Five years ago, the Public Interest Law Project (PILP) began a special project to increase access to General Assistance (GA) benefits in rural areas. This program, also sometimes called General Relief (GR), provides critical aid to California’s lowest income individuals.
In rural counties throughout California, eligible people cannot easily access last resort GA benefits. Many counties with high numbers of people living in poverty have fewer than 40 people receiving GA. Some have zero, or fewer than 10. Counties impose unlawful and often unwritten eligibility requirements and adopt improperly low grant levels. Through its Rural General Assistance Project (Rural GAP), PILP seeks to increase access to these critical benefits and assist local advocates in enforcing counties’ legal duty to provide GA to all needy residents.
In the past four years, PILP’s General Assistance advocacy has brought approximately $52,413,392 in additional benefits to thousands of recipients throughout the State. We could not have done it without the support and hard work of our many legal services partners.
Here are a few Rural GAP highlights:
- GA Summit: On September 22, 2014, PILP, the Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations (CCWRO), California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. (CRLA), Legal Services of Northern California (LSNC), and Western Center on Law & Poverty (WCLP) hosted a statewide advocate summit to strategize about how to increase GA access in rural areas. 17 organizations sent advocates to the summit.
- The project was featured by the Shriver Center in May 2015.
- PILP and WCLP worked to eliminate the $40 medical deduction statewide, after most recipients became eligible for Medi-Cal under the Affordable Care Act, eliminating this expense for thousands of people living in poverty.
- PILP and CRLA achieved systemic reform in San Benito, Monterey, and Yuba counties
- Technical Assistance: PILP has provided technical assistance to advocates in 46 counties
The Work Continues:
Many counties are still not serving their neediest residents, and we must continue to work to bring them into compliance with the law and improve their policies. Some counties improperly withhold housing aid, others do not provide the required statutory minimum grant. Please let PILP know how we can better provide support to you, either through training, technical assistance, or collaboration to achieve systemic reform.
PILP is a statewide support center that provides crucial litigation and advocacy support to local legal services and public interest law programs throughout California. Our work brings affordable housing to lower income families and homeless people, provides access to services and public benefits for lower income persons and persons with disabilities, and protects neglected and abused children and persons displaced by major disasters and government action.
Monterey, CA – The Monterey County Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution approving new aid payment standards for their General Assistance (GA) Program. The new aid payment standards are the result of a lawsuit filed in Superior Court on behalf of a low-income resident represented by California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. (CRLA) and PILP. The County also adopted a new appeal process that ensures that applicants and recipients can appeal a negative County decision.
General Assistance (GA) is a program of last resort mandated by state law and administered by counties. It requires counties to provide approximately $340 dollars per month to severely impoverished, lawful residents with no other options. GA recipients are often homeless, unemployed, or unemployable. Many recipients have disabilities, are veterans, and a significant number are survivors of domestic violence. GA allows these individuals to find modest shelter, like a shared room, and to acquire other essentials such as hygiene products and transportation.
Monterey County’s GA program failed to issue adequate grants, making it even harder for many vulnerable recipients to overcome homelessness. In particular, the County’s maximum GA grant was almost $40 dollars lower than the amount required by the state. Recipients were also being denied the housing portion of their grant, leaving them to subsist on around $133 a month or around $4.43 per day. Recipients also reported being denied a big portion of aid, through no fault of their own, for reasons such as a landlord not returning housing cost verifications. Lastly, recipients were deprived of due process rights when they were given notices with little explanation as to why they were being denied aid and what they could do about it.
“This settlement provides opportunity for indigent and homeless people to live more decently and could possibly change their life. The increase can mean new clothes, a night or two of housing, and perhaps a chance to move from the streets to a shared living situation. For others, the increase means they will have money for transportation to seek housing or work. We’re hopeful this money will make positive difference in many peoples’ lives.” stated Phyllis Katz, Directing Attorney, CRLA Salinas.
“We appreciate the openness of County employees and their willingness to enact the necessary changes. The County’s resolution addresses our concerns, and brings the County’s GA program within the State’s legal requirements,” said Lauren Hansen, PILP.
