San Francisco's legal service providers and tenant advocates collaborated to create the Eviction Defense Collaborative (EDC) in 1996 in response to the need for legal services to assist the thousands of people facing eviction each year. These community organizations — including the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, the AIDS Legal Referral Panel, Bay Area Legal Aid, the Bar Association of San Francisco, and the San Francisco Tenants Union — were inspired by the conviction that the poor and vulnerable of our community deserve equal access to the law. However, they were also informed by the reality that eviction causes homelessness. The Eviction Defense Collaborative was created to prevent the evictions that cause individuals and families to become homeless in the first place. Finally, these service providers founded the EDC because maintaining low-income families in their below-market-rent homes is the most cost-effective affordable housing strategy.
Almost immediately upon opening our doors in 1996, the EDC became the principal referral for tenants in San Francisco who have received an eviction lawsuit. Since then, the EDC has gotten progressively more well-known for our expertise in providing high-quality, immediate assistance for families who are facing the emergency of an eviction lawsuit. The EDC gets frequent praise from tenants as well as the attorneys who have represented tenants after we helped the client with their initial responses.
Maintaining low-income families in their below-market-rent homes is the most cost-effective affordable housing strategy.
Over the years, the EDC has expanded its operational capacities to better serve the needs of San Francisco residents facing eviction, though the primary focus of our work has always been to ensure that the folks we help have a place to call home. We target our efforts at providing the most strategically important interventions before, during and after an eviction lawsuit – services we provide to every San Francisco tenant who walks in the door*.
From inception, the EDC has assisted tenants in preparing legal responses to eviction lawsuits within the five-day deadline, because missing this deadline means losing the entire case and getting evicted shortly thereafter. Starting in 1999, the EDC began to provide a more complete package of legal services for families and individuals dealing with an eviction lawsuit and – crucially – was able to help renters financially. Through government funding, the EDC provides rental assistance grants and loans to some 500 households per year in order to help families pay back rent that is owed and keep their homes. Since receiving government funding, the EDC has consistently exceeded every one of our contract goals.
EDC's ability to adapt our services to fit individual clients' needs, to fill gaps in legal services, and — importantly — to provide legal training to aspiring students and other community members, has increased significantly over time. We've acquired additional resources and learned from experience, but we continue to seek funds to sustain and expand our programs.
As part of our expanding services, in 2005 the EDC partnered with the Bar Association of San Francisco's Volunteer Legal Services Program to provide attorneys to tenants during settlement negotiations. This ongoing project, called Coming to Agreement , is funded in part by the San Francisco Foundation. The Coming to Agreement project pairs well with our other legal services, since the outcome of an eviction case – and the family's prospects for remaining housed – are usually determined at a court-mandated settlement conference; this is only scheduled if the renter has responded to the lawsuit in time. While getting the tenant to the settlement conference stage is crucial, providing an attorney to negotiate on their behalf empowers them in relation to their landlord and increases their negotiating ability significantly. Because of the innovative structure of this service, Coming to Agreement has become a model for other programs across the nation.
Our collaborative relationships allow us to maintain an ongoing dialogue about the needs of tenants, ensure the efficient use of resources, and promote coordination of legal services. Because of our expertise in eviction defense and our experience assisting a high volume of clients, we are the only agency that can assist every tenant who receives eviction papers. For this reason our work complements—without duplicating—the work of other legal service providers in San Francisco . If the EDC did not exist, other agencies in San Francisco would be overrun with desperate tenants.
As the Eviction Defense Collaborative enters our 15th year of service, the numbers of families facing loss of housing and homelessness due to eviction continues to be enormous, and assistance for tenants facing eviction continues to be essential.
*The only reason a San Francisco tenant is ever denied legal services is if another tenant in the same household has already come to us for help and stated that there is a conflicting interest.
The Eviction Defense Collaborative was founded as a project of:
- Volunteer Legal Services Program of the Bar Association of San Francisco
- Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco
- New College School of Law Housing Advocacy Clinic
- Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights
- Legal Assistance to the Elderly
- La Raza Centro Legal
- St. Peter's Housing Committee
- Bay Area Legal Aid
- San Francisco Tenants Union
- San Francisco Private Tenant Bar
- AIDS Legal Referral Panel