Inner City Law Center Fights for Justice for the Poorest Residents of Los Angeles
In navigating the Paycheck Protection Program, the $669B business loan carve-out of the CARES Act, we’ve been able to take stock of what has happened broadly in the market and how we can continue to help our clients during this time. Despite the program’s challenges, the team at Beneficial State Bank was able to help over a thousand small organizations employing nearly 20,000 people, many of which are nonprofits and B Corporations, to secure loans. Most of these entities are true small businesses with 10 or fewer staff members. Over 85% are mission-aligned with Beneficial State’s social and environmental directives. We are shining a light on the positive work these organizations are doing as well as sharing how you can make a difference by supporting them.
Even in the best of times, Inner City Law Center (ICLC) had an arduous calling. Located in L.A.’s Skid Row neighborhood, the 40-year-old nonprofit law firm provides free legal services to the city’s poorest and most vulnerable residents. With services ranging from eviction defense to combating slums, ICLC promotes access to decent, safe and fully habitable housing for homeless and working-poor families and individuals residing in L.A.’s inner-city neighborhoods.
“We are built on and remain committed to the idea that everyone should be treated with dignity and respect,” said ICLC Chief Operating Officer Ian Musa.
L.A.’s Skid Row neighborhood is a 54-block area east of the downtown financial district. An area of congregation for displaced workers and people experiencing homelessness since the 1930s, the area became a stark demonstration of the long-term social havoc wreaked by a confluence of unemployment, high housing prices, a too-thin social safety net, and insufficient medical and mental healthcare. With thousands of people homeless every night, Skid Row is the greatest concentration of poverty and homelessness in the United States.
ICLC is the only full-time provider of legal services in the neighborhood. Each year its staff of 100, including 50 attorneys, work with a dedicated cohort of over 500 pro bono volunteers to provide essential legal services to more than 6,000 people—those who have nowhere else to turn.
Adapting for Covid-19
The Covid-19 pandemic brought new and heightened challenges to the organization. “Overnight, the way we serve clients completely changed,” Musa said. “We had to cultivate a culture in which our staff could stay safe, while still connecting with and serving our clients, many of whom cannot shelter at home because they don’t have a home.”
“We also had to be nimble and consider a whole range of client circumstances,” he continued. “We had to think about those who don’t have access to a hot spot or can’t just get onto Zoom. But our guiding principle was prioritizing the safety of our employees, figuring out how we could stay healthy and still serve.”
That meant undertaking a wholesale revamping of its technology infrastructure. “Almost immediately, we had to transition from an organization set up for in-person interaction into one that could fully function remotely,” Musa said.
The organization rolled out new, enterprise-level organizational software and had to upgrade their hardware to run the system. Laptops had to be purchased and issued to employees and protocols needed to be set up to assist employees in working remotely. It was a hugely expensive endeavor—and one that they didn’t know would even be needed if the pandemic subsided in a few months. And, most important, they knew the expense had to be borne without sacrificing a single employee. They run a very lean operation and everyone on their staff is essential to performing their mission effectively. Fortunately, they received a Paycheck Protection Program loan from Beneficial State Bank.
“Beneficial State was great for us at a time when we really needed a partner,” said Chief Financial Officer Jennifer Hirsch. “The PPP funding, which was designed to support ongoing payroll costs, enabled us to not only maintain our existing staff but also to add new team members to help those hardest hit by the pandemic avoid the loss of their homes.”
The specter of job loss and evictions
The organization is now bracing for the next phase of the pandemic, one that will include an end to eviction moratoriums and widespread job losses and economic hardship. “We could see a crisis that rivals the Great Depression,” Musa said. “Unemployed renters, even if they have a year to pay back rent, will just be accruing month after month of back-rent with no income to pay for it. Hundreds of thousands of families and children could be plunged into poverty and homelessness.”
“We are preparing for an enormous spike in eviction proceedings,” he continued. “These proceedings generally go the way of the landlord, not the tenant. Outcomes are far better if the tenant has access to legal assistance. Unfortunately, so many tenants never get the legal services and representation that could keep them in their home.”
Facing uncertainty together--what you can do to help
How ICLC meets these challenges going forward will depend on the generosity of its supporters and partners: its donors; its volunteers; its various city, county and state partner agencies; and any newcomers who want to join in the work.
“We’re continuing to find new opportunities to be involved and expand our work,” said Hirsch. “And we’re always hoping for new volunteers, and new donors, and in-kind donations. We need everyone to help however they can.”
“We need to be here for our clients,” she continued. “There is so much to do.”