Mountain View, CA – May 18, 2017 – The Public Interest Law Project along with Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, Stanford Community Law Clinic, and Fenwick & West (Counsel team) secured an important victory for renter protection and affordable housing and obtained a complete victory in a lawsuit from the California Apartment Association (CAA) and a number of institutional landlords that challenged Measure V, the city’s new rent stabilization and just cause eviction measure.
Shortly after voters passed Measure V in November 2016, CAA sued to block the law from taking effect. The Counsel team stepped in to represent a group of Mountain View voters, tenants, and organizations.
“As a member of the Mountain View community, [we believe] it is important to protect the city where we work—and where many of our employees and clients live—from being subjected to unreasonable rent increases and unjust evictions,” said Patrick Premo, litigation partner and chair of Fenwick’s Pro Bono Program. “We were honored to help secure this victory, an important step toward ensuring all have access to affordable housing.”
“This is a complete victory for the City of Mountain View and a critical win for Mountain View residents, including the most marginalized in our community,” said Nadia Aziz, Senior Attorney at the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley.
“Courts long ago held rent stabilization to be constitutional, and apartment owners have learned that the court’s will not bend the law to accommodate their desire to exploit an out-of-control housing market to reap unconscionable rents,” added Michael Rawson, Director of the Public Interest Law Project.
The Counsel team opposed CAA and the institutional landlord-intervenors’ motion for preliminary injunction. Together, the CAA and the landlord-intervenors had raised well over fifty challenges to Measure V, including many claims under the U.S. and California Constitutions.
The Counsel team argued against these claims, highlighting that rent control had been upheld by both the California and U.S. Supreme Courts. They also stressed the potential harm to Mountain View residents should the measure be enjoined pending a resolution on the merits. On April 5, 2017, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Elfving denied the preliminary injunction, preserving Mountain View’s new rent control laws. On May 5, 2017, the CAA dropped the lawsuit (and a similar challenge to rent control in the City of Richmond), informing members to comply with Measure V, and the landlord-intervenors followed in also dismissing their complaint. The Law Foundation of Silicon Valley is monitoring ongoing compliance with Measure V, and is responding to questions and complaints from tenants in Mountain View.
Learn More Here: Fenwick & West
Los Angeles, CA – May 17, 2017 – A developer may not convert a Costa Mesa residential motel to a luxury apartment complex by circumventing planning and zoning requirements for affordable housing, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled last week in The Kennedy Commission, et al. v. City of Costa Mesa, et al.
“This decision is helping us to take another step toward holding city’s like Costa Mesa responsible for creating housing opportunities for everyone. We have much more to do on behalf of Orange County residents like Timothy Dadey, but this decision will help the Kennedy Commission to continue to create affordable housing solutions in a County that is facing an affordable housing crisis,” said Cesar Covarrubias, Executive Director of the Kennedy Commission, an Orange County housing advocacy organization serving as organizational petitioner in the case.
Judge Mary H. Strobel invalidated development approvals for conversion of the Costa Mesa Motor Inn because the City allowed the proposed project to be built at 54 units per acre, well above the maximum 40 units per acre she said was permitted by local planning and zoning laws. The court ruled that under the state’s Density Bonus Law, cities may permit an increase in density only if the developer agrees to build some units affordable to poor people. That did not happen in this case, said Judge Strobel, who also held that the development approvals violated the City’s General Plan for land use.
“This sends a strong message to other cities and developers that they may not ignore important affordable housing laws to displace low income households in pursuit of redevelopment and luxury housing,” stated Michael Rawson, Director of the Public Interest Law Project (PILP).
“The state law gives developers an incentive to build affordable housing,” said Navneet Grewal, an attorney at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, who represents the Kennedy Commission and four former tenants of the Motor Inn. “What the City and the developer improperly tried to do here was exactly the opposite – build luxury housing at the expense of low income tenants.”
