau recently submitted a proposal to continue this practice. In partnership with the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project and White & Williams LLP, we submitted public comments urging the Bureau to stop this practice, which jeopardizes the right of certain groups to equal participation in elections and promotes distortion of election districts. Read our full comments on our website.

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Settlement Reached in Fair Employment Case

We settled our case on behalf of our client, Taheera Heard, against Genesis Health Care, which alleged the company refused to hire Ms. Heard solely because of her unrelated criminal record. We represented Ms. Heard as part of our Fair Employment Opportunities Project, a partnership among Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and private attorneys to represent people who have been denied employment because of outdated, unrelated criminal records. 
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Board Member of the Month: Karen Vaughn

Karen Vaughn
Karen Vaughn is our August board member of the month. Karen is the associate director in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. In just one year since joining the board, Karen has already become an integral part of our activities as co-chair of the communications committee. About why she joined the board and what she has enjoyed, she said, "I got involved with the Public Interest Law Center as a board member out of respect and admiration for the organization's unbridled commitment to helping underserved populations gain access to fundamental services. I'm inspired by the positive energy that the Board exhibits and really enjoy working with Phil Wilson and the rest of the Communications Committee on projects designed to spread the news about the Law Center's outstanding work to the community at large." Thank you, Karen!

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