The lawsuit also contends that under state law displacement of the long-term tenants requires the City to prepare a relocation assistance plan, which would include reimbursement for moving and related expenses. “For many years, the City has acted on a plan to demolish the Motor Inn and evict its long-term residents,” said Julian Burns from Bird, Marella, Boxer, Wolpert, Nessim, Drooks, Lincenberg & Rhow, another attorney for the petitioners. “The City may not do that without giving the assistance the law requires.”
Judge Strobel agreed that it was “undisputed that persons who were long-time residents of the Motor Inn have been required to vacate the premises.” But the court stated it was unnecessary to decide the relocation issues, transferring the matter to another judge for trial
In addition to PILP, the petitioners are represented by the Public Law Center (PLC) in Santa Ana, Bird, Marella, Boxer, Wolpert, Nessim, Drooks, Lincenberg & Rhow, P.C., the Legal Aid Society of Orange County, and Western Center on Law and Poverty (Western Center) in Los Angeles. PLC Affordable Housing and Homelessness Prevention Unit staff attorney Richard Walker played a significant part in the litigation team.
About our co-counsel:
Public Law Center, Orange County’s pro bono law firm, is committed to providing access to justice for low-income and vulnerable residents through counseling, individual representation, community education, strategic litigation and advocacy to challenge societal injustices.
Bird, Marella, Boxer, Wolpert, Nessim, Drooks, Lincenberg & Rhow, P.C. is a boutique litigation firm, whose trial lawyers defend national and multinational corporations, government agencies, closely held companies, partnerships, and individuals.
Legal Aid Society of Orange County and Community Legal Services of southeast Los Angeles County provides civil legal services to seniors and low-income individuals and promotes equal access to the justice system.
Western Center on Law and Poverty, an independent nonprofit law firm originally founded as a joint legal clinic of the law schools of USC, UCLA, and Loyola, brings about system-wide change on behalf of low-income individuals and families through impact litigation, advocacy, negotiations, and legal aid support.
Mountain View, CA — On April 5, 2017, Mountain View tenants, proponents of Measure V and advocacy groups won a major victory when the Santa Clara County Superior Court denied the California Apartment Association’s (CAA) request for a preliminary injunction of the voter approved Community Stabilization and Fair Control Act (Measure V). The Act, approved by the voters in November, establishes rent stabilization and just cause eviction protections in the City. The denial of the preliminary injunction lifted the temporary restraining order imposed by the Court through a stipulation of the City and CAA.
The Court ruled that the CAA was not likely to prevail in the case and had not demonstrated that landlords would be irreparably harmed if the measure was allowed to take effect. Residents Joan MacDonald, Steve Chandler, Linda Williams, Urban Habitat, and Faith in Action intervened in the suit brought by the CAA against the City, challenging the legality of the measure. Intervenors are represented by PILP, the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, the Stanford Community Law Clinic, and Fenwick and West. For more information, contact Michael Rawson at PILP, 510-891-9794 ext. 145 or Craig Castellanet at 510-891-9794, ext. 132.
PILP attorneys Craig Castellanet and Michael Rawson and their co-counsel at Public Law Center and Jones Day received 2017 California Lawyer Attorneys of the Year awards for their work in The Kennedy Commission v. City of Huntington Beach.
The City had adopted a downtown specific plan providing high density to multifamily sites to meet the City’s lower income housing needs identified in its housing element. But, when a new city council took over, the City illegally amended the specific plan to eliminate the zoning. Representing the Kennedy Commission and low income Veterans, the litigation won a ruling declaring the specific plan amendments void when adopted.
The City is appealing the Court’s decision and has reportedly refused to comply with the orders.
Read more about the case and the other 2017 CLAY award honorees here.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Enforces Judgment Protecting Affordable Housing in Huntington Beach
Orange County, CA — On April 15, 2016, the Los Angeles County Superior Court agreed with Jason Puleo and William Adams, two formerly homeless veterans, and the non-profit Kennedy Commission (Petitioners), represented by PILP’s California Affordable Housing Law Project, the Public Law Center (PLC), and Jones Day, that the City of Huntington Beach must “immediately comply with the judgment and writ of mandate and to cease enforcing, administering or implementing the [BECSP Amendment].” See Order Enforcing Judgment.
The BECSP Amendment effectively blocked any low-cost housing in the City, imposing a development cap, burdensome parking, setback, height, and use restrictions, and costly and time-consuming discretionary permit requirements. “This year-long effort to force the city to simply comply with state law and its own Housing Element, the ‘Constitution’ for development, reminds all of us that we must remain vigilant and be prepared to fight efforts to block affordable housing.” said PLC staff attorney Sarah Gregory.
“Although this Superior Court decision…is a win for affordable housing in Huntington Beach, our work to ensure veterans and other vulnerable individuals can continue to call Orange County home will continue”
-Sarah Gregory, PLC staff attorney
The Huntington Beach City Council adopted the BECSP Amendment on May 4, 2015, despite months of efforts by the Kennedy Commission and the two displaced veterans, who had been forced to leave Huntington Beach due to the lack of affordable housing in the city. The City of Huntington Beach had refused to comply with previous court orders, continued to enforce the BECSP Amendment, and appealed a January 20, 2016 judgment in favor of the Petitioners.
Petitioners sought to force Huntington Beach to implement its state-approved General Plan Housing Element, which was approved by the California Department of Housing and Community Development in 2013. The General Plan Housing Element–referred to as the “Constitution” for all planning and development within the city–allowed for the development of high-density low-cost housing by-right along the city’s Beach-Edinger commercial corridor in order to accommodate the city’s housing needs for low-income residents. Sarah Gregory said, “Although this Superior Court decision on the BECSP Amendment is a win for affordable housing in Huntington Beach, our work to ensure veterans and other vulnerable individuals can continue to call Orange County home will continue in earnest.”
Read More: Order Enforcing Judgment
Read More: PLC Press Release
A federal court judge entered a permanent injunction against Alameda County on March 7, 2016 requiring it to process CalFresh (food stamps) applications within the federal and state-mandated timelines and orders the county to “comply fully within a margin of human error with the legally mandated times for processing expedited and regular CalFresh applications.”
Federal law requires that counties process food stamp applications benefits within 30 days and California state law requires emergency food stamp applications be processed within three days.
The injunction requires Alameda County to submit monthly reports detailing the progress of its compliance to both the Court and Plaintiffs’ Counsel. Plaintiffs are represented by PILP, Western Center on Law & Poverty, and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP in this federal class action lawsuit.
The injunction will remain in place at least one year and potentially longer if Alameda County cannot begin complying with state and federal law.
Learn more about the case here.
Courthouse News Service article from March 8, 2016.
Washington, D.C., February 29, 2016 – The United States Supreme Court denied certiorari in California Building Industry Association v. City of San Jose, a lawsuit that challenged San Jose’s inclusionary housing ordinance. The California Building Industry Association had petitioned the Court for review of the California Supreme Court’s June 2015 decision, which held that inclusionary housing requirements are not “exactions” and that they need only be reasonably related to the legitimate government purposes they set out to further. Over 170 cities in California have inclusionary programs requiring new market-rate housing developments to include affordable housing.
The Public Interest Law Project, the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley and the law firm of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati (pro bono) represent non-profit affordable housing advocacy organizations who intervened as parties in the case in support of San José’s ordinance: Affordable Housing Network of Santa Clara County, California Coalition for Rural Housing, Housing California, Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California, San Diego Housing Federation, and the Southern California Association of NonProfit Housing. We applaud these groups for stepping forward to save this critical affordable housing tool.
San José’s inclusionary housing ordinance, which requires developers of certain new market-rate housing to include a certain percentage of homes that are affordable to low- or moderate-income households, or to choose from a menu of other compliance options, was passed by City in 2010 but has been on hold because of the litigation, which was filed before the ordinance ever became operative.
For more information contact Michael Rawson at PILP.
(510) 891-9794 ext. 145